A-10 Men’s Soccer Championship Preview: Third-Seeded Ramblers Gear Up For Shot at Conference Title

After 58 conference matches and over 5,200 minutes of play, the field in the A-10 has been narrowed down to 8 teams.

After 58 conference matches and over 5,200 minutes of play, the field in the Atlantic-10 conference has been narrowed down to just 8 teams who will face off for a conference championship and a shot to play in the NCAA tournament. 

Quarterfinal matches will take place Friday, Nov. 3 and Saturday, Nov. 4. Advancing teams will then face off in the semi-finals Wednesday, Nov. 8. On Sunday, Nov. 12, the two teams left standing will go head-to-head in the championship match. Matches will be played on the campus of the higher seeded team in each matchup. 

After falling short in penalty kicks at Saint Louis University in the championship last year, the Ramblers will look to avenge that loss and capture the gold in 2023. 

“Listen, our team, they want to get back,” Loyola head coach Steve Bode said. “They want to get back to where we were last year and have a crack at a championship. I know that. So we just gotta keep trying to prepare the best we can and play the best we can in each of these games.”

No. 3 Loyola vs. No. 6 Dayton

The Ramblers enter the postseason after a regular season campaign where they went 8-2-4 overall. In A-10 competition the Ramblers finished 4-1-3 with their only loss coming Sept. 31 against No. 1 seeded Virginia Commonwealth University 1-2. Along the way, they picked up marquee wins against No. 2 seeded Saint Louis University Oct. 14 and DePaul University Sept. 19. 

Loyola has been led by graduate midfielder Markus Maurer with six goals and fourth-year forward Oscar Dueso and first-year forward Petar Janjic who both finished with five goals. Between the posts, first-year goalkeeper Aidan Crawford has been a force for the Ramblers, recording 28 saves and eight wins in 13 appearances with a save percentage of 72%. 

Despite everything that came before, Bode said the tournament is almost like a new season. 

“It’s kind of like you hit the reset button and say, ‘OK, now it’s just postseason play and playoff soccer is different because it’s single elimination,’” he said.

Traveling to Rogers Park to take on the Ramblers are the No. 6 seeded Flyers of the University of Dayton. When the two teams met Oct. 7 on Dayton’s home pitch the match ended in a 3-3 draw. The two programs have met just four times in their history with the head-to-head record currently sitting at 1-1-2. 

Dayton’s season has been less successful but still solid — the Flyers finished the regular season 6-6-5 and 3-1-4 in conference play. Statistically, Dayton has been propelled by fourth-year midfielder Kenji Mboma Dem and second-year forward Sidike Jabateh who each scored five goals. Fourth-year goalkeeper Dario Caetano turned in a solid season with 49 saves, six wins and a save percentage of 68%. 

Bode said after playing a series of games which felt like they had a playoff atmosphere at points the team is ready for the real thing. 

“They’re more motivated than ever and in a good spot I think just overall going into this stretch,” he said.

No. 1 Virginia Commonwealth vs. No. 8 Fordham

Top seeded VCU, the only A-10 team to get the best of the Ramblers, will host the Fordham University Rams in Richmond, Virginia to get their postseason underway. VCU finished their season with an overall record of 5-5-5, with all of their wins coming in conference play where they finished 5-1-2. 

VCU’s top scorers include third-year midfielder Jonathan Kanagwa, third-year midfielder Damian Gallegos and second-year forward Pape Toure who all netted three goals. Third-year goalkeeper John Ermini has been very solid with 50 saves, five wins and a save percentage of 72%.

Fordham improved substantially on their 2022 season, finishing this year with an overall record of 6-3-7 going 3-3-3 in conference competition. 

Leading the charge for Fordham have been fourth-year defender Florian Deletioglu with seven goals, graduate defender Timo Hummrich who scored six goals and second-year midfielder Daniel D’Ippolito with four goals. Graduate goalkeeper Carter Abbot has been reliable for the Rams, recording 43 saves, five wins and a save percentage of 75%. 

The two sides have met eight times since 2012 with VCU leading the head-to-head matchup 3-2-5. 

No. 2 Saint Louis vs. No. 7 Massachusetts 

The reigning A-10 champion Saint Louis University Billikens will welcome the Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts for their quarterfinal matchup. SLU was among the nation’s best in 2023, finishing 8-4-4 overall and 4-1-3 in the A-10. 

The top producers for the Billikens have been second-year forward CJ Coppola who led the team with seven goals, third-year midfielder Christian Buendia and fourth-year midfielder Tanner Anderson who each netted four goals. Third-year goalkeeper Jeremi Abonnel has held down the goal for SLU with 26 saves, six wins and a save percentage of 77%.

Lining up across from them will be a UMass team who finished 7-5-5 overall and 4-3-1 in conference games. The Minutemen boast one of the A-10’s top scorers in fourth-year Alec Hughes who finished the regular season with an astonishing 12 goals. 

Aiding Hughes is fourth-year midfielder Nick Zielonka who netted five goals. Graduate goalkeeper Matt Zambetti has been rock solid with 49 saves, seven wins and a save percentage 72%. 

SLU and UMass have met 15 times since 2006, SLU currently leads the head-to-head matchup 7-6-2.

No. 4 Davidson vs. No. 5 Duquesne 

A very successful 2023 campaign for the Davidson College Wildcats resulted in a 9-4-1 overall record and a 5-3-0 conference record. 

Davidson was led to a fourth-place finish by second-year forward Denis Krioutchenkov who scored seven goals and third-year forward Vincent Bennage who netted six. The defense has been supported by fourth-year goalkeeper Lou Liedtka who recorded 42 saves, nine wins and a save percentage of 79%. 

Their opponents, the Duquesne University Dukes, fell short of their previous season in 2022 but still played well, finishing 8-6-3 overall and 4-2-2 in the A-10. 

The Dukes’ top scorers include second-year midfielder Ask Ekeland who found the back of the net 11 times in 2023. Supporting him has been third-year forward Jayden Da who finished with seven goals. Third-year goalkeeper Zoltan Nagy has been stalwart, recording 82 saves, eight wins and a save percentage of 77%. 

The two programs have come to blows eight times in their history with Davidson leading the head-to-head series 5-2-1.

Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger