The road to Matthews, North Carolina and the 2023 DII men's soccer championship match begins Thursday, Nov. 16. Forty teams around the nation will kick off with national championship aspirations, but only four will make it to the Sportsplex at Matthews to play for it all.
Before the action begins, let's take a look at a few things to keep an eye on in regional play.
3 storylines for the 2023 DII men's soccer championship
Who wins Super Region One?
A fan that is new to DII men's soccer may not understand the importance of this question, but it looms large. The last six — and seven of the last eight — DII men's soccer national championship matches have featured a team from Super Region One and all three of those teams — Franklin Pierce, Charleston (WV), and West Chester — are back in the mix. The Ravens, of course, haven't lost a match in two seasons and come in as the defending champs looking for their third title. The Golden Eagles are arguably the single most dominant team of the past decade with three national runner-up and two national championship campaigns since 2013 and are currently the top-scoring team in DII men's soccer. West Chester made its run in 2018 and looks to get back into the championship mix. Simply put, the rest of the Super Regions watch this one anxiously as the title contender seemingly is brewing within.
😴 Championship match sleepers 😴
Unlike the DII women's soccer bracket, which traditionally sees a lot of the No. 1 seeds take care of business, the men's bracket is far less predictable. It seems at least one low seed sneaks through every year... so, who has a chance to do it this year?
Clayton State (pictured) is an intriguing candidate. The Lakers won their first PBC tournament title since 2007 and are back in the DII men's soccer tournament for the first time since 2010. That has Cinderella written all over it. Their first-round opponent is Lenoir-Rhyne, a team they haven't faced since 2002 but are perfect against all time, winning all four matches by a combined score of 11-1.
What is left in the tank for No. 10 Purdue Northwest? This has been a magical season for the Pride, taking down Saginaw Valley State for their first-ever GLIAC title which earned them this spot in the program's first-ever DII men's soccer tournament. They improved from 6-8-4 to 10-3-4 in one of the larger turnarounds this season. They are also familiar with their opening-round opponent Lewis — they faced on opening day and played to a draw.
You want a complete wild card? How about Super Region Four? Six teams are in this part of the bracket that weren't here last year. Only Cal State LA — which were in back-to-back title matches in 2019-2021 — CSU Pueblo — which made the semifinals last year — Midwestern State — which rises from No. 7 seed last year to No. 1 this year — and Cal Poly Pomona return. Fort Lewis is rolling in with its first RMAC regular season title since 2011. The Skyhawks will face UC Colorado Springs, which is making its DII men's soccer tournament debut. Speaking of tournament debuts, welcome to the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters. Coming off a program-record 12-win season, the Otters face Cal Poly Pomona, which defeated CSUMB twice already this season. Is the third time the charm? Both Chico State and Simon Fraser are back in the tournament for the first time since 2018. The Red Leafs will take on Point Loma — returning for the first time since 2017 — and makes for what should be a wild first-round match. Essentially, the Wild West is alive and well, and anything could happen here.
He shoots, he scores!
These goal scorers are looking to make a huge impact in the DII men's soccer championship.
- Daniel Burko, Lincoln Memorial: The SAC offensive player of the year has the most goals out of any team remaining in the tournament with 19. Of those 19, six are game-winners, so Burko will need to be clutch for the Railsplitters to go far.
- Younes Addar Khanoussi, Franklin Pierce: Khanoussi is the third Raven is a row to win the NE10 player of the year, and he did so by scoring 18 goals. A lot of his scoring came earlier in the season, scoring at least two goals in five of his first seven games, so the Ravens hope to see him get hot once more.
- Gabriel Campora, CSU Pueblo: Campora scored his 16th and 17th goal of the season in a 2-0 shutout of Fort Lewis to secure the Thunderwolves' first-ever RMAC tournament title. He led the RMAC in goals, points, game-winning goals and was a perfect five for five in penalty kicks this year.
- Mere Escobar, Midwestern State: Escobar was the Lone Star Conference player of the year, not only scoring 17 goals, but adding 12 assists to the mix. He is second in DII men's soccer this season in points with 46 and enters the tournament with a goal in seven of his last 10 matches.
- Tinashe Katsande (pictured) and James Pool, Gannon: The Golden Knights are the second-highest scoring team in the tournament (3.63 goals per game) and Katsande's 17 goals and Pool's 16 are fifth and sixth in DII. The dynamic duo has combined for 15 assists and seven game-winners as well. Katsande was the PSAC athlete of the year, as Pool joined him on the All-PSAC First Team.