Thursday, November 15, 2012
The NCAA Men’s Division I Tournament opens on Thursday night, with current and former PDL standouts aiming to help their sides take the first step toward next month’s College Cup to be held in Hoover, Ala. While the top 16 teams, including overall No. 1 seed Notre Dame and Reading United standout Ryan Finley, wait to find out who they will face in Sunday’s second round, the 32 unseeded teams face challenging tests to keep their seasons alive.
Either Michigan State or Cleveland State will visit the Fighting Irish, with the Spartans coming off claiming the Big Ten Tournament title with a victory against their rival Michigan this past Sunday. The No. 5 seed entering the tournament, MSU has received key contributions from Domenic Barone, formerly of the Chicago Fire PDL. The Vikings, meanwhile, enter as the Horizon League champions, and are led by former Akron Summit Assault goalkeeper Brad Stuver, who has conceded just 16 in 19 games this season.
The opening game of the tournament is set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. ET as Virginia hosts Lafayette for a place in the second round. The Cavaliers reached the semifinals of the ACC Tournament before being eliminated by North Carolina in a penalty shootout, and are led by former Reading United standout Will Bates. The senior has 11 goals this season, and will try to help his side get past a Lafayette defense led by Ocean City Nor’easters standout Julian Plummer, who has started all 20 of the Patriot League champions’ contests this season.
The nation’s leading scorer, former Carolina Dynamo forward Chris Thomas, will be the focal point of Elon’s trip to Coastal Carolina. Thomas has scored 23 goals this season for the Phoenix, as he helped his side claim the Southern Conference championship this past weekend with a 2-1 win against Wofford. Thomas and his teammates are hoping to overturn their regular-season loss to the Chanticleers, who finished the season ranked No. 13 by the NSCAA only to miss out on a seed and bye through the first round.
Coastal Carolina has been led by Ashton Bennett’s 15 goals, but the Chanticleers have also received solid production from Reading United’s Pedro Ribeiro, who leads the team with 10 assists, and Justin Portillo, who has nine assists. They are hoping for another home victory against the Phoenix, and a trip to Wake Forest in the second round.
A trio of players from FC Tucson will try to help the University of San Diego reach the second round, with the Toreros visiting Cal State Northridge. Eli Galbraith-Knapp, James Cohn and goalkeeper Michael D’Arrigo have all played roles in the side’s success this season, winning the West Coast Conference title.
Other players looking to make an impact on Thursday night include Xavier’s Luke Spencer. The Cincinnati Kings forward has led the Musketeers this fall, scoring 13 goals and 33 points, and is hoping to lead his side to victory on the road against Kentucky, which has received six goals and three assists from Orange County Blue Star midfielder Charlie Pettys.
2012 PDL Goalkeeper of the Year Adam Grinwis of the Michigan Bucks hopes to lead Michigan past Niagara in its opening contest, potentially setting up a clash with his PDL teammate Scott Caldwell and Akron in the second round. VSI Tampa’s Ashani Fairclough, Ben Sweat and Sebastian Thuriere will try to help South Florida past its in-state rival Florida Gulf Coast, while the Baltimore Bohemians’ Pete Caringi will try to add to his team-leading 14 goals, and the IMG Bradenton Academics’ Milo Kapor his 13 assists, as UMBC visits Old Dominion.
And in the lone nationally televised contest in the opening round, Jersey Express goalkeeper Rafael Diaz will try to continue his outstanding season for St. John’s as the Red Storm host Fairleigh Dickinson at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.