Men's Semifinal 1 Preview
|Other Previews: Men's Semifinal 2||Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
NCAA Division III Men's Soccer - National Semifinal 1
Friday, December 1 — 5:00 pm ET
No. 20 Brandeis (17-4-0)
No. 5 Messiah (22-2-0)
How they reached the Final Four
2017 Statistical Overview
Brandeis Season Review
With 73:02 elapsed in the new season, Brandeis was down 3-0—its biggest deficit since November 2014—to Cortland State. While the Judges ended up falling in that game, they did rally back to 3-2 before the final whistle. The next day, Gabe Margolis got his first win as head coach, defeating host Hobart in double-overtime, 2-1.
The following weekend, Brandeis faced another difficult test: its home opener against rival Babson. Last year, the Beavers defeated the Judges for the first time in five years. This time, Brandeis got revenge, as the Judges got the game-winner in the 84th minute from Josh Ocel en route to the 2-1 final score.
Next up: WPI at home on Sept. 13. The visiting Engineers, who are always a tough out, took the lead off a set-piece just before the half, but the Judges tied the game before winning in overtime, 2-1. Home shutout victories over Elms and Mass. Maritime followed, putting the Judges at 5-1 heading into its biggest test of the season to that point: a grudge match against Tufts. In that contest, the visiting Judges fell, 1-0.
The Tufts result could have set Brandeis back, but it didn't. They rebounded four days later, beating Wheaton (Mass) 5-1 on the road before getting another away win at Case Western in their first UAA game.
Over the years, Brandeis has become known for its possession-based style of play. However, the Judges have also developed a penchant for gritting out results, as they did against Carnegie Mellon on Oct. 7. In that game, the Judges were outshot 22-8, but scored a 2-0 victory behind two first-half goals and a masterclass from goalkeeper Ben Woodhouse. A UAA defeat to Rochester came on Friday the 13th, before the Judges ground out a 1-0 double-overtime victory at Emory two days later. Wins over Clark and WashU followed before Brandeis fell at home to Chicago, 1-0, on Oct. 30. A win against NYU in its final regular season game, however, put the Judges at 13-4.
As a result of its season, Brandeis was rewarded with an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, hosting rights for the first two rounds and a 1st Round matchup against Western Connecticut. The Judges dismissed the Colonials, 3-0, before downing Rutgers-Newark, 1-0, as Woodhouse saved a penalty kick. For the sixth time in as many years, the Sectionals beckoned for Brandeis.
Having gone west for its past five Sectional appearances, Brandeis made the short trip east to Tufts to take on previously-undefeated Drew in the Sweet 16. And while the Rangers kept things close, Mike Lynch finished a free-kick from Ocel (who set a new school record for assists) to see them off, 1-0. With another win in the books, the Judges advanced to the Elite 8 to face a familiar foe: the Jumbos.
As is the case with most Brandeis vs. Tufts games, this was a cagey affair. In the first half, Tufts had more chances, but the Judges had more shots on goal. After the interval, Tufts turned the screw, but Brandeis held strong, and the teams headed to overtime. The first overtime was relatively uneventful, although the Jumbos had a golden chance that they put over. With 1:07 left in the second overtime, the game appeared destined for penalty kicks until Brandeis striker Patrick Flahive took advantage of a fortunate bounce to score, giving Brandeis the 1-0 win and sending the Judges to their second Final Four in as many years.
Messiah Season Review
At the start of the season, many were unsure what to expect from Messiah. After an Elite 8 defeat to Tufts in 2014, the 2015 Falcons missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in almost 20 years. Last year, they made it back to the big dance, and managed to put together an unbeaten regular season before falling to Calvin at home in the Sweet 16 in a 2-1 double overtime heartbreaker. In that game, Messiah went up 1-0 and bossed the first half but failed to make its dominance pay.
So when—after opening victories over Chapman and Mary Washington—Messiah fell to Haverford in its third match of the season, it may have been reasonable to assume that the Falcons were a year or so away from getting back to the Final Four for the first time since winning their second consecutive crown in 2013.
How wrong that would be.
Instead, Messiah rolled through the rest of the regular season with a vengeance. The Falcons had no time to dwell on the Haverford defeat, as they had a two-game home stand against Montclair State and Dickinson. Instead of suffering a hangover from the early loss, Messiah romped past both opponents by identical 4-0 scorelines. A 3-2 double-overtime win on the road at Rowan was next, followed by 1-0 wins over York (away) and Misericordia (home). Indeed, it became clear that this was a special group, and that it had the tools to go all the way.
That said, a tricky test followed at rival Elizabethtown in a fixture known as the Marshmallow Bowl. And while Messiah has traditionally had the upper hand in this matchup, the form book goes out the window in these games—a trend which seemed evident when the Blue Jays went up 1-0 in the 69th minute. Yet Messiah rallied to tie the game in the 81st minute through Colby Thomas, before Kirby Robbins won it in overtime. More than anything, this game proved these Falcons possess grit and tenacity in addition to pace and skill in abundance.
From there, shutout wins over MAC Commonwealth foes Alvernia and Albright followed, before Messiah set up for its next big test: a visit from undefeated Johns Hopkins on Oct. 5. The Blue Jays were in the midst of a stellar season, but Messiah halted their upstart opponents’ momentum, winning 1-0 on a late goal from Robbins. With its last regular season non-conference game under its belt, Messiah finished October with six MAC Commonwealth tests against Arcadia, Widener, Lycoming, Lebanon Valley, Hood, and Stevenson. In typical Messiah fashion, the run yielded six wins (and five shutouts), setting the Falcons up nicely for the MAC Commonwealth playoffs. Another dominant win over Arcadia followed in the semifinals, before Messiah lost to Lycoming in the conference final, 2-1, at home.
While lesser teams may have buckled following defeat at such a crucial time, the Falcons—who received an at-large bid to the Tournament—did the opposite. In the first and second rounds, they saw off tests from Castleton and Hobart, respectively, setting up a Sweet 16 match-up in Grantham with Stevens. And though the match was moved from storied Shoemaker Field to a nearby turf, Messiah saw off a spirited challenge from the Ducks, putting the Falcons against Rochester in their first Elite 8 in three years. This time, there would be no upset: Messiah got second-half goals from Justin Brautigam and Nick West to put the Falcons back in the Final Four.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 15)
Players to Watch
Brandeis: #17 M Josh Ocel (Sr.) – 4g, 11a | #33 F Mike Lynch (Sr.) – 7g, 5GWG | #14 F Andrew Allen (Jr.) – 5g, 3a | #9 F Patrick Flahive (Sr.) – 6g, 2a | #1 GK Ben Woodhouse (Sr.)
Messiah: #16 F Kirby Robbins (Sr.) – 14g, 6a, 5GWG | #5 F Colby Thomas (Sr.) – 9g, 11a, 7GWG | #6 M Samuel Ruiz Plaza (Jr.) – 3g, 1a | #4 D Shay Quintin (So.) | #15 D Dakota Rosenberg (Sr.)
When looking at Final Four fixtures, Brandeis vs. Messiah seems to be a game for the purist, as it features two possession-based teams who both possess skill, athleticism, and grit. However, we all know that’s not how it will necessarily unfold—particularly at this stage of the season where the stakes are high.
Heading into this one, Messiah certainly seems the favorite on paper. At 22-2 with 57 goals scored, the Falcons have steamrolled past the majority of their opponents this year, and have been virtually unplayable at times. Head coach Brad McCarty’s team seems to be hitting its stride at the right time.
The Falcons feature an unparalleled arsenal of attacking talent. Both Kirby Robbins and Nick West have 14 goals to their names, as well as five game-winners each. Moreover, Robbins and West have notched impressive assist totals of six and five each, respectively, showing that both are equally adept at setting up their teammates as finishing the chances themselves. Colby Thomas isn't far behind with nine strikes to his name, as well as team-leading marks of 11 assists and seven-game winners. And with 12 players having played a part in Messiah’s 57 goals thus far this season, Brandeis can’t afford to focus the attention solely on Robbins, West, and Thomas, or else players like Danny Brandt (4g, 7a) will be happy to chip in.
However, in the NCAA Tournament, it’s not just offense that matters—the rearguard must be peaking, as well. As we might expect, Messiah has been stingy defensively, with goalkeeper Connor Bell notching 11 shutouts en route to a 0.52 GAA. He has plenty of cover in front of him, including center back Dakota Rosenberg, whose defensive acumen and great pace will present the Brandeis attackers with few—if any—clear-cut chances. Messiah may be known for its offensive prowess, but this squad is equally capable in its defensive half of the field.
While Messiah might be favored, it’s worth saying that Brandeis is up for this matchup. The Judges feature one of the nation’s best center midfielders in Josh Ocel, whose combination of steeliness, trickery, and vision commands the attention of every opponent, and Messiah will certainly try to keep him in check. Moreover, Brandeis’ 4-3-3 is extremely dynamic, so the Judges may try to bamboozle their opponents with overlapping runs, players switching positions, and a variety of different offensive tactics.
Defensively, the Judges will look to continue their good run: Brandeis hasn’t given up a goal since losing to Chicago on October 30, and having goalkeeper Ben Woodhouse—who looked set to miss the NCAAs with a broken hand—back is a major boon. He stood on his head in last year’s semifinal loss to Calvin, and this year he’ll need to be at his very best against arguably the best offense in the nation.
The one area where Brandeis may have an advantage is in the quality of its schedule. Playing in a very difficult region (New England) and conference (UAA), the Judges possess a Strength of Schedule of .622. Moreover, this year’s NCAA Tournament run has seen Brandeis grind out results on the road, including a 1-0 double-overtime win at Tufts in the Elite 8, a victory which was Tufts’ only home defeat of the year. Couple that with their regular season tests and the players’ experience of being in last year’s Final Four, and it’s evident that they are used to the pressure-cooker environment.
That being said, Messiah possesses an SoS of .595—a respectable mark, no doubt—and has faced a number of top opponents both in-conference (Lycoming) and out (Johns Hopkins). Additionally, Messiah has shown it, too, can get wins against quality opponents in both close games (such as a 1-0 victory over Johns Hopkins) and blowouts (4-0 romps of Montclair State and Dickinson). And while the first two rounds of the tournament featured identical 1-0 victories in games where Messiah may have been expected to score more, they put three past Stevens and two past Rochester, showing that they are firing on all cylinders as things are heating up.
This matchup has all the makings of a Final Four classic. With not much to choose between the two teams, it may ultimately come down to whichever team can score first—as one is often enough in these tight clashes.
|Other Previews: Men's Semifinal 2||Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Henry Loughlin.