FOX Soccer college season preview
“College soccer is dying.”
It is a refrain that surrounds the college game. The introduction of MLS academies and the increased interest in top American youth prospects by foreign clubs was supposed to sound a death knell for the college game.
It hasn’t worked out that way. The very things expected to destroy the college game have actually strengthened it. College soccer remains a critical part of the American development process.
MLS academies are starting to tap into some of the country’s best talent and some of those players are going directly to the pros. But MLS’ academies, alongside the US Soccer Development Academy, are preparing greater numbers of young players. The result is that there’s more than ever to go around.
The fact remains that for every player who develops into a good enough prospect for a team to sign, there are dozens of players left behind. They are better-prepared and more polished, and when they play college ball, they are elevating the product.
The current MLS rookie class is loaded with first-year contributors like Darren Mattocks, Austin Berry, Luis Silva, Ryan Meara, Tony Cascio, Connor Lade and Andrew Wenger — all players who honed their games on the college level, all of whom have enjoyed first-year success.
But the key to continued progress for the college game will be improving the coaching ranks. Coaches like Akron’s Caleb Porter, Maryland’s Sash Cirovski, North Carolina’s Carlos Samoano and UCLA’s Jorge Salcedo continue do an excellent job of preparing players for the next level — but they are just a handful. The college game needs more top-level coaches and an infusion of young coaching talent.
Make no mistake. The college game has its flaws. Players play a severely limited number of games and they have restrictions on practice time. Plenty of college teams still play boring soccer. And the bane of the game must be the substitution rules that allow players to leave matches and re-enter — thus robbing the sport of the endurance that is so central to its identity.
For all those flaws, college soccer still matters, even if it is because there aren’t many alternatives. Without Division 1 college soccer, many American players would reach the end of their high school years and either catch on with a pro team — or have to consider giving up the game in order to pursue a higher education. Instead, top players coming through the developmental and MLS academy ranks have somewhere to keep developing once they reach young adulthood, and that safety net continues to produce quality pros.
College soccer has played, and will continue to play, an important role in developing soccer talent in America. It’s still very much alive.
Here are five things to watch in the upcoming men’s college soccer season:
1- How will Caleb Porter respond?
The Akron head coach is widely regarded as one of the most talented and promising coaches in the college ranks, but his turn as US Under-23 head coach during the team’s failed Olympic qualifying process has taken some shine off his reputation. But with another strong recruiting class, and a style of play that is arguably the most attractive in the nation, Akron is good enough to win a national title. That would go a long way toward restoring Porter’s reputation.
2- Can North Carolina repeat?
The Tar Heels lost some major talent from last year’s National Championship team, but Carlos Somoano has reloaded with a stacked recruiting class and key transfer Andrew Craven. With talented sophomores Mikey Lopez and Boyd Okwuono and senior goalkeeper Scott Goodwin leading the way, North Carolina should have a good chance of repeating as ACC champions, and possibly as NCAA champions as well.
3- Is UCSB ready to overtake UCLA as the best in the West?
Which West Coast school had two players taken in the first six picks of the 2012 MLS Draft? If you said UCLA you are wrong. UCSB sent Luis Silva and Sam Garza to MLS and the Gauchos will still have plenty of talent to make a very good case for being the best team on the West Coast. They play host to UCLA on Sept. 21st and have a good chance to show that UCSB are now the kings of the block.
4- Can UConn finally overcome their recent tournament disappointments?
When UConn reached last November they looked like a good bet to win the Big East Tournament and make a run to the NCAA Final. A stunning Big East Final loss to St. John’s followed by a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to Cinderella story Charlotte left the Huskies without a trophy. Now, with a strong nucleus of top players Carlos Alvarez, Andre Blake and Mamadou Diouf leading the way, the Huskies have a team that can erase the memories of last year’s disappointment and lift multiple trophies this year.
5- Who will be this year’s surprise team?
Last year, Charlotte emerged from relative obscurity to reach the NCAA Championship Game, while New Mexico surprised plenty of people by going unbeaten before finally losing in penalty kicks during the NCAA Tournament. There are some smaller schools with the players to make serious noise in 2012: CSU-Bakersfield and Coastal Carolina boast some top-shelf prospects.