Assessing title contenders before a single ball has been kicked is something of a risk – but it’s one worth taking.
With the brief preseason well under way ahead of next week’s kick off in the men’s game, optimism is running rampant as programs make eyes towards the College Cup in Hoover, Alabama.
And here are 10 teams that should be in the mix for a trip there in 2012:
Look out, everyone, the Zips are back and are going to be a real handful this year.
After the talent drain in 2011, Akron was able to keep things humming along relatively well after losing seven players to the draft, but couldn’t quite put it all together in the tournament. This time around, the team returns eight starters and reloads with a typically strong recruiting class.
Joining talents like Wil Trapp, Scott Caldwell, Chad Barson and DeAndre Yedlin in Ohio are youth national teamers Dillon Serna, Alfred Koroma and Andrew Souders, meaning this year’s Zips squad is likely to more closely resemble the powerhouse of 2010.
They might not run the table, but there’s no question the talent is there for Caleb Porter to work his magic on the field.
Count the defending champions out at your own risk.
After finally hoisting the trophy in a fourth consecutive trip to the College Cup last fall, a significant chunk of talent departed, including center back Matt Hedges and midfield maestro Enzo Martinez.
But Carlos Somoano reloaded quite well with his incoming fall class, including FC Dallas Academy and U20 MNT midfielder Danny Garcia, who should compete for playing time right away.
Add in returning players including midfielder Mikey Lopez, defender Boyd Okwuonu and forward Robbie Lovejoy – to name a few – and the drop off won’t be anywhere close to what some might expect. A fifth straight College Cup appearance wouldn’t be a big surprise.
Despite the loss of goal scoring machine Luis Silva, the Gauchos are set to be as dangerous as ever with midfielder Machael David now a senior and helping his side cope with the loss of a player of Silva’s caliber.
There’s experience elsewhere as well – Fifi Baiden protects the back line from his defensive midfield spot, Peter McGlynn bringing the defensive experience, and Dom Sarle the likely candidate to help replace Silva and Sam Garza’s goals.
Two newcomers are likely to play a big role in Santa Barbara(m)’s chances at competing for a title – Ema Boateng, the sensational midfielder from nearby, and Dion Acoff, a transfer from Creighton.
Possessing one of its best senior classes in recent history, the Mountaineers could make a deep postseason run, and will certainly give in-conference Akron a run for the money.
There’s high quality talent in each part of the field, with defender Eric Schoenle anchoring the defense, midfielder Travis Pittman shielding the back line, opening up spaces for attacking Uwem Etuk, Shadow Sebele and Andy Bevin to wreak havoc offensively.
Getting everything humming at the right time will be key for head coach Marlon LeBlanc, as the team looks to do some damage.
Can the Demon Deacons put it all together and make a run?
With one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the nation, Jay Vidovich has his best shot at a national title since the 2007 triumph.
He’s got a team that has a tremendous blend of experience with seniors like Andy Lubahn and Anthony Arena, and buoyed by youngsters like sophomore Sean Okoli, forward Michael Gamble and midfielder Collin Martin all bringing energy and competition to the offense.
Only the season will tell if things will click at the right time to push Wake into the postseason.
Few coaches know how to reload on the fly and get their team back into contention quicker than Elmar Bolowich. The Creighton head man got his Tar Heel team to three straight College Cups before heading to the Midwest in 2011, and now he’ll look to tackle the same feat with the Bluejays.
At least on paper, this team looks capable of achieving that. Despite some very significant losses, they retain perhaps the nation’s top senior midfielder in Jose Gomez, who is supported in attack by Bruno Castro.
The incoming transfers of Zach Barnes and Carlos McCrary will surely help as well – although perhaps the biggest challenge will be replacing the stout defense that was such a huge part of last year’s success, although U20 defender Eric Miller is back for his sophomore year.
Head coach Sasho Cirovski enters every season with high expectations, and this year is no different despite having a little less experience at his disposal in 2012.
Casey Townsend’s goals will be a bit difficult to replace, although midfielder John Stertzer and forward Patrick Mullins offer up the best solutions – but the title-challenging formula will depend on how things fare at the back.
While seniors Taylor Kemp and London Woodberry have plenty of skill and experience in defense, and the team also welcomes standout left back Michael Ambrose, the goalkeeper situation is up in the air, with two sophomores, Keith Cardona and Jordan Tatum, along with freshman Cody Niedermeier, which gives Cirovski three different options.
Cardona saw limited time last season, including a couple of starts in the NCAA Tournament. If one can step in and step up, then the Terps should be there or thereabouts come season end.
A senior-laden team fell just short of a College Cup appearance in 2011. So while the emphasis for the Cardinals is on rebuilding a very good side, there’s plenty of reason to believe a good season is very possible.
Perhaps the most encouraging piece back for Louisville is attacking midfielder Dylan Mares. After an outstanding freshman season in 2010, Mares suffered a torn ACL at the beginning of last season. So provided he recovers and is back on form, he’ll be one of the focal points of the attack.
There’s still plenty of experience left in other parts of the field as well, with midfielder Paolo DelPiccolo providing grit and stability in the center of the park, and outside backs Brock Granger and Greg Cochrane offering defensive excellence.
While a lot of the questions about the team won’t be answered until they hit the field, the caliber of players on board can certainly peak as title contenders.
The Lobos look set to maintain the high level they achieved a year ago.
Plenty of pieces from 2011 are back in play for the fall, and have the experience demanded by the NCAA Tournament. Forward Devon Sandoval will provide a lot of the punch in attack, and speedy winger James Rogers offers a creative spark out wide, while Kyle Venter provides leadership and experience along the back line.
Lump the Hoyas in as more of a sleeper team, but this is a squad that has built up an impressive array of talent. One of their primary goals this season is to make noise in conference, and end up playing in the Big East semifinals at Red Bull Arena, though if they catch a break or two along the way title talk won’t be too far away.
There’s an impressive senior class, including midfielders Ian Christianson and Jimmy Nealis, along with defender Tommy Muller. Complimenting that is junior forward Steve Neumann, and sophomore defender Tyler Rudy.