Janet Rayfield's squad looks to improve on a 10-win season in 2012, and it says here that the Illini will do just that.
With the Illini Soccer team starting its season this afternoon at nationally-ranked Notre Dame, it's time to look at the 2013 schedule game-by-game and try to predict what will happen. Let's get right to it.
Friday 8/23 at Notre Dame. The last time these two teams met was in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2011. That game was played in Champaign, and the Illini prevailed 1-0. This game will be played in South Bend, where the Irish lost just once last season, to eventual national champion North Carolina. Prediction: Notre Dame 2 Illinois 1.
Sunday 8/25 at Louisville. If you like quality midfield play, this should be a fun one. Louisville's Charlyn Corral led the Cardinals last season with seven assists, and was second on the team with eight goals. The matchup with DiBernardo will be one to watch in a game that should be very tight. Prediction: Illinois 1 Louisville 1.
Friday 8/30 vs College of Charleston. Former Illini assistant Christian Michner brings his squad to Champaign to coach against his former team for the first time. The Cougars are playing in the Colonial conference for the first time this season, and will likely be a bit overmatched in this one. Prediction: Illinois 3 College of Charleston 0.
Sunday 9/1 vs Illinois State. The Redbirds are a dangerous team offensively, led by forward Rachel Tejada. These two teams tied 1-1 last season in Normal, but give the Illini the edge in Champaign. Prediction: Illinois 3 Illinois State 1.
Friday 9/6 at Arizona State. This should be another tight matchup, but the desert heat, the late start (9pm central) and ASU's battle-tested side could give the Sun Devils the edge. Prediction: Arizona State 2 Illinois 1.
Sunday 9/8 vs. Arizona. After having a couple of days to adjust to the time change and the heat, the Illini should bounce back against the Wildcats, who will likely finish at the bottom of the Pac 12 standings. Prediction: Illinois 2 Arizona 0.
Friday 9/13 vs. Indiana State. Back on home turf, look for the Illini to handle the Sycamores, projected to finish toward the middle/bottom of the Missouri Valley. Prediction: Illinois 3 Indiana State 0.
Sunday 9/15 vs. Florida International. FIU is a solid club that is expected to compete for the Conference USA championship in their first season in the league. The Illini will have to take care not to overlook them on the back end of the weekend. Prediction: Illinois 2 FIU 1.
Friday 9/20 at Ohio State. The Illini and Buckeyes split a pair of meetings last season, with Illinois winning at home in the regular season and the Buckeyes gaining a measure of revenge in the Big Ten Tournament Championship. It's probably a good thing for the Illini to play OSU early in the league season while they try to replace much of their scoring. Prediction: Illinois 1 Ohio State 0.
Friday 9/27 vs. Iowa. The Illini haven't lost to the Hawkeyes since 2008, and through a scheduling quirk, get Iowa (and Nebraska) at home for the second straight year. Prediction: Illinois 2 Iowa 1.
Sunday 9/29 vs. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers return much of their scoring firepower from a season ago. The Illini defense will be tested, but ultimately will outscore Nebraska in a shootout. Prediction: Illinois 4 Nebraska 2.
Friday 10/4 at Purdue. Here's the other half of that scheduling quirk, as Illinois travels to Purdue and Indiana in consecutive years. This series has been dominated by the home team, and Illinois could only manage a tie here last season. Prediction: Illinois 1 Purdue 1.
Sunday 10/6 at Indiana. The Illini also have a nice unbeaten streak going against the Hoosiers (since 2008). They should keep it intact against first-year coach Amy Berbary's squad. Prediction: Illinois 2 Indiana 0.
Saturday 10/12 vs. Wisconsin. A rare Saturday matchup to be played under the lights in Champaign. These two teams play tight matches, with the last four decided by one goal or less (one tie). This will be no exception. Prediction: Illinois 2 Wisconsin 1.
Thursday 10/17 at Northwestern. The Wildcats have been a thorn in the side of the Illini the past several years, as Illinois has gone just 2-3-1 against Northwestern since 2007. Could they do it again? Prediction: Northwestern 1 Illinois 0.
Sunday 10/20 at Penn State. The Illini have played Penn State very well in the Big Ten Tournament, beating them there the last two years. Not so in the regular season, with just one win over the Nittany Lions in twelve tries, and none in State College. Prediction: Penn State 2 Illinois 0
Friday 10/25 vs. Michigan. These teams have played exciting soccer the past three seasons, with all three games decided by a 3-2 score. Can they do it again? Why not...Prediction: Illinois 3 Michigan 2.
Sunday 10/27 vs. Michigan State. The Spartans finally scored against Illinois last season for the first time since 2002, but Illinois was able to hang on for a 3-2 win. Expect a bit more comfortable win this time around. Prediction: Illinois 2 Michigan State 0.
Thursday 10/31 at Minnesota. Minneapolis has always been tough on the Illini, as they haven't won there since 2003. Projecting this far ahead is always difficult, but particularly for a team like the Gophers with so many newcomers. When in doubt, go with the historical trend. Prediction: Minnesota 1 Illinois 0.
If these predictions hold, and they almost certainly won't, the Illini will finish 12-5-2 in the regular season, and 7-3-1 in the Big Ten. That would be a three-win improvement over last year's nine regular season wins, and one game better in the Big Ten. With Vanessa DiBernardo back for a full season, that sounds reasonable to me. What do you think?
Thanks for reading.