The 2021-22 athletic calendar inches closer and closer and closer every day. That means it’s time to make some preseason picks for the various fall sports in the Big East. We already pulled together awards for volleyball..... because for some reason they always go first in these things..... probably because officially, their league schedule does start before soccer..... so it’s time to keep it moving. Today we’re talking about Big East men’s soccer.
I do want to note two things before we start. First of all, I had to guess a little more than I usually want to here. Georgetown and St. John’s have not published fall 2021 rosters on their websites, and thus I can not confirm who is and is not returning for this season. It’s always a little bit tricky with soccer given the scholarship situations to be sure someone is returning, and the COVID-bonus seasons ultimately renders “was a senior in the spring” completely meaningless as a data point about returning. Thankfully, both teams have had enough offseason news published on their websites to provide enough information about who is and is not returning to allow us to put this together.
The other thing is the usual disclaimer: I’m trying to predict what the Big East coaches are going to do here. As such, I use last season’s end of year awards as a heavy guideline. If you think one particular player from one particular school is much much better than guys I have listed, well, take that up with the coaches in the Big East because they’re my lights in the darkness here.
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Diego Gutierrez, Creighton
As always, the best way to go about these things is to not overthink them. Gutierrez was the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big East at the conclusion of the spring season, so we’ll just paste him in here. He had five goals and six assists in 11 matches last season to tie for the Big East’s lead in points per game at 1.45.
Of course, there’s arguments to be made for other guys. If you’re a goals-oriented person, then you’re probably interested in Carsen Henderlong from Xavier. He led the Big East in goals per game at 0.64 with seven in the 11 matches he played for XU. There’s also Georgetown’s Dante Polvara, who led the league in total points with 18 in 14 matches as well as goals with eight. Polvara has an advantage over Henderlong here, as he was a First Team all-Big East midfielder in the spring while Henderlong was Second Team at forward, and when you’re not one of the six best forwards while leading the league in goals, then maaaaaybe you shouldn’t be preseason OPOY. If you wanted to squint, you could try to make a claim for Seton Hall’s C.J. Tibbling here, as he was second to Polvara in total points. However, he was only sixth in the league in points per game, and given the wide discrepancies in games played because of how weird the spring season was, I don’t think you can successfully claim that Tibbling has a realistic shot here.
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Rhys Myers, Butler
Last spring’s Big East DPOY was Georgetown’s Rio Hope-Gund, who ended up not even finishing the season because he was selected in the MLS SuperDraft and left the team to join Orlando City SC. So, we have to go in a different direction here. I choose to err on the side of experience here between the other two returning defenders from the all-conference team from last season. Myers is a super-senior returning for his COVID-bonus season, while Luca Dahn from Seton Hall is in his fourth year of eligibility. This one could easily go either way, but those two guys seem to be the most likely options for the coaches after favoring them in the spring.
Preseason Goalkeeper Of The Year: Giannis Nikopolidis, Georgetown
Okay, so here we have our first “cross our fingers” moment. I can’t find any evidence that Nikopolidis has left the GU program. The closest thing I have to that is Ethan Koehler, last year’s backup to Nikopolidis, being named a team captain for this coming season. However, Koehler was elevated to captain during the 2020 season when Derek Dodson and Rio Hope-Gund left the team after the MLS SuperDraft. Obviously, Nikopolidis was still on the team then, so Koehler being a captain in the fall doesn’t explicitly spell out that Nikopolidis is not on the team now.
As long as he’s still a Hoya, Nikopolidis is the clear choice here after taking home this postseason honor at the end of the spring season and at the end of the 2019 season as well. He had the best goals-against average in the league in the spring even after the NCAA tournament, and he allowed just two goals in seven games played when the league handed out the awards. But seriously: He allowed five goals after that point in the Big East and NCAA tournaments AND STILL had a better GAA than anyone else in the conference for the whole season.
If Nikopolidis has moved on for whatever reason, then Seton Hall’s Andreas Nota would seem to be the obvious pick. That’s who the league’s coaches voted onto the all-conference second team in the spring, so he’s the pick as the second best keeper. There is an argument for Marquette’s Chandler Hallwood, who had the best save percentage in the conference last spring. Hallwood also led the Big East in total saves with 50, although he was only third in saves per game. As always, I don’t think Saves is a very good way to measure a keeper because all that means is that the field defense in front of them is making them make saves. If part of being a keeper is organizing the defense in front of you, then lots of saves is actually a knock against you.
Preseason All-Big East Team
Charles Auguste, Creighton, M
Wilmer Cabrera, Jr., Butler, F
Luca Dahn, Seton Hall, D
Diego Gutierrez, Creighton, F
Paulo Lima, Seton Hall, M
Rhys Myers, Butler, D
Giannis Nikopolidis, Georgetown, GK
Dante Polvara, Georgetown, M
Ramzi Qawasmy, Providence, D
Lukas Sunesson, Marquette, F
C.J. Tibbling, Seton Hall, F
This list is pretty straight forward. All four forwards are returning from last year’s All-Big East First Team. Polvara and Lima are in the midfield after being First Teamers in the spring. Myers has that Preseason DPOY and Dahn joins him after the First Team honors in the spring, too. Nikopolidis gets his spot for his individual award.
At that point, it was just a matter of adding one midfielder and one defender to get to 11 and keep things even between the three field positions. I went with Qawasmy at defense just to mix things up and put a different team in to the top 11. Someone from last spring’s Second Team had to get it, and so I went with him. Same thing goes for plucking a midfielder, but this time I went with Auguste because he has the offensive stats to back it up over Butler’s Jack Haywood, Georgetown’s Sean Zawadzki, and teammate Callum Watson. Might be totally wrong on that, as Georgetown’s Jacob Montes is missing from the returning First Teamers after electing to sign with Crystal Palace during the summer instead of returning for his COVID-bonus season. You can see the sensible choice here, and the coaches might just want to elevate Zawadzki to have another Hoya midfielder instead.
Top Five Teams
1 — Georgetown
2 — Marquette
3 — Seton Hall
4 — Creighton
5 — Butler
I don’t think that you have to study Big East soccer very hard to come up with this top five. Hey, look, it’s the three teams that made the NCAA tournament in the spring, the team that also qualified for the Big East conference tournament, and the only team that’s not one of those four to put multiple guys on the preseason all-Big East team that you saw above. Not complicated!
Am I being overly positive about Marquette here? Almost assuredly! After all, MU is the only team in this top five to only have one representative on the all-conference team. The Golden Eagles accomplished waaaaaaaay too much on wins gathered by golden goals in overtime in the spring. To a certain extent, those wins are all coin flips that easily could have gone the other way on the Golden Eagles. Even more so, I’m basing my very positive opinions on Marquette knowing that they’re bring most of their starting 11 back..... but not two of their back line defenders. Defense was a major portion of what MU did in the spring, given how many shutouts that they posted, and maybe, just maybe, they can’t recreate it without Oliver Posarelli and Manuel Cukaj. We’ll see!