The postseason has arrived, and to paraphrase Dr David Bowman: "My God, it's full of Sounders". Last week was the conference tournaments for those conferences that have them, and in the Pac 12 (which does not) the title race came down to the last game. Note that the reported rankings are last week's, since the updated Coaches' Poll releases tomorrow.
3-0-0 since last update
So M Ian Lange (Goal), Jr F Darwin Jones, So D Michael Gallagher (2 Assists), So F Jimmy Oganga, Fr F Dom Dismuke, So GK Ryan Herman (11 SV, 1 GA)
After suffering their first loss of the season to UCLA just before the last update and showing some defensive vulnerability in a few games in a row, the Huskies buttoned it up and surrendered only a single goal in the final three games of the season, winning all three, and earning their first Pac 12 championship in 13 years.
First, they hosted Stanford in a mega-matchup of Sounders Academy alumni. Holding the Cardinal to single shot on goal (by Jordan Morris) was the defensive statement they needed. They scored twice, the second coming from Lange (assited by Gallagher) to take the win. Next, they hosted Cal, who was #4 in the country (after being #1 for much of the season) and at the top of the conference standings. After surrendering an early goal, the Huskies came back in the second half to tie it, and then won it just seconds in the first overtime off of another Michael Harris flip throw to take command of the Pac 12. That meant that a win in the last match of the season over bottom-of-the-standings Oregon State would clinch the conference title. And so they did in a game that they dominated shot-wise, but in which they got just one Mason Robertson goal (off another Gallagher assist). Thanks to another shutout, that was enough.
The strong winning streak to finish the season and the conference title in a very tough Pac 12 earned them a #2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, which means a first round bye and home field advantage all the way to the College Cup. In the second round on Sunday they'll host the winner of Seattle U and Creighton. You'll remember that Creighton was the team that knocked the Huskies out of the tournament last year, but that game was hosted in Omaha, so this is potentially a nice chance for some revenge at home. But the better outcome is that other team winning...
#14 Wake Forest
Jr F Sean Okoli (Goal)
The Deacons come into the NCAA tournament with slightly less momentum. After the last update they were knocked around by #2 overall Notre Dame to lose 3-1 at home. Then they recovered for a big 4-1 win (which included an Okoli goal) over Syracuse. But then they were upset in the first round of the ACC tournament by Virginia, whose only shot on goal was the penalty kick that led to the only goal of the game.
Still, they finished 3rd in the ACC standings behind top-5 teams Notre Dame and Maryland and their overall body of work was good enough to get them the 14th seed in the NCAA tournament and a first round bye. On Sunday they'll face the winner of Thursday's match between Virginia Commonwealth and Navy, with a chance to move on for a likely rematch with Notre Dame.
So M Aaron Kovar (Goal, Assist), Fr F Jordan Morris (2 Goals, Assist)
It was a very busy stretch for Stanford, with 5 games in 14 days to finish out the season. And it did not start off well. First, there was a home loss to high flying UCLA (with Morris getting the Stanford goal) followed two days later by a 1-1 home draw to low-flying San Diego State (with Morris getting the . . you know), then the aforementioned loss to Washington.
At that point, their tournament hopes had to be hanging by a thread. But they finished the schedule with a 1-0 overtime win over Oregon State, and — much more importantly — a 2-1 overtime win at home over #5 Cal. That one was a Sounders show, with the first goal (by Zach Batteer) assisted by both Morris and Kovar and the golden goal in overtime scored by Kovar, who slalomed through multiple Cal defenders in the box to earn the win in a game that likely determined whether the Cardinal would make the NCAA tournament or not. Here's that goal if you want to watch, and I know you do.
Now they host Loyola Marymount on Thursday in the first round of the tournament. A win there would send them to CSU Northridge, with a potential rematch with Washington waiting if they could pull off that upset.
Jr M Nick Palodichuk (Goal, Assist)
To give you an idea of how close the margin was for these teams, Duke finished exactly one RPI spot behind Stanford, but was not invited to the NCAA tournament. For the Blue Devils, the existence of a conference tournament in the ACC hurt them more than helped them. They finished off the regular season with consecutive shutout wins over Pitt and and Clemson, with Palodichuk picking up a goal and assist in the win over Pitt. Those wins meant Duke finished the season undefeated in their last 8 consecutive games. But in their first ACC tournament match they lost to (the much higher ranked) Notre Dame. And as much as the win over Cal put Stanford in the tournament, the loss to Notre Dame probably took Duke out.
So that ends the third season at Duke for Palodichuk, who finishes third on the team in points with 4 goals and 4 assists in a season in which he was again limited by injury. Next season he should return as a Senior and team leader on a rising Duke team, and we may have to address the question of whether he is actually a potential home grown player for Seattle or not.
So M Jordan Schweitzer (Assist)
At this point in the list we're out of the potential at large teams and into teams that can only make the NCAA tournament if they win their conference. That's exactly what Denver did in their first season in the Summit League. They finished up the regular season with conference wins over Oral Roberts (with a Schweitzer assist) and Western Illinois, which gave them an undefeated record in conference play and a top seed in the Summit tournament. In the first round they pounded IUPUI 5-0 to set up the rematch with Western Illinois in the final. That was a much tighter affair, but a single second half goal and a shutout gave them the conference title and the invite to the big dance.
On Thursday they travel to Louisville for their first round match. If they can get by that, Michigan State awaits on the weekend.
F Jesse Klug (3 Goals, 2 Assists)
The Bison were also very busy in this stretch, with their final 4 regular season games plus the Patriot League tournament. They went on a torrid stretch to close out the season, starting off with a 3-0 win over Lafayette in which Klug went off for a goal and 2 assists. Then he scored again in a 3-1 win over Holy Cross. Then the team earned consecutive 1-0 wins over Hartwich and BU to finish the season with 4 straight wins.
But after beating American in the first round of the conference tournament with another goal from Klug, they fell 1-0 in the semis to Navy, who went on to win the tournament and will likely end the season in the Top 25 rankings. So that ends the season for Bucknell and a breakout season for the Sounder sophomore Klug, who finishes first on the team and second in the conference with 10 goals and tied for second in the conference with 4 game winning goals.
College of Charleston
Jr M Troy Peterson (Goal, Assist), Fr M Ike Crook
The Cougar season ended on a slight up note with 2 wins in their last 3. They got a 2-1 win over James Madison with Peterson assisting the game winner, then a 1-0 win over Northeastern. But a 2-1 loss to Drexel (with Peterson getting the lone, late Charleston goal) in the season ender meant that they didn't even get invited to the conference tournament.
It was a very down year for a proud and somewhat storied College of Charleston program and a tough first year in the college game for Ike Crook, but we expect them to bounce back next season.
Jr M Chase Hanson, So M Austin Sweeney, Fr D Kyle Bjornethun (Assist)
Back to good news! The Pete Fewing-coached Redhawks finished the regular season with a 1-1 draw at Houston Baptist, a 4-3 comeback win at Kansas City (with Bjornethun assisting the game tying goal), and a 1-0 home win over San Jose State. That meant they finished the season undefeated in 11 consecutive games, went undefeated (with 12 wins) in WAC play, and earned the top seed in the conference tournament. There they beat Air Force 2-1 in the semifinal and San Jose State 2-1 in the final to win the WAC and earn an NCAA tournament invite.
In the tourney they face Creighton in the first round on Thursday. If they can get the upset, it sets up a Sounders-heavy second round match at UW on Sunday.
Fr D Sam Langston (Assist)
The Mavericks were languishing at the bottom of the Summit League standings for most of the season, but a dominant season ending run that included 3 wins by an aggregate 9-1 left them at third in the conference and they would have made the conference tournament if they weren't ineligible due to the fact that they're still in a 'transitional state' from Division 2.
Langston's been a near every-minute defender for the young team and he finishes the season 4th on the team in minutes despite being a true Freshman.
The national Division 2 tournament has already kicked off, and there are Sounders involved. Simon Fraser was in the division 2 national rankings all season and finished with only 2 losses. In the first round of the tourney they crushed Cal Baptist 5-0 then in the second round upset Cal State LA in overtime. Now they face UC San Diego in the quarterfinals on Friday. Sounder forward Glenn Paden was prominently featuring for the side early in the season, but hasn't appeared since then (presumably due to injury).
Regis has also been around the rankings all season, with Sounder keeper Connor Adkisson taking over as the starting keeper in the second half of the season despite being a true Freshman, and he's put some pretty impressive displays in. They finished the season with two consecutive wins in which Adkisson faced a combined 43 shots, then in the RMAC semifinals he had 7 saves in a win over Fort Lewis. In the final they lost in overtime to Colorado Mesa after he faced another 25 shots in the game. Now they move on to the national tournament, where a couple of byes mean they've been off for over a week and their first match is against Midwestern State on Friday.
UC Santa Barbara dominated the Big West, going undefeated in regular conference play, but they lost in the tournament semifinal to Cal St Northridge. Still, they were rewarded for a solid season with a 10th seed in the NCAA tournament. Defender Brandon Brockway is still out injured, but maybe if they keep extending the season. . ? Michael Steele was out of the Oregon State lineup for a while, but he started and played 90 in the season finale against UW. So ends a tough year for the Beavers in a stacked Pac 12.
The West Virginia season ended with a 3-0 loss to Akron in the MAC Tournament. Sounder defender Nick Raskasky hasn't played for the team since a midseason injury. Keeper Keenan Townsend got a game and a half of playing time for San Diego State, taking over the second half of a loss to Wright State and playing the full 90 in a 4-0 win over Grand Canyon. The Aztecs season is over as they're way back in the Pac 12, but now Townsend gets a chance at the starter job with starter Blake Hylen graduating.
At the CC level, Stefan Bangsund had a big year for Highline as they advanced though a dominant regular season and into the semifinals of the NWAACC tournament, where they held a 1-0 lead into second half stoppage time over Clark College, when goal-line controversy struck and Clark was awarded a goal that may not have been over the line. Clark would win in overtime, ending another good Highline season, with Bangsund picking up 8 goals and 4 assists and goalkeeper Trevor Larson 66 saves.