Men's Semifinal 2 Preview
|Other Previews: Men's Semifinal 1||Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
NCAA Division III Men's Soccer - National Semifinal 2
Friday, December 1 — 7:30 pm ET
No. 12 North Park (20-1-1)
No. 7 Chicago (19-2-1)
How they reached the Final Four
2017 Statistical Overview
North Park Season Review
No program in the country has a higher correlation between mascot and roster than North Park. The 2017 Vikings are once again loaded with young Swedish and Norwegian talent, having started just three U.S.-born players at times during the season. Despite their youth—North Park started five freshman and zero seniors in the Elite Eight—the Vikings have put together a remarkable season.
After going 10-7-1 in 2016, the CCIW coaches picked North Park to finish third in the preseason. An opening-weekend home loss to Whitworth could have suggested the Vikings were not ready to make “the leap,” but they haven’t looked back since. After a solid 4-2 win over NCAA-participant Dominican, North Park tore through its schedule, scoring at least two goals in nine straight wins before 2016 CCIW champ Carthage held the Vikings to a draw. The only thing missing from North Park’s resume was a signature win, which the Vikings picked up a week later by edging crosstown rival and future Final Four opponent Chicago, 1-0.
The Vikings blanked North Central in the CCIW semis and avenged their midseason tie by routing Carthage 4-0 in the final. The NCAA rewarded North Park’s spectacular regular season (and the win over Chicago) with a free pass through the first round. While some teams start slow coming off a bye, North Park scored in the first minute and dismantled UW-Platteville 6-1 to reach the program’s first-ever Sweet Sixteen.
Hosting yet again, North Park started quick again by scoring in the second minute against Washington and Lee. Although the Generals would outshoot North Park in both halves, the Vikings put more than twice as many shots on goal and rode out a comfortable 3-0 win. St. Thomas waited in the Elite Eight, having already reached the Final Four in 2016 and fresh off their own 3-0 win over Otterbein. What appeared an even match on paper was anything but in the opening stanza, as North Park peppered St. Thomas with fourteen shots (six on goal) and took the lead in the 30th minute. The Tommies upped the pressure after the half, hitting the post and seeing multiple would-be goals called back for fouls, but could not find the net. After such a free-scoring season and NCAA run, it was North Park’s defense that sealed the program’s first-ever trip to the Final Four.
Chicago Season Review
After last year’s season came to an abrupt end in the Sweet Sixteen, Chicago came into 2017 looking to make amends. Preseason No. 1 in my book, Chicago returned nine of eleven starters, including All-American Max Lopez and a surrounding group of forwards good enough to beat any defense in the country. Chicago did not disappoint to start, as the Maroons rolled to eleven straight wins, reached No. 1 in the D3Soccer.com poll, and looked like a consensus favorite for the title.
October brought Chicago down to Earth. First, Emory humbled the Maroons on their own field, winning 3-0. Then North Park came in for a local derby and walked out winners too. While neither loss could be considered bad—Emory made the Elite Eight and North Park the Final Four—it did have some asking whether Chicago was mentally ready to win six straight games en route to a title.
Those concerns seemed well-founded early in round one, as Chicago fell behind Lake Forest just eleven seconds into their game, and 2-0 minutes later. But Chicago stormed back to win 6-2, then easily dispatched Capital 2-0 in the second round. Into town came Calvin, boasting back-to-back Final Fours and seemingly on a path to a third. Unfazed, Chicago blitzed the Knights with two goals in the first four minutes and then suffocated Calvin’s offense to win 2-0. In the Elite Eight, Chicago looked set to avenge its loss to Emory after taking a 1-0 lead and dominating the first half. After the Eagles pushed back after the interval, Chicago was forced to penalties. Unlike almost every team I’ve watched this year, the Maroons looked prepared and buried all five to advance to the program’s second Final Four.
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 15)
Players to Watch
North Park: #17 M Matias Warp (So.) – 8g, 3a (CCIW POY) | #10 F Carel Kawele (Jr.) – 15g, 6a, 8GWG | #22 D Ricky Pimentel (Jr.) | #30 M Peder Olsen (Fr.) – 10g, 9a | #4034 MF Shatil Khoury (Fr.) – 10g, 2a, 4GWG | #40 M Gustav Ericsson (Fr.) – 5g, 10a, 3GWG
Chicago: #9 F Max Lopez (Jr.) – 19g, 4a, 8GWG (UAA POY) | #10 F Matthew Koh (Jr.) – 10g, 11a, 3GWG | #6 M Nicco Capotosto (Jr.) | #19 D Stacey Reimann (Sr.) | #17 M Dayo Adeosun (So.) – 3g, 15a | #8 M Andre Abedian – 5g, 4a, 2GWG
We rarely see Final Four rematches, as teams often tango before then due to regional restrictions. North Park and Chicago, however, were so dominant that the NCAA Committee wisely split the two and allowed both to host all the way through. Now, two foes separated by only sixteen miles will travel 730 miles down to Greensboro for a grudge match and a spot in the title game.
If the first match-up (1-0 to North Park) was anything to go on, expect a tight, defensive affair. Combined, North Park and Chicago took only eighteen shots (six on goal) while committing thirty-three fouls, violating my rule that all games should have more shots than fouls. Still, I expect an open, attacking game on Friday. While Messiah and Brandeis looks to be a midfield battle, this match-up offers the two highest-scoring teams left.
North Park is young and still pushing the limits on their potential. The Vikings score early and often, and the stat-line reflects a team that is peaking and getting contributions from everywhere. Three players have double-digit goals, while five have at least nineteen points on the season. And while the regular-season schedule was not overly testing, North Park has ten goals in just three NCAA games, showing they can do it on the big stage. If that were not enough, the Vikings are big and physical, and can bully you into submission, as St. Thomas discovered the hard way. That game should scare any opposing team, as North Park played and beat the Tommies at their own game. Given that the Vikings already beat Chicago—on the road, no less—they will feel confident at kick-off.
For Chicago, this NCAA tournament run is one of redemption. After falling short at home in the Sweet Sixteen last year, the Maroons grinded out two tough wins to make the Final Four and now have a chance to avenge both regular-season losses en route to a national championship. Chicago is athletic and battle-tested and fields the most lethal one-two punch in Division III soccer in Max Lopez and Matthew Koh. The junior forwards have combined for twenty-nine goals and fifteen assists, and they can score on the ground or in the air, from open play or via set piece. On top of that, junior Nicco Capotosto (2016 UAA MVP) bosses the midfield, helping Chicago control the pace of the game and territory throughout.
As for how the game plays out, Chicago must be wary in the early stages. The first five minutes of any game or half are critical, and North Park scored early in the second round and the Sweet Sixteen. On top of that, the Vikings beat Chicago earlier in the year by scoring less than ninety seconds into the second half. Look for North Park to approach this game as they have all tournament, forcing the issue early and pinning Chicago back.
While Chicago can win from any position, and against any style, I expect the Maroons to come out guns blazing as well. The opening round reminded Chicago of the need to focus, and the Calvin game showed the Maroons learned their lesson. As the game settles in, Chicago will hit on the counter with speed after defending, and will move North Park around when in possession. An early goal would be key, as both teams can absorb pressure and transition from defense to attack. Aside from an early goal, set pieces should have a big role to play. Lopez is dominant for Chicago in the air, while North Park’s size and athleticism makes them a threat as well.
No prediction, but this feels like it either ends 0-0 or 3-2. Final Fours are funny like that. You see years like 2014—fourteen goals in three games—then years like 2015 and 2016—only nine goals in six games across the two years. These teams are attack-first, and I hope the stage plus each team’s firepower gives the fans something to enjoy. Let’s go 3-2 to whoever scores first.
|Other Previews: Men's Semifinal 1||Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Ryan Harmanis.