Everyone loves an underdog, especially in college sports. But this latest edition of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament will go without a Cinderella story.
Last year, unfancied Drake marched all the way to the Elite Eight, as well as then unheralded Maryland (although considering the Terrapins an underdog is a stretch, even in an off year).
A deep run by an unseeded team simply hasn’t materialized this year, with all eight teams still alive among the seeds when the tournament started.
There are plenty of reasons for that. Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, a higher seed earns home field advantage, forcing the visiting side to hit the road, sometimes traversing the entire country.
Two Ivy League schools had to cope with travel over the holiday weekend, as Brown flew out west to play California while Dartmouth took a trip to visit UCLA. The Bruins needed overtime to get past the Big Green, but both Pac-10 schools advanced.
Some of the mid-majors didn’t deliver come tournament time. Monmouth was routed at home in the first round by Dartmouth; UC Santa Barbara fell to Cal in overtime. Virginia lost at home as well, unable to overcome an exodus after winning the national championship last year.
It isn’t impossible to imagine lower seeds making the College Cup. The last time it happened was in 2007, when Massachusetts upset No. 1 seed Boston College – a team that included current US international Alejandro Bedoya – on the way to an appearance in a national semifinal.
The Minutemen came up short that year against Ohio State, putting an end to their run. Two years before that, half the teams in the College Cup weren’t seeded, as both Clemson and Southern Methodist (coached by now FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman) made deep inroads in the tournament.
In many ways, the failure of those lower seeds that make it to the later stages keeps the product on the field more entertaining. The quality of a college team’s record is usually an accurate reflection of their talent level, in particular at the very top.
And this year is the same. Akron and Maryland have received most of the press, and each roster is loaded and stacked with talent. But along with the quality of play, each school employs an attractive, possession oriented style that is sometimes rare at the collegiate level.
Three more rounds of action remain, and with the heavier seeds still alive chasing the national title, each weekend should provide entertaining and ample viewing as eight teams battle for the crown. And that they are eight of the very best teams in the NCAA can’t hurt, either.