Denver Men Look to Extend Summit League Dominance

Denver is not shown in the preseason Top 25 in either the Top Drawer Poll or United Soccer Coaches Poll. However, Jamie Franks’ squad will break into the Top 25 if they can string some victories together in their extremely tough non-conference schedule. The Pioneers play #4/2 Georgetown, #5 Oregon State, and #17/20 Maryland. If that is not challenging enough, DU plays last season’s NCAA first-round playoff opponent Grand Canyon along with the University of California San Diego, San Diego State University, Portland, Virginia, and Pittsburgh. Denver opens against Gonzaga Thursday night.

As for the Summit League conference, the preseason coaches poll shows the top four teams from last season finishing in the same order – 1. Denver, 2. Oral Roberts, 3. Omaha, and 4. UMKC. There are two new Summit League associate members – Lindenwood and Southern Indiana. Denver plays arch-rival Omaha on Saturday, October 1st at Caniglia Field in Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha has a new coach, Donovan Dowling, who replaced Bob Warming. The top two preseason favorites, Denver and Oral Roberts, meet during the regular season on September 24th in Denver. The Golden Eagles return nine starters from last season.

Oral Roberts’ men’s soccer team, selected preseason runner-up, shared the regular-season Summit League championship last season with Denver but the Pioneers defeated the Golden Eagles in the conference tournament finale to earn the conference’s NCAA Tournament autobid. ORU head coach Ryan bush told the Tulsa World, “We expect to win our regular-season championship. This year, obviously, getting over that final hump in the tournament game … we lost in a penalty kick shootout, which is kind of like a toss-up,” Bush said. “So the goal will be set on getting over the top of the game. We definitely felt like we could have won the game in regular time.”

Coaches voted the University of Denver as the preseason favorite.

Denver’s Liam Johnson returns for his fifth collegiate season after being selected the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year. He anchors a defensive unit that yielded only 0.79 goals per match a season ago – a figure that ranked ninth-best nationally. But the challenge for Denver will once again be on the offensive end of the field.

DU fields the league’s top two returning-goal scorers in midfielders Lukas Fisher and Kengo Ohira. Both players found the back of the net four times in 2021 with Ohira providing the game-winner in the NCAA Tournament 1-0 win over Grand Canyon. Stefan DeLeone is another threat from the midfield as well.

The big question around the DU program is the inexperienced front line with four freshmen and a sophomore for a team that often struggled to finish off opponents last season. Franks recruited the countries of Sweden and Japan once again to land Kristoffer Krebs and Masaki Umeno, respectively. The staff also added freshmen Kyle McGowan and Bryce Willoughby to play beside sophomore Oje Ofunrein on the front line.

Veteran DU graduate goalkeeper Will Desantis will be in the cage for DU, backed up by two freshmen and a junior (Austin Valdez). Desantis has played 17 games for the crimson & gold allowed less than one goal per contest.

Denver has won eight of the past nine Summit League Tournaments but Franks’ ambitions extend well beyond the Summit League as he has stated repeatedly during his tenure leading the Pioneers that his annual goal is winning a national title. Denver’s schedule is constructed to re-enter the conversation as a national contender as a top 25 collegiate soccer program after the Pios last made the College Cup in 2016.

Denver opens its 2022 season Thursday night as they host Gonzaga at 7:00 pm MT. Tickets are available here.

Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

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