Come late November, the margin of error in college soccer is reduced to zero, and the white-knuckle drama of knockout soccer will stretch into mid-December.
Now, after four months of grueling work, 48 teams are laid out on a bracket and coaches understand what it will take to be one of four remaining schools to contest the College Cup in Santa Barbara.
The Louisville Cardinals, perhaps not expected to be here at the end of the regular season, have done a tremendous job of reaching this stage without a loss. They’ve certainly reaped the reward that a No. 1 seed deserves by being handed a comparatively easy path to the Final Four – Louisville won’t have to prove the doubters who contend that Akron and Maryland are the more talented teams wrong until the final.
No. 1 Louisville: A program doesn’t ascend to the top by accident, and the methodical and efficient style employed by the Cardinals translated into an unbeaten season in the Big East – the top conference in 2010. Junior striker Colin Rolfe (above) leads the way, with a helping hand from freshman standout Dylan Mares.
[inline_node:323525]No. 8 UCLA: A youthful side, the Pac-10 runners up are led by two freshman on the attack in Victor Chavez and Kelyn Rowe. Becoming reliant on youth can be an asset, but a more experienced side could easily overwhelm the Bruins.
No. 9 Notre Dame: Notre Dame had a strong second half of the season, and the Irish have two weapons in midfielder Dillon Powers and defender Aaron Maund (right). They’ll need significant contribution from elsewhere to make a deep tournament run.
No. 16 Ohio State: The Buckeyes’ upset loss on penalty kicks to Wisconsin in the Big East tournamnet hurt their seeding, and they could pay for it having landed in the bracket with Louisville. Konrad Warzycha remains one of OSU’s most lethal options in attack.
Watch out for…
Monmouth: The small school located in West Branch, N.J., has made itself a name over the last few years, appearing in the rankings on a weekly basis with an attractive brand of soccer. Ryan Kinne and Bryan Meredith (right) are two reasons that the Hawks could spring an upset – or more.
[inline_node:323523]Providence: It took a late run to the final of the Big East tournament, but the Friars proved that they have the moxie to survive the rigorous demands of a knockout tournament. With a possible matchup against Ohio State in the second round, a third round berth isn’t out of the question.
North Carolina Bracket
A 1-0 loss in the ACC Championship likely cost the Tar Heels the shot at a No. 2 seed (that went to Maryland) but UNC has to be content with their side of the draw. Going through Louisville can be perceived as a less daunting task than beating Akron or Maryland in the Final Four.
Two of the other three seeded teams are mid-majors: Butler, a surprise from the start, and William & Mary, a solid team that was thrashed by Maryland 3-0 earlier this year.
[inline_node:322930]No. 4 North Carolina: Injuries have crushed the Tar Heels this year, so to be seeded this high is a reflection of the impressive coaching job done by Elmar Bolowich. Michael Farfan (right) and Kirk Urso drive the offense through the midfield, but the focus will be up front. Goals from a forward will be crucial if UNC want to succeed in the later stages of the tournament.
No. 5 Southern Methodist: While former SMU coach Schellas Hyndman has his current FC Dallas side in a championship game, the Mustangs begin a quest of their own on Sunday. Despite a loss in the C-USA tournament to South Carolina, the talents of Arthur Irvo and freshman Juan Castillo make SMU a formidable matchup.
No. 12 William & Mary: Relying on a stable of experienced players, the Tribe have produced one of their most impressive seasons in 15 years. Will it translate to success in the NCAA tournament? A quarterfinal berth certainly isn’t out of the question.
No. 13 Butler: The Horizon League darlings emerged from almost nowhere to post a 16-0-3 record, secure a seed, and host a tournament match for the first time in program history. Ben Sippola has been the driving force of the offense, tallying eight goals and nine assists. His performance will be crucial to any postseason success the Bulldogs hope to achieve.
[inline_node:323524]Watch out for…
Creighton: The Blue Jays suffered an upset loss in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament that likely cost them a chance at a seed and a first round bye. Buoyed by forward Ethan Finlay (right) and strong defender Tyler Polak, Creighton are an upset threat.
Georgetown: Like their bracket counterparts, the Hoyas lost early in their conference tournament, falling to Providence at home. Freshman forward Steve Neumann provides the only consistent scoring options, and Georgetown will need more to go on a nice run.