MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the 16th time in program history and the second time under head coach Dan Stratford, WVU men’s soccer is NCAA Tournament-bound.
The Mountaineers (14-2-4) learned Monday that they’re the No. 5-seed in the national tournament, meaning they’ve earned a first-round bye and will host through at least the round of 16, should they advance.
Their side of the bracket features several familiar teams and faces that could become opponents once again — if the Mountaineers can make a run in the tournament.
Just how deep does it go? Here’s what’s possible if West Virginia makes a run to the College Cup:
Possible Second Round Opponents: Louisville, Dayton
The Mountaineers will host a red-clad opponent after their first-round bye. The Cardinals and Flyers will square off this week for the right to face WVU in the second round.
West Virginia defeated Dayton 1-0 back on Sept. 19. After seeing the tournament pairings, Stratford commented that WVU played one of its worst games of the season against the Flyers.
While WVU hasn’t played Louisville in men’s soccer since 2010, there are some connections to the program.
Stratford’s stint as an assistant at the University of Charleston overlapped with that of current Cardinals assistant Sean Teepen, who transitioned to the bench after a standout four-year goalkeeping career for the Golden Eagles.
A matchup with Louisville would also mean a clash with former teammates for WVU junior Dante Huckaby.
The Morgantown native played two seasons for the Cardinals before transferring to his hometown school prior to the start of the 2023 campaign. Huckaby has played significant minutes this season as both a right back and central midfielder.
Possible Sweet-16 Opponent: UCF
A rematch with the Knights never transpired at the Sun Belt Tournament. Could it happen in the national tournament?
If No. 5-seed WVU and No. 12-seed UCF both advance to the round of 16, they’ll meet in Morgantown the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The Mountaineers breezed through the quarterfinals and semifinals at the conference tournament in games hosted at UCF. But the Knights bowed out of the tournament after one game, following a surprising loss to South Carolina.
When the teams met in the regular season, they played to a 2-2 draw in Orlando in a top-five showdown.
Other potential Sweet 16 opponents for WVU include Vermont and Rider. Both of those programs are unseeded in the 48-team bracket.
No matter the opponent, WVU will host in the round of 16, should it advance.
Possible Eight Eight Opponents: Georgetown, James Madison, Pitt
If the bottom left portion of the NCAA Tournament bracket goes chalk, WVU would get a shot at redemption.
Georgetown is the No. 4 national seed, meaning the road to the College Cup in WVU’s portion of the bracket technically runs through Washington, D.C.
In 2021, West Virginia’s hopes of a College Cup run came to an end in a penalty shootout at Shaw Field. The Hoyas also defeated WVU in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament on their home turf.
Two other familiar opponents could emerge from Georgetown’s quadrant of the bracket, though, if they’re able to stage an early upset.
Either James Madison or Pitt will earn the right to play the Hoyas in the second round. WVU played to a 2-2 draw in October against the Dukes. It most recently played Pitt last season, losing on the road.
Pitt is by far WVU’s most-played foe in men’s soccer. The Mountaineers boast a 35-11-5 overall record in the Backyard Brawl since 1962.
Possible College Cup Semifinals Opponent: Marshall
Yes, a lot has to happen to make this a reality. Even as the No. 1 and No. 5 seeds respectively, both Marshall and West Virginia will have to beat three quality opponents in order to reach the College Cup.
But if it happens, soccer fans across the Mountain State — and the nation — will be treated to a blockbuster showdown.
West Virginia knocked off Marshall 5-2 at home on Oct. 18. The Herd got revenge Sunday in Huntington, completing a Sun Belt Conference double with a 3-2 win in the tournament final. Immediately after that game, head coaches of both sides quipped that they’d love to face off for a third time.
If the stars align, it would assuredly mark the highest stakes meeting between the two Mountain State rivals in men’s soccer — and maybe in any sport.