Breaking down the NCAA Division I men's quarterfinals

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

Four former champions -- Virginia, UCLA, North Carolina and Michigan State -- are joined by Creighton and Georgetown, both former national runners-ups, and upstarts Providence and UMBC in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament. Scouts will be out in force to watch some of college soccer's top pro prospects as they battle for spots in next week's Men's College Cup in Cary, North Carolina.

UMBC carries little chip on its shoulder.

CREIGHTON-UMBC (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, GoCreighton.com). UMBC is the Cinderella story of the NCAA Tournament with wins at Wake Forest and Maryland, both former national champions, and Louisville en route to its date with Creighton in Omaha Friday night.

UMBC might not be a nationally known program, but it has deep Baltimore roots. "I think we feed off this Baltimore mentality, where we do have a little chip on our shoulder," said Retriever head coach Pete Caringi, who grew in Baltimore, played for Division II national champion University of Baltimore and coached the APSL Maryland Bays and Essex Community College before taking over at UMBC in 1991. "We always have to prove ourselves against these other big schools in other areas."

The Retrievers certainly know how to win. They've captured three straight America East titles, and Malcolm Harris, Mamadou Kansaye and Geaton Caltabiano, who have combined for all the UMBC scoring in the NCAA Tournament, and senior defenders Marquez Fernandez and Oumar Ballo, part of a defense that has not yet allowed a goal, are all products of Baltimore Bays program that won U.S. Youth Soccer and Development Academy national championships.

Creighton is looking to advance to the College Cup for the third time in four seasons under head coach Elmar Bolowich, who has constructed one of the most balanced teams in the tournament. Germans Fabian Herbers (10 goals, 8 assists) and Timo Pitter (6 goals, 9 assists) lead the attack, while keeper Connor Sparrow is third in the nation with a 0.51 goals against average.

Spartans seek first semifinal berth in 46 years.

MICHIGAN STATE-PROVIDENCE (Saturday, noon ET, MSUSpartans.com). Michigan State finished only fifth in the Big Ten but was the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament on the strength of its unbeaten record against seven teams in the Top 25. The Spartans are now one win away from advancing to the national semifinals of the first time since 1968 when they were co-champions with Maryland and featured Jamaican All-Americans Trevor Harris (father of Wolde Harris) and Tony Keyes, Joe Baum, later the MSU head coach for 32 years, and Alex Skotarek, one of the first Americans to play in Europe.

The Spartans have been major beneficiaries of MLS's youth initiatives as they start four players with ties to academy or affiliate programs. The best of the bunch is Jay Chapman from Toronto FC. According to reports out of England, Sunderland, Swansea, Aston Villa and Celtic are all monitoring the junior attacking midfielder who carries a British passport. The Spartans are also deep in the back with former U.S. U-17 Zach Carroll, a Virginia transfer, redshirt senior Ryan Keener, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, and freshman Ken Krolicki, who grew up in Japan and comes via the CSA Wolves.

The Friars had never before reached the round of 16, let alone the quarterfinals, before beating UC Irvine, 1-0. That's not to say they are newcomers to the national scene. This is their seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 10 years. Norwegian Markus Naglestad, who leads the Friars in goals with 10, had the gamewinner against UCI on a free kick from 30 yards out that beat the Anteater wall. Third-year coach Craig Stewart also starts two Germans, Julian Gressel and Daniel Neustaedter and Brazilian Fabio Machado, by way of the New England Revolution Academy, Burlington County College and Drexel University, and has a collection of Americans representing 10 states.

These are not your usual Cavaliers.

GEORGETOWN-VIRGINIA (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, gohoyas.com). Virginia is known for its stars -- U.S. World Cup players Tony Meola, John Harkes, Jeff Agoos, Claudio Reyna and Ben Olsen, among others, came through the program -- but the Cavaliers have relied on their depth to get through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament that included a trip to Notre Dame, where they knocked off the No. 1 seed and defending champion Fighting Irish, 1-0.

UVa certainly needed help off the bench as its leading scorer, captain Eric Bird, went off with a groin injury in the second minute against UNC Wilmington and hasn't played since. Subs Sam Hayward and Kyle McCord had goals in the 3-1 comeback win over UNCW, and Guatemalan freshman Pablo Aguilar, making just his fifth start of the season in place of Bird, had his first assist of the season on the goal against Notre Dame.

Georgetown comes into the game at Shaw Field with the star power. Sophomore defender Josh Yaro, who came to the United States from Ghana in high school as part of the Right to Dream Academy program, has been tipped as the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft if he decides to come out -- unlikely at this time -- and junior Brandon Allen, tied to the New York Red Bulls via their academy program, was the Soccer America Freshman of the Year two years ago.

MLS Cup-eve entertainment in Los Angeles.

UCLA-NORTH CAROLINA (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks). No. 2 seed UCLA is the highest seed remaining after Notre Dame's exit and will be favored heading into their meeting on MLS Cup weekend in Los Angeles.

The Bruins, who beat Carolina, 1-0, in Chapel Hill, on the first weekend of the season, have more talent than any other team in the country. German Leo Stolz is one of the favorites for National Player of the Year honors and has been excellent in the playoffs, scoring the two goals in the 2-1 win over San Diego and assisting on two goals in the 3-2 win over Cal. Former U.S. U-17 keeper Earl Edwards Jr. earned All-Pac-12 honors as a senior, while sophomore defender Michael Amick is one of the few collegians under consideration for the U.S. under-20 national team preparing for Concacaf qualifying. A pair of freshman forwards, Seyi Adekoya, out of the Seattle Sounders Academy, and Abu Danladi, another product of the Ghanaian program Right to Dream, have been getting better as the season moved on.

Carolina won the NCAA Tournament in 2011 with a team that featured six players who went on to sign with MLS clubs. Also on that team was Rob Lovejoy, who returned this year as a fifth-year senior and had both goals in the 2-1 win at Clemson in the third round. Andy Craven, who also sat out of the 2013 season because of injuries, leads the Tar Heels with 14 goals and five assists. Sophomore Omar Holness, who was called into the Jamaican national team's camp in September, is one of the Reggae Boyz's top prospects, having recovered from an knee injury that kept him for almost a year after the 2011 Under-17 World Cup

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1 comment about "Breaking down the NCAA Division I men's quarterfinals".
  1. ROBERT BOND, December 5, 2014 at 8:36 a.m.

    ACC!

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