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Natalie Bode | | August 27, 2021

5 things to know for the 2021 NCAA men's soccer season

5 NCAA men’s soccer players to watch from the preseason top 25

The 2021 DI men's college soccer season officially kicks off this week, with season-opening games scheduled to take place on Thursday, Aug. 26. Only a few months after holding the 2020-2021 College Cup in May, here are five things that stand out ahead of the upcoming season:

5 things to know for the 2021 NCAA men's soccer season

1. Two of the three top players in men's college soccer will return

The MAC Hermann Trophy award highlights the best players in the collegiate game annually, and this year, two of the three 2020-2021 finalists for men's college soccer will return. Both Valentin Noel of Pitt and Victor Bezerra of Indiana were noted in our five players to watch this season, and we expect them both to make a major impact once again.

2. There are 19 top 25 matchups on opening day

With the official season-opening matches for the 2021 men's soccer season set for Thursday, we're keeping track of them all right here. Here are all of the top 25 matchups taking place on opening night, including top-ranked Marshall visiting No. 21 James Madison.

No. 5 Georgetown vs. UC Irvine, 4 p.m.  
No. 15 Virginia Tech vs. Kansas City, 4 p.m.  
No. 13 UCF vs. FIU, 6 p.m.  
No. 10 Seton Hall vs. Temple, 6:56 p.m.  
No. 11 Penn State vs. George Mason, 7 p.m.  
No. 7 Wake Forest vs VCU, 7 p.m.  
No. 9 Washington vs UC Davis, 7 p.m.  
No. 14 Kentucky at No. 25 Coastal Carolina, 7 p.m.  
No. 24 High Point vs. Davidson, 7 p.m.  
No. 20 New Hampshire vs. Boston University, 7 p.m.  
No. 6 Clemson vs. St. John’s (NY), 7 p.m.  
No. 23 Fordham vs. Providence, 7 p.m.  
No. 19 Marquette vs. Green Bay 7:05 p.m.  
No. 18 Charlotte at Maryland, 7:30 p.m.  
No. 1 Marshall at No. 21 James Madison, 7:30 p.m.  
No. 4 North Carolina vs. Bucknell, 7:30 p.m.  
No. 3 Pitt vs. Duquesne, 8 p.m.  
No. 8 Stanford at SMU, 8 p.m.  
No. 12 Missouri State vs. Belmont, 9 p.m.  

*all times ET

3. There are 2 ranked matchups on Thursday. Here's what you need to know

Reigning champion and No. 1 ranked Marshall will play No. 21 James Madison on the Dukes' turf at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. Senior Vitor Dias headlines the 2021 roster for Marshall as the first player in program history to be named a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, First Team All-American and the Conference USA Male Athlete of the Year. No longer flying under the radar, the Thundering Herd will a target after its Cinderella run to win the NCAA tournament last season. On the other hand, JMU is coming off of its third consecutive Colonial Athletic Association conference championship last spring and a loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament. JMU will be challenged right out of the gate by taking on Marshall, and the Dukes will rely on CAA Rookie of the Year and sophomore midfielder Axel Ahlander to step up and be a leader this season.

No. 14 Kentucky will travel to take on No. 25 Coastal Carolina at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Kentucky is coming off of a 12-5-2 season where it advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats return two key seniors in midfielder Marcel Meinzer and defender Robert Screen. Both Meinzer and Screen were named to the Conference USA preseason team and will be crucial pieces in Kentucky's success. Coastal Carolina finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 9-5-2 overall record during its final season in the Sun Belt Conference. Coastal was defeated by No. 5 Wake Forest 3-2 in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Coastal debuts at No. 4 in the Conference USA preseason rankings, and will return senior defender Marcelo Lage, who led the Chanticleers in total points and tied for most goals on the team last season.

PRESEASON TOP 25: View the full rankings here

4. Two first-time champions have been crowned back to back: Can 2021 make it 3-for-3?

After finishing as the runner up in 2012, Georgetown captured its first national championship in 2019. Marshall followed suit in 2020-21, making its first-ever title match appearance before winning it all. This season, there are three teams in the preseason top 10 rankings that could make it three straight years with a first-time champion. Pitt, Washington and Seton Hall are all in pursuit of their first title. If one of those teams does end up bringing home the 2021 title, it would be the first time since 1984-1986 when Clemson, Duke and UCLA pieced together a 3-for-3.

5. The national championship will resume its normal schedule

After undergoing an altered schedule in 2020-2021 with a fall season and spring championship because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Division I men's soccer will resume its typical schedule. This means that the regular season will take place from August to the beginning of November, and the NCAA tournament will begin in mid-November. The College Cup is set to take place December 10-12 in Cary, North Carolina at WakeMed Soccer Park.

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