Franklin Pierce won its second DII men's soccer championship trophy in 2022, so to see the Ravens undefeated atop the national rankings is a surprise to no one. However, there are some teams turning some heads in the early stages of the season and hope to keep the momentum rolling into November.
Let's take a look at a few of the early season surprises in the 2023 DII men's soccer season.
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Limestone had a rough 2022 season, finishing 6-6-5 and missing out on the DII NCAA tournament. All six of those losses were by one goal, and that usually means if a team tightens things up and a few things go their way, things are easily remedied. That is the case thus far in 2023.
The Saints are now 5-0-1 and have not had much trouble along the way. Keeper Henrik Dahl has posted four shutouts and has allowed just three goals as the Saints have outscored their opponents 17-3 in 2023. Limestone was projected to finish sixth in the SAC, and although the Saints have a pair of All-Conference stars in forward Mark Radoki and defender Stefan Roeb, it has been the addition of Claudel Ngoubou (pictured above) that has been the difference maker so far. Ngoubou is in the top five of the SAC in goals, assists and points and his goal against Lenoir-Rhyne in a key SAC matchup was the game-winner.
The Wildcats were 6-12 in 2021 and improved to a respectable 7-5-8 last season. Even with the experience of 10 of their starting 11 back from 2022, their 6-0 start to the 2023 season is quite impressive and surprising, especially after not even receiving a vote in the preseason top 25.
Perhaps most impressive is how this Wildcats' defense has put the 0 in 6-0. Chico State has six wins and six shutouts, so simple math shows this defense has been, essentially, a brick wall to opposing offenses. Keeper Emanuel Padilla has started all six games in net — and played all but 16 minutes so far — and has recorded 21 saves thus far. Miles Rice has led the way with four goals, but this is a really balanced attack that is second in the CCAA in scoring thus far into the season.
Like Chico State, the Warriors haven't had much success the past two seasons. After back-to-back losing seasons, going a combined 15-17-5, East Stroudsburg has come out of the gates hot, now 4-0-2 on the young season. That hot start helped the Warriors crack the national top 25 for the first time since 2018.
Six matches into the season, East Stroudsburg is the top-scoring offense in the PSAC. Both the Warriors' 19 goals and 3.2 goals per game average top the conference's two divisions. Senior forward Colby Raymond leads the way, among the DII men's soccer leaders with six goals. Defensively, the Warriors have two strong keepers in net with Brayden Evans and Helgi Hermannsson, winning consecutive PSAC East athlete of the week, Evans winning it first and Hermannsson most recently. There's a long way to go, but that's the kind of balance on both sides of the field that makes for a special season.
You have to go back to 2018 to find the last time The Pride had a winning record, so this 3-0-3 start is certainly a surprise. If you take a look at their schedule, you could make a compelling argument that Purdue Northwest isn't getting enough attention.
The Pride opened the season with a 0-0 tie against a Lewis team that made the tournament last season. A few weeks later, they upset then-No. 17 and 2022 tournament team Illinois Springfield. Most recently, The Pride tied Wisconsin-Parkside, which, as you may have guessed by now, was also a 2022 DII men's soccer championship tournament team. Wins will always get you more attention, but a 1-0-2 against that strength of schedule, well, it seems like we've been looking at top-25 team for a couple of weeks now. Keep an eye on Hugo Lorenzo, who leads the GLIAC in goals scored and points for now.
Caldwell is off to a 5-0 start, and considering they won five games all of last year, that certainly qualifies as a pleasantly surprising start. Now while the competition hasn't been extremely tough statistically speaking, it is still impressive to open the season out of conference undefeated.
While Chestnut Hill is lighting up the CACC with goals scored, Caldwell has the second-most scored in the conference with 18. Andre Vieira has scored at least one goal in every game this season and is tied atop the CACC leaderboard with six. Kevin Sabadin has done most of the work in goal and has saved 24 out of 25 attempts on net, and his .960 save percentage is one of the best in the division. According to the Cougars website, this is believed to be the first 5-0 start to a season in program history. That's some good momentum to carry into the beginning of conference play.