MELBOURNE, FL – The Sunshine State Conference men's soccer preseason poll has been announced and the Florida Southern Moccasins were picked to finish seventh (tied with Barry) in the annual vote of league coaches. Defending regular-season champion Palm Beach Atlantic is the favorite to win the title, while SSC Tournament champion Tampa was picked second, and 2017 national runner-up Lynn was third. Those three teams were separated by a total of two points.
Now in their second season under head coach Jason Carlson, the Moccasins were picked four spots higher than they were last season after they qualified for the SSC Tournament for the first time in four years. Their 7-7 overall record included a 3-1 win over Tampa, and the Moccasins nearly ended No. 3 Palm Beach Atlantic's 13-game unbeaten streak in late October before the Sailfish scored in the closing minutes. Four of the Mocs' seven losses came by a single goal to teams ranked in the top-25, two of them to Lynn, including a 1-0 overtime defeat in the SSC Tournament quarterfinals.
Florida Southern returns its leading scorer from last year in junior Christoph Gums, who tied for the SSC lead with eight assists and was sixth in total points with 16. Starting center backs Daniel Moore and Foster Appiah also return, as well as Jake Starling, who spent most of the season at outside back, and goalkeeper Benny Yusufoglu. That group helped Florida Southern post a 1.14 goals against average that was the fourth lowest in the program's 61-year history. Their 0.89 goals against average in conference play was a school record, and only the second time they've been under 1.00.
The preseason poll again highlights the power of the Sunshine State Conference in men's soccer. Palm Beach Atlantic, Tampa, and Lynn all qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year with a collective overall record of 37-10-8. There was nearly a three-way tie in the poll for first place, with the Sailfish receiving 92 points and four first-place votes, the Spartans receiving 91 and four, and the Knights receiving 90 and three. (Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.) The only other time the top two teams in the men's soccer poll have been separated by one point was 2013 (Rollins and Lynn), and it's the first time the top three have been separated by two points.
Rollins, which narrowly missed a trip to the NCAA Tournament last year after going 11-5-1, was picked fourth with 66 points, and Florida Tech was fifth with 64 points. Nova Southeastern was sixth with 53 points before Florida Southern and Barry tied for seventh with 44.
Tampa owns the most SSC regular-season titles with 14, while Lynn and Rollins share the league lead in SSC Tournament championships with five. Palm Beach Atlantic has won the last two regular-season titles but each time lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament, which Lynn won in 2016 and Tampa won last year. Only once in the last nine years has the same team won both the regular season and tournament titles, with Lynn doing that in 2014 on its way to the NCAA Division II National Championship.
Last year also saw Lynn best Palm Beach Atlantic in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and then take down West Alabama in the regional championship games. The Fighting Knights reached the national championship match by dispatching Young Harris in the national quarterfinals and Rockhurst in the national semifinals. Lynn then faced the University of Charleston in a tense national title game but fell in penalty kicks following 110 minutes of scoreless play. Lynn (3), Tampa (3), and Florida Tech (2) boast all eight of the SSC's men's soccer national championships. The most recent national title came by way of the Fighting Knights in 2014.
Lynn (No. 2), PBA (No. 9), and Tampa (No. 23) represent the SSC in the 2018 United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division II preseason men's poll announced Tuesday, August 7th.
SSC teams open up with non-conference matches on Thursday, August 30th with seven squads in action. The conference schedule begins on September 12th when Nova Southeastern University travels to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
|2018 SSC Preseason Men's Soccer Poll|
|1.||Palm Beach Atlantic||92 (4)|