NAIA Men’s Soccer Opening Round Preview

SPRING ARBOR, Mich. – Earlier this week, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) officially announced the teams and Opening Round matchups for the upcoming 2019 Men’s Soccer National Championship. Forty-five teams will partake in 15 Opening Round pods, with 15 winners moving on and joining the host school, Westmont (Calif.), at the NAIA National Championship Final Site in Irvine, California on Dec. 2-7.

Midland University’s men’s soccer team earned one of 18 at-large berths into the tournament and has been selected to play in the Opening Round in Spring Arbor, Michigan on Friday, Nov. 22. The Warriors will begin with a game versus Grand View University, with the winner moving on to face the regional host, No. 11 Spring Arbor University on Saturday, Nov. 23.

Here is what you need to know about the three teams at the Spring Arbor Opening Round:

Spring Arbor University: Making their fourth straight and seventh overall appearance in the national tournament, the Cougars will play host for the Spring Arbor Opening Round and are slated as the tournament’s No. 11 seed. SAU finished the season ranked No. 6 in the NAIA Coaches Poll and boast a 15-2-2 overall record after claiming the program’s third consecutive Crossroads League regular season championship. The Cougars advanced to the conference’s postseason tournament championship game, where they suffered a 1-0 loss to (RV) Huntington University (Ind.).

Under first-year head coach Josh Oakley, Spring Arbor boasts one of the nation’s best defenses as the Cougars enter the opening round with 12 total shutouts, ranking them in a tie for third in the NAIA in that category. That number places their primary goalkeeper, sophomore Christopher Banfi, at ninth in the country with just 0.64 goals against him per game. Pacing the offense is junior midfielder Cole Russell, who leads the Crossroads League and ranks 20th in the country with 16 goals scored in 2019, while senior midfielder Jacob Crull sits in a tie for 10th in the country with 13 total assists.

Grand View University: The Vikings are making their 12th national tournament appearance and their first since 2016 by way of receiving an automatic tournament bid from the Heart of America Athletic Conference (HAAC). Grand View tallied a 14-5 overall record and finished as the regular season runners-up before suffering a 2-0 loss  in the conference championship game to the HAAC dual champions and No. 1-ranked Central Methodist Eagles (Mo.). The Vikings are one of five teams – Central Methodist (Mo.), Baker (Kan.), Missouri Valley, and William Penn (Iowa) – who will represent the HAAC in the national tournament, which is tied for the most of any conference.

In his 35th season at the helm, head coach Blair Reid is one of the top five winningest head coaches in NAIA history. This season, his Vikings rely heavily on their offensive attack as they rank in the top 25 in shots on goal per game (9.05) and average 17 total shots per contest. Sophomore forward Aaron Williams and senior defender Daniel Kozma led the Vikings and ranked fourth in the HAAC with 11 goals each, while Williams also ranked fourth in the conference with 1.61 points per game. Friday’s opening round matchup with Midland will be a rematch from Aug. 28 when the Vikings defeated the Warriors 2-1 in double overtime at Midland’s Heedum Field.

Midland University: Making their fourth tournament appearance and their first since 2016, the Warriors earned one of 18 at-large selections after completing a stellar season that saw the Warriors finish as the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) regular season runners-up. With a 13-4-2 overall record, the Warriors’ only loss since Sept. 21 came in the opening round of the GPAC tournament, where they were outdueled at home by Jamestown (N.D.) on Nov. 6. Midland is one of three teams who will represent the GPAC along with the tournament champions, No. 12 Hastings (Neb.), and the regular season champions, (RV) Morningside (Iowa).

Midland head coach Raphael Martinez has now been to the NAIA National Tournament twice in his five years as the leader of the program. Martinez preaches aggressiveness, which in turn has produced a 2019 Warrior team that ranks 20th in the NAIA in total goals (60) and 27th in shot attempts per game (17.47). Freshman forward Mike Eijgendaal took the GPAC by storm to rank in a tie for second in the conference in goals (12) and fifth in points (29). Senior midfielder and three-year captain James Kilburn has added a career-high nine goals to the team’s season total, almost exclusively on penalty kicks. On Friday, the Warriors will look to avenge a 2-1, double overtime loss at home to the Vikings on Aug. 28.

Midland vs Grand View will begin on Friday, Nov. 22, at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT with the winner advancing to face Spring Arbor University on Saturday, Nov. 23, at 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT. Saturday’s winner will then advance to the final site in Irvine, California.

For live stats of Friday’s game versus Grand View, click here.

For live video of Friday’s game versus Grand View, click here.