2021 Georgetown vs Creighton - Men's

Big East Men's Soccer Preview: Contenders Begin Conference Play

Big East Men's Soccer Preview: Contenders Begin Conference Play

Conference play begins in Big East men's soccer with Georgetown and last season's champions, Seton Hall, trying to maintain previous dominance.

Sep 17, 2021 by Patrick Martin
Big East Men's Soccer Preview: Contenders Begin Conference Play

For the last four years, the Big East men's soccer conversation has been dominated by one team. The Georgetown Hoyas have had commanded the Big East since 2017. Despite ceding the conference crown to Seton Hall during the COVID-19-shortened spring 2021 season, the Hoyas are primed to continue their dominance in the fall of 2021. The Big East is far from a one-pony show, though; the conference in its entirety boasts challengers aplenty to the Hoyas' supremacy. 

The latest United Soccer Coaches poll has the Hoyas in the top spot. Seton Hall checks in at #19, while Providence received some Top 25 votes. Last spring, the Big East sent Georgetown, Seton Hall, and Marquette to the NCAA tournament. Back in the full 2019 campaign, the Big East had four representatives in the Big Dance; Georgetown, Providence, Butler, and St. John's.

Hoya Dominance 

Before examining other contenders, Georgetown deserves its due deference. Before losing to Seton Hall in the final last season, they had previously won the Big East title for three straight years and captured the NCAA tournament in 2019. It wasn't just a miracle run either; they reached the round of 32 in 2017 and the round of 16 in 2018 and 2020. Head coach Brian Wiese has assembled a powerhouse in Washington D.C. that's produced six MLS talents, four from the 2021 SuperDraft last January. 

This fall should be more of the same, with the Hoyas picked first in the Big East preseason poll while landing three on the preseason honor roll. Between the posts there's Big East Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year Giannis Nikopolidis, while midfielders Sean Zawadzki and Dante Polvara round out the honorees. In non-conference play, the Hoyas are 5-0 with a 9-to-1 goal differential, featuring wins over Syracuse, Maryland, and Santa Clara. Sophomore John Franks and freshman Kiernan Sargeant are other names to watch. The Hoyas head to Omaha to start their Big East campaign on Saturday.

Champions Return

Up the New Jersey turnpike, Seton Hall received the remainder of the preseason first place votes. In the last 12 months, head coach Andreas Lindberg has the Pirates playing some of the best soccer in program history. The team is fresh off a Big East Championship—their first since 1991—and an NCAA quarterfinal run that was snuffed out by finalist Indiana. The Hall enter conference play 4-0-2 with wins over N.C. State and NJIT. Senior CJ Tibbling was named the conference's Preseason Co-Offensive Player of the Year while fellow senior Luca Dahn was honored as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Junior Johannes Pex leads the team in points so far this year with three goals and five assists. The Hall's title defense starts Saturday with a home match vs. Providence.

The Best Of The Rest

Heading out west, Creighton came in at third in the preseason coaches' poll. The Blue Jays finished 6-6 in the spring 2021 season, bowing out to Georgetown in the Big East tournament semifinals. But they return every player from that team, including senior forward Diego Gutierrez, a Preseason Co-Offensive Player of the Year selection who tallied five goals and six assists in the spring. Creighton placed four more on preseason honor rolls, including senior midfielder Charles Auguste and redshirt midfielder Dominic Briggs. It's been an uneven start to the season for the Blue Jays though. There's a loss to suddenly red-hot #10 Tulsa, but a statement 3-0 win vs. national powerhouse Indiana. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian 1-2-1 record; the experienced Blue Jays will be in the thick of it come November. They will have to bounce back fast, as the Hoyas come into town on Saturday.

Checking in at number four is Providence, looking to improve on a 4-4-1 spring season. Seniors and preseason honorees Paulo Lima and Ramzi Qawasmy pace the Friars, while sophomores Gework Diarbian and Brendan McSorely lead the team in points thus far. Providence is 3-1-1 on the season, with its sole loss coming to #14 New Hampshire. Providence heads to New Jersey to face Seton Hall on Saturday.

Marquette could be the x-factor in the league. The Golden Eagles soared in the pandemic-shortened spring season, making the NCAA's round of 16 and claiming the Big East's Midwest division regular season title. Marquette started the campaign ranked #19 nationally and returns 10 starters from the spring squad. Redshirt junior Lukas Sunesson is the team's sole preseason honoree, after scoring six goals and two assists in the spring season. Redshirt freshman Bet Soto looks to be the Robin to Sunesson's Batman, with the Big East Freshman of the Year (Spring 2021) already leading the team in points this fall. Marquette is 3-3 on the young season and enters conference play with a three-game losing streak. They'll look to get back on track by hosting Villanova on Saturday, Sept. 18. 

Middle Of The Pack

The remaining teams in the Big East can be classified as a jumbled mix of intrigue and unknowns. There's former powerhouses looking to regain their footing, up-and-coming programs trying to make their mark, and sleeping giants hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. 

Xavier gets first mention here thanks to an impressive 6-1 record out of the gate. Despite coming in tied for eighth in the Big East preseason poll, the Muskies already boast wins against Big 10 giants Ohio State and Northwestern. Junior Karsen Henderlong, sophomore Jerome Jolly, and senior Justus Kauppinen seem to be taking the lack of preseason recognition personally, having notched 19 points between themselves. Henderlong, an All-Big East second teamer in the spring, has 17 goals in three seasons for Xavier. Xavier gets to host St. John's for its conference opener this Saturday.

St. John's will be looking to regain some of its 2019 magic, when the Red Storm went 14-5-1 and made the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Johnnies went 5-5 last spring and were sixth in the preseason poll but return three of their four top scorers as well as their entire backline from a season ago. They've started the fall with a 4-2 record, including a tight 2-1 loss to #2 Clemson. Senior Brandon Knapp, an All-Big East third team selection in the spring, leads the team with two goals and four assists. St. John's and legendary head coach David Masur—the conference's longest-tenured boss—are the underdogs in the Big East. It’s promising that they've outperformed preseason projections from the league's coaches in the last three seasons. A road tilt to Cincinnati this Saturday awaits the Red Storm for Big East matchday #1.

Villanova is another team that could leg out its preseason position. The Wildcats were picked dead last, but have started the season off 4-1, with wins over solid soccer programs Temple and Yale. Despite a 2-8 spring record and only four seniors, junior forward Lyam MacKinnon and freshman Balthi Saunders are steering the ship early on. Keep an eye on senior goalkeeper Carson Williams, who in a full 2019 campaign logged the nation's highest save percentage (.849) and posted a 0.70 goals-against average. The Wildcats head to Marquette on Saturday.

Despite a preseason rank of #7 in the Big East, the Butler Bulldogs sit at the bottom right now at 1-3-1. To get back on track, Butler will need a massive season from stud junior and preseason All-Big East Team selection Wilmer Cabrera Jr. Cabrera earned Big East First Team in 2020-21 to go with Freshman of the Year honors, as well as second team honors in 2019. Senior defender Rhys Myers also made the preseason All-Big East Team. The Bulldogs finished the spring season at 4-6-1 but were 11-7-2 in the full 2019 campaign that ended in the NCAA tournament. Butler hosts UConn to kick off their conference campaign.

DePaul returns nine seniors this fall and will look to build on its 2-5-2 record in the spring. The Blue Demons tied Indiana in a preseason exhibition and have already picked up wins against Wisconsin and Bradley. DePaul opens its Big East slate by welcoming UConn on Saturday, Sept. 25.

No school in the Big East has as much variance as UConn. The once-proud national powerhouse has fallen on hard times the last 18 months, the nadir coming from a 1-6-1 spring season that saw UConn score just two goals and give up 16. But it’s a new season for head coach Ray Reid, and UConn has turned the burners on early to the tune of a 4-1 record, featuring a 4-0 demolition of Yale as well as an at-the-death extra-time win vs. Monmouth. The Huskies have allowed only one goal thus far, and it was a set piece. Senior keeper Jahmali Waite has three shutouts on the season, while freshman Okiem Chime already has three goals to his name. Sophomores Moussa Wade and Jayden Reid have emerged as playmakers, while St. Peters senior transfer Dominic Laws and freshman Mateo Leveque are making an impact as well. Once senior Felix Metzler—an all-conference third-team selection from the spring—is healthy, the Huskies have the potential to vault past their preseason rank of T-8. The Huskies open up conference play this Saturday on the road vs. Butler.