Photo by UNC Athletics
A mix of NCAA DI, DII, and NAIA action headlines this weekend's matches to watch with plenty of excitement to go around.
The weekend kicks off on Friday with a pair of matches worth keeping a close eye on. In the opener, North Carolina clashes with Notre Dame in a high-level ACC clash that will go a long way to determining ACC Tournament seeding for the Fighting Irish. Friday continues with a DII clash as Palm Beach Atlantic, who have already wrapped-up the Sunshine State Conference regular season title, have a chance to end the regular season without suffering a loss if they can find a positive result against Florida Tech.
Saturday features a pair of NAIA matches, as two teams try to wrap up their regular season conference titles. In the late afternoon, John Brown will attempt to play spoilers to Southwestern Christian as the latter can clinch the Sooner Athletic Conference with a win. Later in the evening, Rio Grande will try and seal the title in the River States Conference when they take on the team trying to knock them off in Asbury University, currently in second place.
Sunday features a Big Ten match between Maryland and Michigan that will go a long way to determining the conference champion. With these two clashing on the east coast, Michigan State and Indiana will clash elsewhere as the four teams at the top try and establish who's the biggest of the Big Ten.
The weekend kicks off with a major ACC clash between North Carolina and Notre Dame on Friday night.
North Carolina enter their final match of the regular season with the ACC Coastal Division title wrapped up and with the overall regular season title out of reach. The Tar Heels haven’t played like themselves in the last three matches with a double-overtime win over Old Dominion, a draw against Louisville and a loss against Wake Forest showing a slight decline in form of late. Their PDL-heavy line-up, including Charlotte Eagles goalkeeper James Pyle, Carolina Dynamo goalkeeper Alec Smir, Wilmington Hammerheads FC midfielder Cameron Lindley, North Carolina FC U23 forward Alexander Rose, and Tobacco Road FC forward Alan Winn will try and break that downturn before heading into the ACC Conference Tournament next time out.
Notre Dame can still finish anywhere from second to fifth in the ACC Coastal Division, an important distinction for conference tournament seeding, but also enter the match in a bit of a downturn. After a tough loss to Pittsburgh and another to Akron, the Fighting Irish played out a scoreless draw with Duke last time out, leaving the team 0-2-1 in their past three matches. Notre Dame will want to enter the brutal conference tournament on an upward note, and if Chicago FC United forward Jeff Farina can lead the team to victory over North Carolina, it would put the team in much better position entering the next few weeks.
Friday’s action continues with an NCAA DII clash between Florida Tech and Palm Beach Atlantic as both teams close out their regular season slates.
Florida Tech have posted a strong 9-4-0 record this season, along with a 6-3-0 conference mark, but have seen their hot first half of the year come to a grinding halt. After winning eight of their first nine matches this season, the Panthers have lost three of their last four, including all three of their conference losses this year. Still, Florida Tech find themselves in third place in the Sunshine State Conference, with the possibility of second not out of reach if they can topple Palm Beach Atlantic from their perch atop the conference this weekend.
Palm Beach Atlantic are sitting pretty entering their final match of the year. Aside from having already locked up the SSC regular season crown and entering the conference tournament as the number one seed, the Sailfish have a shot to end the year unbeaten with a positive result on Friday. After their second draw of the season in late September, the Sailfish have won nine straight, including eight in a row where they didn’t surrender a single goal. If South Georgia Tormenta FC midfielder Charlie Dennis can help lead Palm Beach Atlantic to victory on Friday, they’ll have to be confident in earning a double of regular season and tournament titles in 2017.
Saturday afternoon continues the weekend slate with the first of two NAIA matches on the day, as John Brown take on Southwest Christian.
John Brown enter Saturday’s showdown on the heels of a disappointing double-overtime loss to Oklahoma City midweek, and with an even split of two wins and two losses in their last four matches. The team has enjoyed a mostly successful 2017, posting an 8-6-1 record, but falling behind in conference play with a 4-3-1 record, well behind their pace-setting opponents. They’ll have a chance to reassert themselves as one of the conference’s best if Charlotte Eagles midfielders Kelvin Omondi and Ryan Williams can help lead the Golden Eagles to a win in their penultimate match against the conference leaders this weekend.
On the other side of the field, Southwestern Christian will try and wrap-up the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season title with a win on Saturday. Still within reach for second-place Wayland Baptist, Southwestern Christian have posted an impressive 13-3-0 record this year, dropping just one match in conference play to the team chasing them. Including that recent loss, the team has won nine of their last ten matches, putting them in great position to be sitting atop the pile after Saturday’s final match.
Saturday’s NAIA action continues and concludes with a one vs. two clash as Rio Grande and Asbury University clash in River States Conference play.
Though Rio Grande have by far the best regular season record in the RSC, a comfortable 12-1-1 mark, they still have work to do to wrap up the regular season conference title with two matches to play. That work starts on Saturday, as they’ll take on Asbury University, sitting just one match behind them in the conference standings and with a chance to topple the current leaders. Thunder Bay Chill defender Mitchell Osmond and Charlotte Eagles midfielder Jovan Petrovic will try and prevent that from happening for the RedStorm, as a win would all but secure the title.
For their part, Asbury University knows that a win will draw them exactly level with the nationally No. 3-ranked RedStorm in the River States Conference, and give them a chance to pull ahead in the coming weeks. They’ve got the form to do it, having won their last two matches without surrendering a goal, leaving them feeling good entering Saturday’s major showdown.
Finally, the weekend action comes to a close on Sunday as a Big Ten clash between Maryland and Michigan takes center-stage.
With both teams entering Sunday’s match knowing that a win possibly earns them the regular season division crown, the Terrapins and Wolverines will come out playing hard. Maryland currently sit in a dead-even three-way lock with Indiana and Michigan State, who battle one-another on Sunday as well, and they’ll try and take care of business at home to give them a shot of emerging on top when all is said and done. Tampa Bay Rowdies U23 midfielder Andrew Samuels will try and lead the way for the Terrapins, as they’ll try to improve their 5-3-2 home record with a big win this weekend.
The Wolverines sit in a similar position, with one fewer draw and one more loss than the other three teams around them. But the crown still remains within reach if they can pull off the upset of Maryland in their final match of the regular season. With silverware dancing in their eyes, and led by Michigan Bucks forward Francis Atuahene, will the Wolverines be able to find a win in a difficult road environment.