Returning champion Charleston (WV) tops our list, but here are just a few teams to keep your eyes on as the 48th DII men’s soccer season approaches.
Charleston (WV) ready to defend its crown
The Golden Eagles are, technically speaking, the defending national champions despite the last championship match being played in 2019. But let’s be real — 2019 wasn’t some flash in the pan. Charleston (WV) is a DII men’s soccer powerhouse.
Let’s take a look at the Golden Eagles’ resume since the 2014 season. That’s when Dan Stratford joined the team, first as an assistant and then as a head coach. Charleston (WV) reached the championship match four times in six years, losing the first two before claiming the title twice between 2017-19.
Gone is Stratford, but Daniel Smee — his former assistant — has taken the helm. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Smee led the Golden Eagles to a 10-0 record last spring in an abridged slate and now has an abundance of those stars — including top scorer Gabriel Rodriguez — returning for a title run.
You may be interested to know — the Golden Eagles first team defeated Marshall, the defending Division I national champions, in a scrimmage earlier in August. Keep in mind, there has not been a repeat national champion in DII men’s soccer in the 2000s. However, this team is clearly geared up and as good as any before them to try and break that streak of repeat-less champions.
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Cal State LA wants another shot at the DII title
The 2019 season gave us an all-Golden Eagles showdown in the championship match finale. Charleston (WV) ended Cal State LA’s 22-game unbeaten streak and perfect season by a 2-0 score, giving it their second national runner-up finish in program history.
Unlike Charleston (WV), the CCAA canceled all play for all sports in 2020-21. These Golden Eagles didn’t have a spring season and are chomping at the bit for some DII men’s soccer action. There are 15 players returning from the 2019 team that remember the bittersweet ending to that season, including All-Americans David Elizaga and Morten Bjoershol who is also the reigning CCAA defender of the year. Experience like that cannot be taken for granted.
3 DII men’s soccer teams outside the top 10 to watch in 2021
Looking at the first United Soccer Coaches poll of the season, there aren’t too many surprises in the top 10. All eight schools that comprised the 2019 national quarterfinals — Charleston (WV), Cal State LA, Lynn, UIndy, Wingate, Cal State San Bernardino, Franklin Pierce and Maryville (MO) — earned preseason top-10 honors.
With so many familiar faces in the top 10, which teams outside the upper echelon are we expecting to make some noise in 2021?
- Rogers State: The Hillcats have been a team on the rise for the past few seasons. After an 8-8-2 finish in 2018, they stormed back to a 13-5-2 record and the GAC/MIAA tournament title in 2019. Despite that turnaround, they did not hear their names called for the 2019 tournament and seemed to take it personally by going undefeated in 2021 and claiming another GAC/MIAA title this past spring. Leading scorer Jordan Watson, defender of the year Michael Turner and First-Teamer Callum Hubble are all back for another shot at the league title.
- Tiffin: The Dragons have a tough road ahead in their own conference as both Cedarville and Lake Erie find themselves in the top 25. However, since Tiffin moved to the G-MAC, they have been quite the machine — and that should continue this season. In 2018, Tiffin improved from an 8-win team to a 15-win team and won the G-MAC tournament, a feat it accomplished once again in 2019. While there was no “three-peat” in the abbreviated 2021 spring season, the Dragons found themselves in the G-MAC championship once again, falling to Ohio Valley 2-0. There’s something to be said for that kind of consistency, especially with seven key returners back in the starting lineup.
- Union (TN): Ok, Bulldogs, consider us intrigued. Union (TN) went 27-49-5 between 2015-19 for an average of 5.4 wins per season. This past spring, the Bulldogs closed the season with five-straight wins, including the GSC championship match over Christian Brothers — the first conference tournament title in program history. Union (TN) comes in at No. 16 in the preseason poll and returns Mats Fredriksen (who scored the game-winner in the title match), 2021 leading scorers Gavin Scott and William Valencia as well as keeper Botond Nemeth and a slew of the defense. They will have their work cut out with the GSC returning in full form, but the Bulldogs should be on your radar early in the season.