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College Soccer Update: Conference tourney time!

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It’s that time of year to assess whether your alma mater or favorite program is going to go dancing.

We won’t mess around with the at-large bids, which are heavily-influenced by RPI, but let’s dig into the conference tournament fields.

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America East: Surprising Binghamton will test the mettle of No. 1 Albany in one semifinal, while the other sees Brian Wright and Vermont take on last year’s NCAA darlings in UMBC.

American Athletic: SMU is the No. 1 seed, and hasn’t lost since a Sept. 13 defeat to powerhouse Stanford. If they get past No. 4 Tulas, they’ll get the winner of UConn and USF.

Atlantic 10: Still eight teams in play, including our No. 1 star of this week (See below). George Washington finished a remarkable rise to the No. 1 seed last weekend, while No. 2 Dayton looks mighty dangerous.

ACC: What a conference! In one semi, you have annual power Notre Dame against a Wake Forest side which has looked as impressive as any side in the nation this year. On the other, last year’s darling Syracuse used a Liam Callahan penalty kick to force a match-up with Clemson. Any of these four could win the national title. Game on.

Atlantic Sun: No. 4 USC Upstate and No. 2 North Florida square off Saturday for the title, with freshman Gordon Wild and his 16 goals hoping to lead the upset. And Upstate is playing with heavy inspiration after losing two teammates in a car accident earlier this season.

GoXavier.com
GoXavier.com

Big East: Some massive matches in the semis, with red-hot Xavier mixing it up with Georgetown and last year’s College Cuppers Providence going after former national No. 1 Creighton.

Big South: Sneaky-loaded Radford faces High Point in one semi, while No. 1 seed Winthrop will have to tend with one of the nation’s top scores in Brad Farias and No. 6 Campbell.

Big Ten: Columbus is the venue for No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Rutgers, with the winner earning a date with the victor of the other semi: Indiana vs. Maryland.

Big West: UCSB and Cal State Fullerton won their divisions, with UC Davis and Cal Poly the wild cards for the semis.

Colonial: Elon has dipped a bit since its lofty start to the season, but is still the favorite to emerge from a bracket with Delaware, Hofstra and James Madison.

Conference USA: Kentucky has a bye with the No. 1 seed, and Charlotte (See Star No. 3 below) is a very dangerous No. 2 seed. Five other teams are alive in the tournament, with South Carolina, Old Dominion, Marshall, Florida International and New Mexico.

Horizon: No. 1 seed UIC gets a tricky No. 6 in Wright State in one tournament semifinal, while No. 2 Oakland faces No. 4 Cleveland State.

Ivy League: Dartmouth is through to the NCAA tournament.

MAAC: Charlie Inverso’s Rider beat No. 25 Monmouth in an thrilling final to win the conference’s outright berth.

Mid American: Tantalizing bracket in one of the more under-the-radar conferences in the country. Akron is widely-expected to win the thing, but then West Virginia snuck into the tournament as the No. 4 seed. Buffalo and Western Michigan tangle in the other semi.

Missouri Valley: SIUE is the first seed and will look to go to another NCAA tournament by holding off a field which includes Bradley, Drake, Missouri State, Loyola and Central Arkansas.

Morris

PAC-12: Jordan Morris and Stanford have already clinched the conference title.

Patriot: No. 1 seed Colgate hosts Lehigh in one semi, while American and Boston tangle in the other.

Southern: Top four seeds are still alive heading into Friday’s semis: UNC Greensboro, Furman, Mercer and Eastern Tennessee State.

Sun Belt: There’s a whole five-team tournament left, but No. 1 Hartwick is favored to go to the tourney for a second-straight season.

Summit League: It’ll be decided Thursday and Saturday. Unbeaten Denver (see Star No. 2 below) is the top seed and faces Western Illinois, with the winner taking on the winner of Omaha and Oral Roberts.

West Coast: It’s win (or draw) and in for San Diego in Saturday’s conference finale at Santa Clara, which needs a win. San Francisco needs a win against Loyola Marymount and a San Diego loss.

WAC: Seattle and Utah Valley are your Nos. 1 & 2 seeds, and will get to face the winners of the 3v6 and 4v5 matches on less than a day’s rest after Thursday’s quarterfinals. No. 3 seed UNLV has a gem in striker Danny Musovski.

Three Stars

  1. 11470145Colin Phillips, Duquesne (right) — The redshirt-senior Canadian is making the most of his fifth year. Phillips still plays some back, but his great speed and size has forced coach Chase Brooks to play him up top. All the kid’s done is scored 12 goals and add five assists this season, including five goals and two assists in his last four games. The Dukes get Dayton in the first round of the A-10 tourney.
  2. Denver — Still unbeaten at 13-0-3, the Summit League’s No. 1 team has a 522-plus minute shutout streak moving into the conference tournament. Redshirt-senior Dan Jackson has been at the helm for 10 clean sheets, including the Pioneers’ last five matches.
  3. Brandt Bronico, Charlotte – The midfielder with a killer name has played a massive part in the 49ers charge to No. 24 in the nation. Bronico has 7 goals and 8 assists, and Charlotte has lost just once in its last eight games. The seven wins include victories over South Carolina and New Mexico.

Other notes

— Wake Forest maintains its status as No. 1 team in men’s Division 1, and now has 23 of 24 first-place votes. Clemson has the other.

— St. Francis Brooklyn still leads the nation with a minuscule 0.38 goals against average.

— On the flip side, Dayton has scored more goals than anyone in D-1. The Flyers have netted 46 goals in 18 games.

— Other No. 1 sides: Pfeiffer (Men’s D2), Calvin (Men’s D3), Virginia (Women’s D1), Grand Valley State (Women’s D2), Messiah (Women’s D3).

Three things we learned: Italy v. USMNT

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GENK — The U.S. men’s national team lost 1-0 to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to finish off its 2018 schedule with a defeat after conceding in the 94th minute.

Matteo Politano struck with less than 30 seconds left to condemn the USMNT to a second-straight defeat of this international break, as they closed out 2018 with a disappointing defeat and performance.

Dave Sarachan named the youngest U.S. lineup in the modern era (since 1990) with an average age of 22 years and 71 days, while Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in that era. Italy’s team was a mixture of youth and experience as Ethan Horvath made several fine stops but couldn’t preserve the shutout for the USMNT.

Here’s what we learned from a tight encounter in Belgium.


HORVATH, PULISIC, ADAMS STAND TALL

Three of the USMNT’s standout performers in Genk were captain Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. The former looked on a level of his own among players wearing a U.S. jersey, buzzing around the Italian defense and trying to make things happen. A superb run and cross down the left and then a lovely scooped pass, both to Josh Sargent, showcased his quality on the ball. The only problem for Pulisic was that he didn’t see enough of it. With long balls pumped up to him, Pulisic didn’t win many aerial duels against Leonardo Bonucci but his best work was done dropping off Josh Sargent and picking passes.

At the other end of the pitch Horvath stood tall to deny Italy’s captain Bonucci a clear goal, tipped another dipping effort over and then pushed a dangerous cross in the box away right before half time. And in the second half Horvath saved with his feet as Kevin Lasagna was clean through on goal, pushed Vincenzo Grifo’s shot wide and denied Lasagna again. The Club Brugge stopper enhanced his chances of challenging Brad Guzan and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 jersey, and a year after his horror mistake allowed Portugal to score in Sarachan’s first friendly in charge, Horvath took his second chance and deserved a clean sheet.

In midfield Tyler Adams was brave on the ball in front of the back three, tried to get things going in attack and was the most composed U.S. player on the pitch. The New York Red Bulls midfield, still a teenager, will no doubt be a big part of this team moving forward and he, Pulisic (obviously) and Horvath proved they will be in many USMNT squads to come. The rest struggled a little.


YOUNGSTERS OVERWHELMED

When you name the youngest USMNT lineup in modern history, you’d expect a few bumps in the road during the game. That is exactly what happened. A back three of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, plus Shaq Moore playing out of position at left wing-back, was undone by simple long balls over the top as the USMNT dropped deeper and deeper throughout the game. The U.S. only had 26.6 percent possession and were happy to sit deep and try to hit Italy on the break, just like they did against France in Lyon.

Unlike the game against England last week, this was nowhere near a full-strength USMNT lineup and you could make an argument that only two players (Adams and Pulisic) would be regular starters moving forward.

The likes of Zimmerman, Long, Moore and Cannon were decent enough and got plenty of the reps with the USMNT under pressure for most of the game. One thing is now for sure, whoever is in charge for the January camp and beyond: experimenting needs to stop. The past 13 months has shown us what over 50 players can do. Now a permanent coach needs to select his best squad and work with them each camp moving forward.


SARACHAN’S REIGN SUMMED UP IN 90 MINUTES

Dave Sarachan’s record after 12 games in charge of the USMNT reads 3-5-4, as he set his team up for the draw against Italy but didn’t get it.

Just like they’ve done against top teams in the past, and they did against France in Lyon back in June, the U.S. sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to grab a clean sheet. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t work, but it could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Sarachan’s young team.

The past 13 months has seen him steady the ship after the nightmare of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but in truth there are still more questions than answers when it comes to what is next for the U.S.

Sarachan has now handed debuts to 23 players, more than any other U.S. manager in the modern era, and his task was to try and restore pride in the program after the World Cup qualifying debacle. He may have done a bit of that, mostly thanks to putting his faith in youth, but the U.S. has pretty much stood still in 2018. Some players have taken their chances, others haven’t and, perhaps most importantly, the USMNT still don’t have a permanent head coach.

That is the biggest issue of all, but that is no longer Sarachan’s problem.


Italy finally finds way past Horvath, USMNT

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The United States men’s national team closed out its 2018 with almost as many questions as it closed out 2017, losing 1-0 on a stoppage time goal in Belgium.

Actually, there may be more questions after the result, as goalkeeper Ethan Horvath made a statement between the sticks with more than a half-dozen saves in place of injured Zack Steffen.

Italy scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time, a terrific team goal completed by two tremendous touches from scorer Matteo Politano.

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The first half-hour was marked by significant Italian possession, and most notable for some dogged interventions from alert USMNT goalkeeper Horvath.

The Club Brugge man played well in Belgium, stopping Leonardo Bonucci point-blank on the Italians’ best chance of the first half.

Horvath was busy again in the 44th minute, reacting quickly to an untouched Marco Verratti free kick.

Fortunately for the U.S., there were few ideas on display from Roberto Mancini’s men.

Verratti headed over the goal within the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Americans had a chance for an unlikely opener with a 56th minute free kick. Nothing.

Horvath was back in the spotlight with an in-tight leg save after Walker Zimmerman put off a driving Kevin Lasagna in the 59th after Bonucci sent him over the top of the defense.

A Kellyn Acosta free kick found Zimmerman at the back post, but Salvatore Sirigu was there for his first save of the afternoon.

Hoffenheim’s Vincenzo Grifo forced Horvath into a flying save in the 70th minute, and Mancini’s men couldn’t do anything with the ensuing corner. He’d then stymy another 1v1 chance on the left side in the 72nd.

Lasagna probably should’ve given Italy a winner in the final 10 minutes, but he smashed the ball over the bar.

Substitute Romain Gall forced a corner kick out of a diving Sirigu in the 90th minute, but the youngster’s corner didn’t clear Italy’s line.

Verratti and substitute Moise Keane played Politano on goal, with Sebastian Lletget leaving Politano after the Inter man started the play and Aaron Long unable to switch in time.

Nashville signs Mexican striker for MLS 2020 debut, loans him to USL

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Nashville has its first official Major League Soccer signing, and it’s raided a USL rival to land him for the 2020 season.

[ REPORT: New Chelsea deal for Kante? ]

Daniel Rios is the debut member of their MLS side, and the 23-year-old Mexican striker will spend the 2019 season on loan to USL side Nashville SC.

Rios is bringing an outstanding 2018 season west from North Carolina, where he scored 20 goals and 13 assists for NCFC.

A former Mexico U-20 player, Rios was on loan to NCFC from Chivas Guadalajara.

LIVE: USMNT vs. Italy – Pulisic wearing captain’s armband

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Christian Pulisic may be only 20-years old, but he’ll have to take a big step up in leadership on Tuesday evening.

Pulisic has been given the captain’s armband for the first time as the youth-laden U.S. Men’s National Team side finishes the 2018 calendar slate facing an experimental Italy side. The U.S. Starting XI has an average age of just 22-years and 71 days, making it the youngest lineup in the modern era.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Joe Prince-Wright reporting LIVE from Genk, Belgium ]

It’s also a chance for fans to see Josh Sargent play alongside Pulisic, while two members of the New York Red Bulls, Tyler Adams and Aaron Long, both make starts on this cool Tuesday evening. Reggie Cannon and Shaq Moore earn the nods at wing back and Cameron Carter-Vickers also makes his return to the field, after Dave Sarachan went with Matt Miazga and John Anthony Brooks against England in central defense. The USMNT will play with a three-man backline against Italy.

Stay tuned to PST for wall-to-wall coverage, reaction and analysis of Thursday’s game as soon as the final whistle blows.