Sunshine State looks to send more than one
program to postseason this fall

By Official Florida FC

Official Florida FC looked ahead to the 2022 Division I men’s college soccer season that will kick off on Aug. 25. Seven of the eight Division I programs will be in action that night, including Florida Gulf Coast making the short drive to Tampa to face USF.

FIU was the only program to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in 2021. Across the state, optimism is high that the Panthers will not be alone come November.

Follow-up for FIU

Florida International is the only program in the state ranked in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll. It enters the season ranked No. 18 after a 12-4-2 season in 2021.

 The Panthers surprised everyone but themselves by winning the regular season Conference USA title, which was capped off with a 4-1 win over then No. 1 Marshall.

The Panthers will not lack for hunger this fall, especially with the way their 2021 concluded. They were hammered by Kentucky in the conference tournament and lost their first game in the NCAA Tournament – an up-and-down 3-2 loss to Wake Forest.

FIU brings back 10 of its 11 starters, including top two scorers Stephen Afrifa (8 goals, 3 assists in 1094 minutes) and Bernardo Dos Santos (7 goals, 1 assist in 1006 minutes). The Panthers will need to find someone to fill the boots of the departed Kareem Riley in central defense. Riley played every minute in 16 of eight matches and also added five goals.

“We are pleased to start off the 2022 season in the national rankings,” FIU Head Coach Kyle Russell told the school’s website. “Our program always strives to represent FIU at the highest standard and we are proud to bring our university the national recognition it deserves. I hope this is only the beginning of yet another exciting season for Panther Nation. I know the character of the group of guys we’ve recruited and all this ranking means to them is that there are 17 spots left to climb.”

New look American

FIU will not have an opportunity to defend its Conference USA regular season title. The Panthers, and Florida Atlantic, are two of the four programs that left Conference USA to join the American Athletic Conference as affiliate members.

Zane Bubb picks out a pass during a July 11, 2019 training session for his club, Florida Elite Soccer Academy at Losco Regional Park in Jacksonville. (Photo by Will Brown)

The new-look American Athletic Conference will feature four Florida programs: FIU, FAU, Central Florida and USF. Central Florida finished second in the American last year, but the Knights were only 9-8 overall and 4-4 in conference.

UCF won the American regular season title in 2019 and 2020, but faded down the stretch in 2021. The Knights lost their last three conference matches. UCF will have 14 new faces this fall, including Virginia Tech transfer Zane Bubb.

On the other side of I-4 USF finished the season 4-1-1, but could not qualify for the conference tournament.

One thing South Florida will need is health and consistency. Only one player, defender Salvatore Mazzaferro, played in every match in 2021. Wingback Josh Gomina and midfielder Donovan Hesselmeyer both started 13 games as freshmen last year. The Bulls will need more from that trio.

Three early matches may give a glimpse on this year’s Bulls: The Aug. 16 Rowdies Cup match against the University of Tampa, an Aug. 28 road game against North Carolina and a Sept. 6 home kickoff against 2021 national finalist Washington.

“This is the toughest schedule in my time at USF,” Bulls head coach Bob Butehorn said in a July statement. “The players and coaches wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re all excited for the challenge and the upcoming season.”

Down in Boca Raton, FAU is looking to clinch its first NCAA Tournament berth. The Owls lost in overtime in the Conference USA Tournament final last year to finish 9-7-3.

FAU will have to find a way to score goals. Its leading scorer from 2021 Ivan Mykhailenko (9 goals in 866 minutes) graduated. It’s second leading scorer Filip Jauk (8 goals in 907 minutes) transferred to UNC Charlotte. Those two scored 56.6 % of the Owls’ 30 goals last fall.

Rising in the ASUN

The best team in the regular season has won the ASUN Conference tournament in each of the last four years. The question is which team will that be?

Any team in the ASUN can lose at any time. This was certainly the case in 2021. Every program lost at least two conference matches. Conference tournament winner Lipscomb upset UCLA last year, but lost to both Stetson and UNF.

Lipscomb was picked to repeat in the coaches preseason poll. The only other program to earn a first-place preseason vote was Jacksonville University. JU was picked to finish seventh after posting a 3-10-1 overall, and 2-4-1 conference record, last year.

Jacksonville will play nine home matches this year. They will need to pick up wins in matches against Detroit Mercy, Wright State as well as conference opponents Florida Gulf Coast and Bellarmine, because the Dolphins’ three toughest matches on paper – Lipscomb (Sept. 10); Wake Forest (Oct. 4) and Central Arkansas (Oct. 29) – are all on the road.

Jacksonville University was picked to finish seventh in the ASUN Conference title this year. (Photo by Official Florida FC)

Florida Gulf Coast was picked to finish third. Stetson was tabbed to finish fourth. North Florida was slated to finish fifth.

Florida Gulf Coast will bring in eight new players, including forwards Luke Peperak (Pittsburgh) and Jovoney Brown (North Florida) who combined to make 24 appearances in 2021.

North Florida will have to find creativity in attack. The Ospreys scored 14 goals in 13 games last fall.

UNF was shut out three times in six conference matches. Sophomore Joaquin Acuna scored five goals in 628 minutes last year. One person who may instantly add something special in attack is true freshman midfielder Braden Masker, who won Florida’s Mr. Soccer in 2022 after scoring 38 varsity goals.

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