The Summit League Men’s Soccer Tournament will kick off Nov. 8-10 at Denver University Soccer Stadium in Denver Colorado. The four best teams from across the Summit League are coming with hopes of claiming the title and earning a spot in the 2018 NCAA Soccer Championship. From powerhouse Denver Pioneers to the underdog Easter Illinois Panthers, each team took their own unique path to get here and each team has their shot to win the title.
There is no doubt that Denver is the team to beat in the Summit League Tournament this year. The Pioneers have just about everything going for them. They have the number one seed, the home field advantage and the nation’s leading goal scorer: Andre Shinyashiki. Shinyashiki and his record-breaking 27 goals this season have helped propel the Pioneers to a 13-3-2 record and has become the story of the season this year in NCAA soccer.
For all the plaudits that Shinyashiki has been rightfully given however, Denver features many other players who deserve credit for the team’s success. Seniors Scott Devoss, a center-back who has started every game for the Pioneers since 2015, and Kenny Akamatsu, the team leader in assists with eight this season, have been important to Denver’s success as well. And that’s just to name two other players who have proven important this season.
With a roster full of talented players and a team that will likely be wanting to celebrate a championship in front of their home fans, Denver has a very good reason to win the Summit League Tournament this year.
Omaha is going to have to vanquish a very imposing giant if it wants to defend its Summit League title. This year, while Purdue Fort Wayne and Eastern Illinois are eagerly waiting in the wings to mount a challenge for the title, most Omaha fans have their eyes set on a matchup with rivals Denver Pioneers in the final. For Omaha, past trips to play Denver at DU Soccer Stadium have not been good. In the last two meetings there, the Mavericks have lost to the Pioneers 2-1, after being a goal ahead late into the game in both matchups.
More recently, the Mavericks will want revenge on the Pioneers after losing 4-3 to Denver this year at home in a game that had a title match feel to it. Since that loss, Omaha has been on a tier in the Summit League, going 4-0 against the rest of the competition.
Several young players such as sophomore Diego Gutierrez and freshman Martin Veys are beginning to blossom offensively for the Mavericks. Gutierrez and Veys both lead the team in goals, with seven for Gutierrez and five for Veys.
With the Maverick attack beginning to grow more lethal and the team beginning to gain momentum at the right time, Omaha has every right to believe that they can recapture their Summit League title and defeat the ghosts of Denver and DU Soccer Stadium.
Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons:
If you like seeing goals, then you’ll love watching Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons have scored an impressive 36 goals this year, while less-impressively giving up 34 against. In total, seven of their 18 games this season have featured five or more goals scored. All of this scoring has helped the Mastodons achieve their best ever finish since joining Division I soccer in 2001. Their 10-7-1 record is also the second-best record in the Summit League this season overall.
This success has been led largely by seniors Matthew Lieshout, who is second in the Summit League in scoring with 11 goals, and Romain Lopez, who leads the Summit League in assists with 10. The Mastodons have the fire power on offense to make a challenge for the Summit League title, but they’ll have to find a way to keep the ball out of their own net if they want to win it all.
Eastern Illinois Panthers:
Eastern Illinois is, if nothing else, a team that knows how to grind out a result. The Panthers only have one win in the Summit League this season and overall have an unimpressive record of 3-10-4. Despite all that however, the Panther’s claimed the fourth seed, and have every right to be here.
Perhaps the most important reason that Eastern Illinois’s is in the Summit League tournament is that they are the only Summit League team that was able to get a result out of Denver. The two teams played to a 0-0 draw in late September. The Panther’s ability to shutout the Pioneers for 120 minutes, in addition to their 2-1 overtime win against Western Illinois and their 1-1 draw with Oral Roberts, were enough to get the Panthers in the tournament.
While Easter Illinois doesn’t have much in the way of goal scorers—their leading scorer Christian Sosnowski only has three goals all season—their defense and goalkeeping has been tremendous in Summit League play. With the ability to get results when it matters, the Panthers could go far in the tournament.