NCAA Preview: Top Ten Teams to Watch

By TRAVIS CLARK

The 2010 national title contenders in college soccer start and stops in the major power conferences. Five of the last 10 champions have emerged from the ACC, and defending champion Virginia will be eager to defend its title.

It won't be an easy path for the Cavaliers, as 2009 runner-up Akron return will certainly be right near the top once again. The preseason No. 1 in several polls, Akron lost some significant talent, but should be well-stocked for another postseason run.

Last season's finalists will run into a tough and determined field, with schools like Maryland, Wake Forest and UCLA among those eager to scrap for a place in the upper echelons of men's college soccer. Almost every team in the country has had to endure some sort of changeover, and how each copes with that will factor into success this year.

Here is a look at ten top teams to keep an eye on in 2010:

Akron Zips

AKRON ZIPS

Teal Bunbury, Ben Zemanski and Blair Gavin all played massive parts in the Zips' run to the 2009 College Cup final, and are now gone. But there are players eager and ready to step in and lift Akron back to a title game appearance. Coach Caleb Porter knows the game well, and he has a slew of talent to choose from — forward Darlington Nagbe will help the Zips forget about Bunbury, while 2009 All American Anthony Ampaipitakwong will once again be a force in the midfield.

Sprinkle in a couple of U.S. U-20 youth players like Zarek Valtentin and Kofi Sarkodie, and Akron could easily make another deep tournament run. The Zips will get an early chance to prove themselves, traveling and playing against North Carolina and Wake Forest.

Carolina

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

With Wake Forest and Virginia sorting out their replacements from last year, the Tar Heels in North Carolina could be battling it out with Maryland for the top spot in the ACC and the nation.

Billy Schuler and Michael Farfan are three of the reasons why this could be a very good year for the Tar Heels, though losing Cameron Brown to a torn ACL will definitely hurt. An early test against No. 1 Akron this Friday will be a strong indicator of whether this team can live up to the preseason expectations.

Maryland

MARYLAND TERRAPINS

Two years removed from a national championship, this year's version of the Maryland Terrapins is as strong as ever. One of the first players to garner mention is goalie Zac MacMath, a U.S. U-20 player who trained with Tim Howard at Everton this year.

While he may not even be the best goalie in the ACC, MacMath provides a solid foundation that is augmented by Ethan White, an intriguing defensive prospect who started 23 games as a freshman. Jason Herrick will be the man to drive the attack, partnering with the oft-injured Casey Townsend.

UVAlogo

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

The defending champions have their work cut out for them right from day one, losing almost their entire starting midfield from 2009. Only one senior is on the preseason roster, and the task is going to be a tough one for the Cavaliers.

Diego Restrepo returns in goal, and UVA will hope to call on the attacking tandem of Will Bates and Brian Ownby. Still, their midfield needs to be rebuilt from scratch, though there are certainly a number of younger players eager to please.

UCLA

UCLA BRUINS

A Pac-10 battle is brewing out west, with Stanford looking to keep pace with the UCLA Bruins this year. There's not as much glamor, at least in terms of individual accolades, but the Bruins should be a fun team to watch down the stretch. Chandler Hoffman will be relied upon for goal scoring for a team which has endured a fair share of turnover.

Wake-forest

WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS

Another ACC team with some moving parts to replace. Gone are Ike Opara, Austin da Luz, Corben Bone and Zach Schilawski to MLS. Big seasons will be needed from Andy Lubahn and to alleviate those losses, and it's a reason why the Demon Deacons were voted to finish fourth in the ACC. By the same token, they were No. 3 in the preseason poll by NCAA.

Jay Vidovich can only hope that he's recruited well and brought in the right players to step into some of these gaps.

UCSB

UCSB GAUCHOS

The Gauchos have perfect motivation prior to the start of the regular season — the 2010 College Cup final will be hosted out West, and it would be a perfect time to reprise their championship winning season of 2006. To get to that point, they'll have to emerge on top of the Big West behind goalie Sam Hayden. The attack will be led by midfielder and preseason All-American selection Daniel Barrera, as the Gauchos aim to play in the championship they get to host.

Duke

DUKE BLUE DEVILS

Can Duke hang with the rest of the ACC? Most preseason voting has them in fifth place, but with a strong roster of returnees, led by Andrew Wenger. The sophomore central defender has earned a number of preseason accolades, including the Hermann Trophy watch list. However, he can't be relived on for offense, which is why Cole Grossman and Ryan Finley need to have big years to shake things up in the ACC.

Stanford Cardinal

STANFORD CARDINAL

Out West, UCLA's biggest threat to Pac-10 supremacy is the Standford Cardinal. Defender Bobby Warshaw is the big name for Stanford, winner of a number of accolades last year, including a Semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy and a selection to the All America team.

He'll need help if Stanford is to exceed expectations and contend for a title. Sophomore forward Adam Jahn is more than capable of stepping up, as is defender Ryan Thomas.

USF

SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS

While a top level professional franchise eludes the Southern tip of Florida, the collegiate program in place could be an exciting one to watch this year. Look no further than a preseason win over Akron to show what this team is capable up.

Returning All American goalie Jeff Attinella leads from the back, but USF needs to improve in the final third to reach their potential. Co-scoring leaders last year Bernardo Amor and Sebastien Thuriere will have to pick up where they left off, and then some, to push the Bulls to new heights.

OTHER SCHOOLS TO WATCH

Monmouth, Harvard, Boston College, Dartmouth, Tulsa, Northwestern, UC Irvine, Indiana, Portland, Drake

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Who do you see lifting the NCAA trophy this year? What team is missing from this list that you could see making a strong run?

Share your thoughts below.

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33 Responses to NCAA Preview: Top Ten Teams to Watch

  1. AdamTheRed says:

    No love for Creighton?

  2. Rainstpub says:

    Didn’t Duke just lose to Michigan State 1-0?

  3. maka says:

    they lost connor doyle, with him, top ten

  4. Ace says:

    You have Drake as a team to watch, but not Evansville who are favored in the MVC and return most of their starters? Mike Jacobs is going to have the Aces back in the Tournamnet this year.

  5. scott says:

    i guess gone are the days of St. Louis University being a perennial top ten team…

    im left wondering what happened to them…

  6. maddog says:

    SLU is solid, but not exceptional like they were in the past. They’d be a lot better if they could keep their best home grown talent

  7. Nova99 says:

    I dont follow ncaa soccer, but it has been producing more solid mls talents than before. I noticed a lot of the top teams have a guy whos on the U20 team, and some who played for U15, U17, etc. I want to know is it often the U20 US team actually call up kids who play well in college? Seems to me a lot of these players are already on the radar before they even go to college.

  8. Josh says:

    Cameron Brown is out for the year for Carolina due to an ACL tear

  9. K-Town says:

    Is there a ranking system for collegiate soccer like there is for that other “football”?

  10. Dinho says:

    Wow….UC Irvine makes the “other teams to watch” How times have changed since I was playing ball. Go ‘Eaters! Zot Zot! :)

  11. Joe says:

    I hear ya! Creighton should get some acknowledgement, they have one of the best programs in the country. Typical skip over the midwest mentality when it comes to soccer and any other sports for that matter. If you don’t play on one of the coasts you get little attention. Ives is usually pretty fair, and tries to remain unbiased, although this is an obvious oversight in my opinion.

    Even with Doyle out the equation, Creighton remain a perennial soccer powerhouse.

  12. Dinho says:

    There are several Top 25 lists that come out weekly and strengthy of conference rankings, but there are no BS rankings like the BCS system….

    They have a tourney to make it a bit more fair (although sometimes, several teams that make the tourney without winning their respective conference only get the nod because of their name/history rather than their performance during that season)

  13. Dinho says:

    strengthy = strength*

  14. JR says:

    *Demon Deacons

  15. united008@msn.com says:

    Notre Dame?

  16. Will says:

    Hoos repeat

  17. patrick says:

    umm, did you not see akron as the #1 team?

  18. Jesper says:

    Also “Andy” Lubahn, not Austin.

  19. Jesper says:

    And Vidovich can do a lot more than just hope he’s brought in the right players. Give me a break. Guy’s been the best coach in the country the last decade with only Sasho having an argument for that.

  20. Joe says:

    What?

    I wasn’t arguing that Creighton should be #1.

    Read my post again.

  21. Shawn says:

    Fact. Mike Babst, as assistant coach, will lead S Carolina to a conference title.

    Go Cocks!

  22. Matt B. says:

    I think he is saying Akron is in Ohio which isn’t on a coast

  23. tk421 says:

    Nice to see USF getting some attention. Quick geography check though – USF is in Tampa, which is not on the southern tip of Florida.

  24. Jesper says:

    Does anyone anywhere in any context actually spell Demon “Deamon”? I’ve seen “Daemon” when people are talking about faeries and stuff, but never Deamon. It’s not just this article, so I don’t mean to rag too much on it.

    Also, re: SLU. They hired a coach who I think will do the job in McGinty. He ran a lot of the training for Gelnovatch at UVa, recruited, and was a very hands on assistant in all aspects of the program. Former Wake goalkeeper as well, and a good guy.

  25. LIUnited says:

    No love for St. John’s

  26. guwinster says:

    Georgetown should surprise. They return 8 starters and 12 seniors.

  27. jimoh8002 says:

    that really not been the case. what has been happening is that local academies produce the talent and college pounce on them with scholarship offers to get them to leave there academies for school but the college pool may soon be dry with more teams signing from there academy and the reserve league rumored to be coming back – Example Zac Mcmath was already a gem i doubt UMD made him any better

  28. Steve says:

    Hey Ives, are you sure you were thinking of the men’s Portland team and not the women’s? I think if the women’s team jumped into the mens game they would fare better then the men’s team currently does.

  29. Jeff says:

    Steve, that is really disrespectful the the men’s team at Portland.

  30. David says:

    Also, the college game isn’t conducive to producing the best challenges for developing players as it has unique rules. Players can leave the game and then sub back in. There are timeouts. There is a running clock with no injury time.

    This means that individual player advantages can’t be maximized as the opposing team can rotate in rested athletes to swarm and man mark key creative players which in my opinion ruins a key nuance of the game. College soccer is administered by people who don’t get the sport and have no vested interest in producing professional players. Though there are a lot of good coaches and people involved, until the NCAA directors realize this I would hope all top prospects go the club route.

    Lastly, there is nothing to prevent a young club player of enrolling in a local university and taking classes as a back-up plan. As much as I value the education aspect that college soccer provides, if they are to have their best shot at being successful pros, the need to be competing in a professional environment from an earlier age. By 22, most non-US players have already been living it for several years and our college boys usually have to play catch-up. It’s a waste of valuable time…..

  31. Joe says:

    Gotcha. I would hope Akron would be spoken about as they have arguably the best team in the NCAA. Mentioning the best team is a given, giving credit where it’s due is another matter entirely. My point is that MVC teams and other Midwest teams hardly get the press they deserve. Akron is only one team.

  32. ThaDeuce says:

    Is Furman any good anymore, or are the likes of RICO and DEUCE no longer about that place?

  33. smokestack says:

    UNM LOBOS!!!