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By IVES GALARCEP
When the Maryland men’s soccer team fell to Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament semifinals last December, the memorable match was not only a great showcase for some of the best talent in the nation. It could also very well be a preview of the 2013 NCAA Championship Game.
Both the Terrapins and Hoyas return with stacked squads, each led by an All-American striker as both Maryland’s Patrick Mullins and Georgetown’s Steve Neumann are back to try and finish the job of lifting an NCAA trophy.
Maryland and Georgetown start the season at the top of the SBI MLS College Rankings, and despite both sides losing several top players to MLS, they have both reloaded. The Terrapins and Hoyas both feature deadly attacking tandems as well as highly-regarded goalkeepers to help provide balance.
Defending champion Indiana won’t be giving back the title easily, even with the departure of star forward Eriq Zavaleta. The return of the nation’s best midfield, coupled with the addition of standout playmaker Dylan Mares (who transferred from Louisville) has the Hoosiers poised to be one of the better attacking teams in the nation.
UConn has endured disappointing NCAA Tournament endings in each of the past four seasons, but this year could be the one that sees the Huskies return to national prominence. Led by All-American goalkeeper Andre Blake, UConn has the defense and attacking threats to make a deep run in the NCAAs.
If you are looking for a young team stocked with standout freshman to follow, look no further than UCLA, which features the nation’s best recruiting class, and enough talent to challenge the powers from the opposite end of the country.
Two teams that return truckloads of starters after strong 2012 campaigns include Marquette and Saint Louis, a pair of teams who aren’t normally discussed when talking national powers, but who both have the experience and depth to be surprise title contenders.
Here is the SBI Pre-Season College Soccer Top 40 for the 2013 season, which kicks off today across the country:
SBI PRE-SEASON COLLEGE SOCCER TOP 40
Players to Watch: F Patrick Mullins, F Schillo Tshuma, D Mikey Ambrose, M Sunny Jane
Key Losses: John Stertzer, Taylor Kemp, London Woodberry
Newcomer to Watch: GK Zach Steffen
Matches to Watch: at North Carolina (Sept. 13th), at Notre Dame (Oct. 8th)
Outlook: Boasting arguably the most dangerous forward tandem in the nation in Mullins and Tschuma, and with freshman sensation Zach Steffen in goal behind a rebuilt defense, the Terps should be right back in the thick of the NCAA title race while also being the favorites in the ACC.
Players to Watch: F/M Steve Neumann, F Brandon Allen, GK Tomas Gomez, M Joey Dillon
Key Losses: Tommy Mueller, Ian Christianson, Jimmy Nealis, Andy Riemer
Newcomer to Watch: M Alex Muyl
Matches to Watch: vs. New Mexico (Sept. 8th), vs. Creighton (Sept. 28th)
Outlook: The Hoyas lost in the 2012 NCAA Final, but return several key pieces to that standout team, including the dangerous tandem of Steven Neumann and Brandon Allen. Replacing MLS rookies Tommy Mueller and Ian Christianson in the heart of their defense and midfield will be key, but with the steady Tomas Gomez in goal and impressive freshman Alex Muyl expected to make an impact, the Hoyas should be the favorites in the Big East, and a strong candidate to return to the national title match.
Players to Watch: M Nikita Kotlov, M Harrison Petts, M A.J. Corrado, M Dylan Lax
Key Losses: Eriq Zavaleta, Louis Soffner, Caleb Konstanski
Newcomer to Watch: M Dylan Mares, F Tommy Thompson, D Billy McConnell
Matches to Watch: vs. UCLA (Sept. 1st), at Notre Dame (Oct. 2nd)
Outlook: Replacing Zavaleta’s goal-scoring production won’t be easy, but freshman Tommy Thompson and sophomore Femi Hollinger-Janzen will have the chance to thrive playing in front of the best midfield in the nation. Dylan Mares joins an already stacked middle featuring standouts Kotlov, Petts and Corrado. The real question will be whether Michael Soderlund can be a standout in goal.
Players to Watch: GK Andre Blake, F Mamadou Diouf, D Sergio Campbell, F Allando Matheson
Key Losses: Carlos Alvarez, Jossimar Sanchez, Stephane Diop, Max Wasserman
Newcomer to Watch: M Cyle Larin, F Ethan Decker
Matches to Watch: vs. Washington (Sept. 10th), at Louisville (Oct. 19th)
Outlook: With the top goalkeeper in the country in Andre Blake, and one of the most dangerous forwards in the nation in Mamadou Diouf, the Huskies will be the team to beat in the new American Athletic Conference. They will also be a good bet to finally break their run of disappointing finishes in the NCAA Tournament.
Players to Watch: D Javan Torre, GK Earl Edwards, F Victor Chavez, F Reed Williams
Key Losses: Ryan Hollingshead, Matt Wiet, Evan Raynr, Fernando Monge
Newcomer to Watch: D Michael Amick, M Jordan Vale (Syracuse), D Nathan Smith, M Brian Iloski
Matches to Watch: at Indiana (Sept. 1st), vs. UCSB (Sept. 13th).
Outlook: The Bruins might be a year away from truly challenging for a national title, but with arguably the strongest freshman class in the nation, and a quality transfer in former Syracuse midfielder Jordan Vale, the Bruins should be a real force by the end of the season. UCLA’s rough early-season schedule should provide a good proving ground for Jorge Salcedo’s young squad, which should be favored to win the Pac-10 title.
Players to Watch: F Reinaldo Brenes, M Robbie Derschang, D Bryan Gallego, M Aodhan Quinn
Key Losses: DeAndre Yedlin, Scott Caldwell, David Meves, Wil Trapp, Dillon Serna
Newcomer to Watch: M Adam Najem, GK Fernando Pina, M Victor Suoto
Matches to Watch: at West Virginia (Sept. 29th), vs. Wake Forest (Oct. 15th).
Outlook: The Zips lost head coach Caleb Porter as well as a boatload of talent that made its way to MLS, but new head coach Jared Embrick isn’t exactly inheriting an empty cupboard. Leading scorer Reinaldo Brenes is back, as is defensive standout Bryan Gallego. A crop of impressive freshman are prepared to step in, including highly-regarded New York Red Bulls academy product Adam Najem and freshman Brazilian midfielder Victor Suoto. Former U.S. Under-17 National Team goalkeeper Fernando Pina is another one to watch.
7- NOTRE DAME
Players to Watch: F Harrison Shipp, M Nick Besler, D Grant Van De Casteele, M Patrick Hodan,
Key Losses: Dillon Powers, Ryan Finley
Newcomer to Watch: F Michael Shipp, M Evan Panken, M Brandon Aubrey
Matches to Watch: vs. UCLA (Aug. 30th), vs. Indiana (Oct. 2nd).
Outlook: The Fighting Irish were one of the best teams in the country in 2012, but losing top standouts Dillon Powers and Ryan Finley to MLS leaves a pair of significant voids. Enter Patrick Hodan and Harrison Shipp, a pair of super subs who are poised to pick up the slack in the Notre Dame attack. Nick Besler, brother of USMNT defender Matt, is a star in the making, while Grant Van De Casteele is a top-notch centerback. If head coach Bobby Clark can find a consistent goal-scorer, the Fighting Irish could be a threat in the ACC.
Players to Watch: D Axel Sjoberg, M Bryan Ciesulka, GK Charlie Lyon, F C. Nortey
Key Losses: Andy Huftalin
Newcomer to Watch: Coco Navarro.
Matches to Watch: vs. Creighton (Oct. 12th), vs. Georgetown (Oct. 26th)
Outlook: With most of the starters back from a Marquette team that posted a 16-4 record last year, including top pro prospects Sjoberg and Ciesulka, the Golden Eagles are expected to be Georgetown’s toughest competition for the Big East title.
9- SAINT LOUIS
Players to Watch: F Robbie Kristo, D Anthony Manning, F Adnan Gabeljic, M Alex Sweetin
Key Losses: Nick Maglasang, Michael Robson
Newcomer to Watch: M Luis Manta
Matches to Watch: at UConn (Sept. 21st), vs. Creighton (Oct. 2nd)
Outlook: Returning most of the players back from a team that won the Atlantic-10 title, the Billikens are poised to be one of the surprise teams on the national stage. Led by the dangerous Robbie Kristo and Anthony Manning, Saint Louis should be favorites to repeat as conference champions while also boasting the firepower for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Players to Watch: GK Tyler Miller, M Chris Ritter, F Joey Calistri, D Grant Wilson
Key Losses: Jarrett Baughman, Kyle Schickel
Newcomer to Watch: Brandon Medina, Nate Dearth.
Matches to Watch: at Notre Dame (Oct. 15th), vs. Indiana (No. 8th)
Outlook: The Wildcats feature one of the best goalkeepers in the nation in Tyler Miller, a dominant defensive midfielder in Chris Ritter, and an All-Big 10 attacking threat in Joey Calistri that should help Northwestern challenge Indiana for the Big 10 title.
12- WAKE FOREST
13- NORTH CAROLINA
14- NEW MEXICO
17- COASTAL CAROLINA
21- ST. JOHN’S
28- MICHIGAN STATE
31- SAN DIEGO
35- NORTH CAROLINA STATE
36- PENN STATE
37- WEST VIRGINIA
38- SOUTH FLORIDA