Brief conference bio:
2013 Conference USA Tournament Champions: Charlotte
Most Valuable Player: Kyle Venter, New Mexico
Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Venter, New Mexico
Offensive Player of the Year: Tim Hopkinson, Old Dominion
Golden Boot Award: Kyle Parker, Charlotte/Alex Clay, UAB
Freshman of the Year: Christopher Wehan, New Mexico
Coach of the Year: Jeremy Fishbein, New Mexico
New Mexico (14-6-2, 7-1-1)
The Lobos made a pretty clear statement in their first season in Conference USA. Jeremy Fishbein’s side trounced through the opposition before rolling to the College Cup in a very successful campaign. There are some holes to fill this season though. New Mexico’s four starters lost from last season’s team were all selected in the 2014 MLS draft. Transfer Kevin Correa will headline the Lobos attack alongside James Rogers and Ben McKendry. Seniors Riley McGovern, Nick Miele, and Matthew Gibbons should anchor the defense. The question mark is in goal, where Patrick Poblete appears to be the man at the start of the season. Poblete did not play last season and only has eight appearances in his college career.
Old Dominion (11-6-1, 7-2)
The Monarchs return eight starters from last year’s team, but none of them made the preseason C-USA squad. Ryan Condotta is the player to watch for Old Dominion, as he’s the maestro for the squad and a quality prospect in the conference. With Tim Hopkinson gone, the question for Old Dominion is where the goals will come from. The preseason is relatively meaningless in college soccer, but the 6-1 loss at Duke last week is a bit concerning regarding the depth of this squad.
UAB (12-5-1, 5-3-1)
UAB led the way in the coaches’ preseason poll with four players on the all-conference team along with offensive player of the year Freddy Ruiz. There are high expectations for the Blazers this season. The attack should be as potent as ever, which is saying something given UAB scored 43 goals last season. However, the defense needs to sharpen up if the Blazers are going to contend in the conference. Last season ended with UAB conceding 11 goals in its final four games. That will not get the job done at the elite level of college soccer.
South Carolina (7-7-5, 4-2-3)
South Carolina opens the season with nine of its first 10 games in South Carolina (eight of those games are at home). The easy travel schedule to start the campaign should benefit the Gamecocks in their bid to finish with a winning record and take the conference crown. Senior defenders Braeden Troyer and Mahamoudou Kaba will be the key players for South Carolina this season. Kaba is the weapon on set pieces that is impossible to stop.
Charlotte (12-6-3, 4-3-2)
The 49ers lost quite a bit from last year’s squad, but they do return 2013 leading scorer Kyle Parker, who was the only player on the team to make the preseason all-conference squad. Parker’s preseason has gone well with three goals in two games. Charlotte will also be counting on Monbo Bokar to help carry the load in the attack.
Kentucky(m) (7-10-3, 3-4-2)
Callum Irving is back for his junior campaign with the Wildcats and remains the top goalkeeper in the conference. Irving is headed toward the record books with Kentucky as he continues to chalk up impressive seasons in net. The Wildcats will need more than a stud goalkeeper though to win the conference. The coaching staff is hoping that some immediate contributors emerge from the 11-player freshmen class.
FIU(m) (6-10-1, 2-6-1)
Former ETSU head coach Scott Calabrese takes over FIU following the departure of Kenny Arena. Calabrese steps into a program that was building toward the future with some talented pieces on the roster, but there is a long way to go.
Florida Atlantic (7-7-2, 1-7-1)
Like FIU, Florida Atlantic has yet to update its roster reflect the incoming class of recruits for 2014. The published small roster is not doing any favors for the program and does not reveal much change for the team that only captured four points in nine games in conference play last season.
Marshall (2-11-6, 0-6-3)
Marshall enters the season with nine freshmen on the roster and only one senior. It’s going to be another year of growing pains for the Herd, which could pay dividends in 2015 as these recruits begin to mature into key contributors for the squad.