The postseason introduces newfound rivalries. Most of the NCAA tournament’s matchups are not matches seen within the regular season, and some face offs are reintroductions to bad blood from years ago.
We wondered which seven matchups would thrive in a postseason atmosphere, and provide previews into why each dream matchup was chosen. Some are based solely on rivalries, and other are based on statistical and historical significance.
Here’s to hoping college soccer fans could get lucky.
No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 2 Indiana
Dream scenario: The program of the decade meets, arguably, the best program of all time. Who wins?
Well, the Cardinals began their run in 2015, securing three consecutive national titles. Maryland stole their thunder last season, winning its third championship in program history. As surprising as it might sound, Stanford’s streak began with their first title in program history. Their legacy just began and is still maturing.
Indiana’s legacy, on the other hand, has been shaping since 1982, when the Hoosiers won their first title, beating Duke (2-1) in eight overtimes. Since, Indiana has won eight championships, consecrating its name as one of the best programs of all time. Jerry Yeagley, the winningest men’s soccer coach of all time helped to form that mold. Fitting that legacy has been difficult since Yeagley retired in 2003, but the Hoosiers have gone on to win two titles since. They even placed runner-up to Stanford in 2017.
The chance it happens — high likelihood: What might be the most exciting dream matchup of all, Stanford vs. Indiana is very likely to occur when you look at the most recent United Soccer Coaches poll. If the postseason were to take place tomorrow, they’d be No. 1 seeds and would likely meet in a semifinal or final match.
UNITED COACHES POLL: See who else ranks in the Top-25
No. 1 Wake Forest vs. No. 21 Akron
Dream scenario: Akron had a busy postseason in 2018. Entering the bracket unseeded, the Zips plowed through (in order) Rider, No. 16 Syracuse, No. 1 Wake Forest, No. 9 Stanford and Michigan State, ultimately losing to No. 11 Maryland in the College Cup final.
Below is Akron’s game-winning goal against then-reigning champion Stanford:
— Akron Zips M Soccer (@ZipsMSoc) December 1, 2018
Excruciatingly for the Demon Deacons, the Zips ousted them in the third round — as a No. 1 seed. Akron played the devious part well and nearly won the title.
The entertainment aspect of this match would be off the charts, and would include two MAC Hermann watch list candidates — Wake Forest’s Bruno Lapa and Akron’s David Egbo.
The chance it happens — high likelihood: The Zips have struggled to begin this season after starting the year ranked No. 3; losses to Xavier and then-No. 3 Stanford have pushed them down to No. 21. Wake Forest, on the other hand, has excelled to No. 1 after entering the season at No. 4. Losses within the top-5 and a win against No. 15 UCF have boosted their attractiveness to voters. If both teams continue on this path, a postseason meetup is still very likely. And after last year’s postseason showing, Akron is very capable of surprises.
No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 4 Stanford
Dream scenario: One team possesses a MAC Herman watch list candidate, and the other is the reigning College Cup champion. Both having won the title once in the past two seasons (Stanford won it three years straight from 2015-2017) means their players have experienced success. And that’s priceless during the intense pressure of the postseason.
Stanford is led by Tanner Beason, a possible 2019 MAC Herman trophy winner and 2019 Preseason All-Pac-12 honoree. Through two games, he currently leads the team in goals with 2.
Maryland doesn’t have a trophy watch list honoree, and after last week’s loss to No. 12 Virginia (2-0), the Terps might not seem ready for the upcoming top-25 matchups like No. 21 Akron (Sept. 13) and No. 2 Indiana (Oct. 18). In fact, freshmen outnumber the seniors 14-6. But the talent is there, and Maryland has the time to iron out flaws before the conference schedule begins.
The chance it happens — high likelihood: Having the two most recent national champions meet in the 2019 NCAA tournament? The idea sounds rad, and the chance of the two meeting in the postseason are very likely in reference to the most recent poll. Their top-5 rankings have them on target for a No. 1 seed and possible meeting in the semifinals.
No. 7 Virginia vs. No. 21 Akron
Dream scenario: Ten years ago, Virginia and Akron met in Cary, N.C., for what is arguably the College Cup match of the century. After two clean sheets in regulation and two shutout overtimes, one fact was made clear: the 2009 national champion would be determined by penalty kicks.
The Zips were one shot away from a national championship-deciding penalty kick, but the ball flew over the net, marking the end of an undefeated season. Virginia won in penalty kicks (3-2), securing their sixth national title. Having this matchup resurface in the 2019 postseason would make for a haunting face off. Would Akron feel a sense of revenge? Maybe so, but the Zips were immediately gratified the next season, winning the program’s first national title in 2010. Still, the history is enough excitement for this dream matchup.
The chance it happens — high likelihood: Dependent on the postseason bracket, Virginia and Akron just might make the same draw, as long as each team continues on a playoff path. Looking at their rankings now, they’d probably meet during the lower rounds, making this dream matchup not a high profile as one would like. But hey, if it happens, soccer fans should be floored.
No. 8 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 1 Wake Forest
Dream scenario: The best defense last season in regard to goals against average belonged to Saint Mary’s (.384). That equates to eight goals allowed in 20 games by the Gaels. They shut out Stanford in the third round of the NCAA tournament, before the Cardinals prevailed in penalty kicks, 4-2. Then-No. 13 UC Davis suffered against a similar Wake Forest feat. They shut out the Aggies, 1-0, during the regular season.
Wake Forest had a similar dominance on offense last season, scoring 52 goals in 21 games. Air Force ended the season with 54 goals in 22 games, but Wake Forest’s feat shines brighter in comparison to their ACC-dominant schedule. The Demon Deacons pushed three goals past then-No.8 NC State and even conducted a shutout (3-0) in September. Later that month, they scored four goals on then-No. 15 Duke, taking the 4-2 victory.
The chance it happens — high likelihood: To have 2018’s best defense take on 2018’s best offense in the 2019 NCAA tournament is very possible, and would draw blood from many who believe the best offenses/defenses win championships. Only one team can win a game in the men’s soccer playoffs, so one theory would come out victorious.
No. 9 Kentucky vs. James Madison
Dream scenario: One of last season’s best goalkeepers endured the epitome of pressure in the third round of the NCAA tournament. James Madison and Michigan State were tied 1-1 at the 80th minute. Enter Spartans’ Ryan Sierakowski, who scored the game-winning goal at 80:20. T.J. Bush could not prevent the goal for the Dukes, but that did not denigrate his season’s performance. He ended the year with 13 shutouts in 23 games, the second-best total for goalkeepers.
Kentucky’s Enrique Facusse just surpassed Bush with 14 shutouts in 22 games last season. He helped shut out then-No. 2 Indiana, then-No. 24 Old Dominion, then-No. 14 Charlotte and then-No. 21 Portland.
Having each team’s offense try and push goals past the best junior goalies in men’s soccer is what the postseason is all about — the best of the best duking it out.
The chance it happens — medium likelihood: Seeing that James Madison is not currently ranked — receiving five votes (61 points below No. 25 Air Force) — it would be difficult to predict if they’d matchup with Kentucky or make the tournament. But if each goalie can replicate their 2019 season, meeting up in the postseason is definitely a possibility.
2019’S MUST WATCH GAMES: See the regular season’s best matchups
No. 20 North Carolina vs. UConn
Dream scenario: Among active coaches, North Carolina’s Carlos Somoano owns the best winning percentage with .763 (121-30-22) over an eight-year span. UConn’s Ray Reid comes at a close second with .742 (445-130-75) over a 30-year period. Though each coach’s tenure opens a large gap between records, they’ve proven the will and execution to succeed.
Somoano led the Tar Heels to a national title and was named coach of the year in 2011 — his first season as head coach. Reid has led the Huskies to one national championship and 16 straight NCAA tournament appearances from 1998-2013.
The chance it happens — small likelihood: UConn has dropped off from their success at the turn of the century. Since 2013, the Huskies have reached the tournament twice and lost both in the second round. Setting up a meeting with UNC in the postseason is very unlikely, though the Tar Heels are expected to make another run for the title in 2019.