Top Drawer Soccer
Brody Hickey wants to outdo his brother and Ian Harkes wants to emulate his famous father.
Two of our most recent boys' commits come from quite the soccer pedigree as they prepare for the next stage of their respective careers.
Harkes, the son of former U.S. Men's National Team player John Harkes, gave his verbal to Wake Forest for the 2013 season. His father was a Virginia Cavalier, and Ian is staying in the ACC where he will join a talented class that includes Rafael Fagundo and Collin Martin.
As for Hickey, he set his sights on SMU for the 2013 season. Why?
Well, it is a great instate program for the Dallas Texans' standout, but there are bigger agendas at work.
Brody Hickey"My brother just finished up four very successful years there so I know all about the program and I want to outdo him," Hickey said.
Older brother Payton Hickey was a valuable midfielder for the team, collecting nine assists in his best season of 2009, setting a nice benchmark for Brody to shoot for.
Brody, of course, brings achievements of his own including being admitted to the U.S. U17 Residency Program.
Brody is a part of the rich tradition of great Texas players and his relationship with a few of them, also heading to the Mustangs, played a factor as well.
"I know a handful of players that are going there such as Murphy Short, Marco Carrizales, Brandon Lee and Michael King," Brody said. "All of them are excellent players that have the same style of play. It should be a bright future for the Mustangs.
"I want to keep the tradition going and play and win for the players that made SMU what it is."
Big brother being among them.
In other commitment news:
Troy Manheimer (Weston FC) has signed with Stony Brook for the 2012 season.
Jacori Hayes (Baltimore Bays) has verbally committed to Wake Forest for the 2013 season.
Brian Winterfield (Vardar) has verbally committed to Michigan State for the 2013 season.
Dylan Autran (De Anza Force) has signed with Santa Clara for the 2012 season.
Christopher Hubbard (United 1996 FC) has verbally committed to Notre Dame for the 2013 season.
Michael Griswold (San Diego Surf) has verbally committed to Stanford for the 2013 season.
With 15 minutes left in the CONCACAF Championship game, the U.S. U20 Women's National team found itself in unfamiliar territory.
"For this year, it was the first time we found ourselves down," head coach Steve Swanson told TopDrawerSoccer.com.
Swanson's group trailed Canada 0-1 with the minutes quickly ticking away late in the second half after conceding an early goal to Oregon State and Canuck forward Jenna Richardson.
Despite the untried situation, Swanson remained confident in his group even though the shots were not finding the back of the net.
"I thought we played some of our best soccer in the first half," Swanson said. "I certainly wasn't discouraged. I thought we were very capable of coming back."
As the coach began looking for answers on the bench, his pregame strategy was thrown completely out the window.
Maya Hayes"We were thinking if all went according to plan - which it never does - we were thinking about the other sub in the midfield," Swanson said. "But we found ourselves down with 15 minutes to go."
So the coach turned to UNC forward Kealia Ohai with his last substitution, and switched the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3.
"[Ohai] really gave us a spark off the bench," Swanson said. "She is real dynamic player. She created two half chances and Maya [Hayes] and Chi [Ubogagu] made the most of them."
Ohai was credited with assists in the 79th and 89th minute, as the Tar Heel sophomore provided the little extra to push Swanson's team past Canada with a chaotic final ten minutes to overturn the one-goal deficit.
"I certainly would have liked to get that first one a lot sooner that we did," Swanson said with a chuckle. "It was a credit to our team that they kept their head in it."
The coach also recognized the depth of the team for the success it enjoyed down in Panama, especially in the final.
"We went there with the goal to win the tournament and qualify for the World Cup in Japan," the coach said. "I think we are excited to come out of the qualifying having met those two goals. It was a great experience for us."
Part of this group also overcame another stigma with this event, as six players from the 2010 U17 CONCACAF Championship team, which failed to qualify for the World Cup, received some vengeance.
"As I told them, it might have been on our minds too much," Swanson said. "Hopefully it is behind us now. It is a good lesson to the players."
Now the coach turns his attention to the World Cup, which is set to begin in mid-August in Japan.
"We have two camps - one in April, one in May - that we will use as preparation," Swanson said. "Then we will take a tour of Japan in June, and play two games against the Japan U20 women's national team there. We will have a pre-World Cup training cup then the World Cup."
In the limited history of the event, the U.S. and Germany are the only nations to ever lift the title, but Swanson did not want to recognize the title as favorites heading into the event.
"The World Cup is about peaking at the right time," Swanson said. "We feel positively now, and we also have a lot of work to do before heading to Japan. We are really working hard to be the best team we can be."
U.S. CONCACAF Championship Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (2): 1-Bryane Heaberlin (North Carolina; St. Petersburg, Fla.), 18-Abby Smith (Dallas Texans; Dallas, Texas)
DEFENDERS (6): 19-Stephanie Amack (Mustang Blast; Pleasanton, Calif.), 17-Olivia Brannon (Virginia; Troy, Mich.) 4-Crystal Dunn (North Carolina; Rockville Centre, N.Y.), 5-Kassey Kallman (Florida State; Woodbury, Minn.), 2-Mollie Pathman (Duke; Durham, N.C.), 3-Cari Roccaro (Albertson Fury; East Islip, N.Y.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): 6-Morgan Brian (Virginia; St. Simons Island, Ga.), 12-Vanessa DiBernardo (Illinois; Naperville, Ill.), 8-Julie Johnston (Santa Clara; Mesa, Ariz.), 16-Sarah Killion (UCLA; Fort Wayne, Ind.), 10-Mandy Laddish (Notre Dame; Lee's Summit, Mo.), 15-Samantha Mewis (UCLA; Hanson, Mass.)
FORWARDS (6): 13-Micaela Capelle (Portland; Gresham, Ore.), 20-Maya Hayes (Penn State; West Orange, N.J.), 11-Lindsey Horan (Colorado Rush; Golden, Colo.), 7-Kealia Ohai (North Carolina; Draper, Utah), 14-Katie Stengel (Wake Forest; Melbourne, Fla.), 9-Chioma Ubogagu (Stanford; Coppell, Texas)
After five months of camps, preparations and scouting, all the hard work that the U.S. U23 men's national team and head coach Caleb Porter have put in gets put to the test and lays it all on the line.
CONCACAF Olympic qualifying for the USA kicks off this week with group play beginning against Cuba (Thursday, 9:00 pm EST), as the grind towards an Olympic spot begins. "We're very excited to be reaching the final stage of our preparation going into qualifying," Porter told reporters in a conference call. "This has been a long process for four months, four camps. We've had a lot of players in our camps and now we're reaching the final stages. I'm very excited and very confident in this group."
Along with Cuba, the remaining two group opponents are Canada and El Salvador. The top two teams in the group advance for the all important semifinal encounter, with the winner of each semifinal grabbing a spot at this summer's Olympic games.
Here's a look at what to expect from the U.S. U23s during the upcoming tournament:
Three Keys to qualifying
1. Executing the system -- From all indications, this team has bought into the way Caleb Porter wants to play, seeking to take the initiative every game and playing an attractive, attacking style. The players want to win that way too, it's just a matter of sticking to a game plan and seeing it through to a spot in London.
2. Staying strong at the back -- There's no denying the attacking capabilities that this group has. However, because of injuries, if there's one spot on the field that isn't quite up to snuff it's along the back line. Perry Kitchen and Ike Opara are quite capable as center backs, but the outside pairing of Zarek Valentin and Kofi Sarkodie don't inspire much confidence. If the U.S. defense performs well, there is little reason to believe the team will fall short during qualifying.
3. Consistent scorer -- There would be a whole lot less worry about this group if the U20 Men's National team had finished chances against Guatemala and qualified for the last World Cup. Granted this is a new group of forwards and coaching staff, but the lingering feeling of a possession dominant team that cannot score needs to be eradicated from this group.
Players to Watch
CB Ike Opara -- After a strong career at Wake Forest, Ike Opara's pro career has sputtered thanks to injuries. Now fit, the center back looks poised to finally live up to his potential this year, first starting with this tournament. An athletic defender with great size, Opara must stay healthy in order for this team to be able to qualify.
RW Joe Gyau -- Lightning quick on the wings, there are likely to be few opposing players who can keep up with the Hoffenheim youngster's pace. He'll need to turn that asset into scoring opportunities, and if someone can convert them, the USA won't have much problem getting out of its group.
MF Freddy Adu -- Freddy Adu is an eight-year veteran of professional soccer, he has played in five youth World Cups, and he is only 22 years old. He has captured the imagination (and ridicule) of U.S. Soccer fans since his first appearance at a youth World Cup in 2003. Now, in his final youth event in 2012, can Adu, who was named captain of the team earlier this week by the coaching staff, completely change preconceived opinions?
F Terrence Boyd -- A part of the recent wave of German-Americans spotted playing in the Bundesliga, Boyd is a member of Borussia Dortmund's reserve team. He's impressed when he's been in camps with the U23s, and already picked up his first cap for the U.S. full team against Italy on February 29. The tournament provides a chance for Boyd to really showcase his talents in front of an American audience.
Said Porter: "He's a guy that fits in that No. 9 spot. He's a big, strong, athletic kid, very determined and lethal around the goal... For me, he can hold the ball, he can stretch and he's great around the box and he can score goals. So I think those things are very attractive in that role.
Cuba -- It's difficult to pinpoint what to expect from Cuba, one of CONCACAF's truly mysterious teams. With a squad of mostly domestic-based players, the USA enters its opening match as heavy favorites. And Porter says that they've done their homework on the opening opponent.
"We've seen them live, they're a very organized team," he said. "They have some attacking guys that are dangerous. We expect it to be a tight game. They're going to be organized and disciplined and I don't think they're going to open up and run with us."
Canada -- It has been 28 years since the last time Canada qualified for the Olympics in men's soccer. Given the lack of preparation from this group, that streak looks likely to head into a third decade. Canada has only set aside eight days of training prior to the start of qualifying. If that was not tough enough, Canada is also deprived of two starters due to club commitments, and bringing a very young roster to the event.
El Salvador -- It's going to be an uphill climb for El Salvador to make the Olympics, although finishing second in Group A isn't out of the question. Another team with a little-known, domestically-based roster, part of the Salvadorans preparations for the tournament included a 3-1 friendly win over the Maryland Terrapins.
U.S. U-23 MNT Roster By Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C. United; Annandale, Va.), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire; Lilburn, Ga.)
DEFENDERS (6): Perry Kitchen (D.C. United; Indianapolis, Ind.), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes; Durham, N.C.), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo; Huber Heights, Ohio), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact; Lancaster, Pa.), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA; Anaheim, Calif.), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union; Boston, Mass.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union; Potomac, Md.), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Mix Diskerud (Gent; Oslo, Norway), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz; Richardson, Texas), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union; Sacramento, Calif.), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy; Naperville, Ill.)
FORWARDS (6): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls; Barnegat, N.J.), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund; Berlin, Germany), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City; Prior Lake, Minn.), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim: Silver Spring, Md.), Brek Shea (FC Dallas; Bryan, Texas), Tony Taylor (Estoril Praia, Jacksonville, Fla.)
Pinpointing gaps, improving teams technically, changing tactics - the list is lengthy when it comes to deciding what exactly to address during the spring soccer season.
For the men's teams in the Big Ten, this spring has all those elements to it, as the likes of Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern go through the rigors of preparing for the fall schedule.
"The spring is a very serious time for us, we feel like we get a lot of work done," Indiana coach Todd Yeagley told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "Not only that but [we work on] our speed and agility, work in the weight room, it's time to get better, individually and as a team you get stronger, quicker, faster."
Northwestern, which captured the regular season and postseason tournament titles in the Big Ten last fall face have a big hole to fill. They must replace leading scorer Oliver Kupe, whose eight goals last year led the team. As of right now, the burden shifts to the returning Reed Losee to help replace Kupe's goals.
However, the lack of a deep freeze in Illinois during the early stages of spring has proven to be beneficial to Northwestern's preparations.
"I think having a mild winter this year has really helped, not necessarily being outside, there's a different approach when it's 50 degrees." Northwestern head coach Tim Lenahan told TopDrawerSoccer.com.
Eriq ZavaletaAccording to Lenahan, Northwestern is raising the bar in the spring, hoping to erase the slow starts that seem to plague them in the fall. With that in mind, the team already has its first game of the season under its belt, taking a long bus ride to North Carolina where they drew 0-0 against Wake Forest.
"First 20 minutes or so we were a little bit sluggish as to be expected," Lenahan said. "Our keeper made a couple of good saves to keep us in the game and then we settled in and I would say it was roughly even from there."
Perhaps no other team in the conference lost the level of talent that Indiana did, as Tommy Meyer, Alec Purdie and Chris Estridge were all drafted by MLS clubs. However, aside from losing that trio, there's plenty coming back, including Eriq Zavaleta, who scored 10 goals as a freshman.
Then of course, there's the addition of yet another talented incoming freshman class.
"I like our class coming in next year and so really the spring is this year more than probably any other year we have more pieces returning, eight returning players that started significantly last season," Yeagley said.
Zavaleta, who came to school as a defender, could end up playing either as a forward or defender this fall - a repeat of the Andrew Wenger situation at Duke, as Zavaleta could drop back to help the team accommodate the loss of Meyer.
Up at Michigan State, the Spartans were another team to start its spring slate, losing 5-1 against the Columbus Crew on March 17. Adam Montague returns after a solid freshman year, but will have to find a new goalkeeper with the graduation of Jeremy Clark.
Another team that could contend is the growing program at Ohio State. Despite losing its goalkeeper Matt Lampson to the Columbus Crew, the Buckeyes get last season's leading scorer Chris Hegngi back.
There's a long way to go as the best of the Big Ten complete spring preparations, but there's one place they all would want to be when players leave for summer break.
"You just want to be playing well. You want to be playing good soccer, defending well," Lenahan said. "By the time we leave at the end of the spring I just want to have a good feeling about ourselves moving forward."
Big Ten Players to Watch
Eriq Zavaleta, Indiana: Center back or forward? That's the question that will dog Zavaleta throughout the year. But from all appearances, he'll be ready for either task, whether it's putting balls in the back of the net or keeping them out of his own.
Chris Hegngi, Ohio State: An athletic forward who played for D.C. United's Academy, Hegngi raised his game in 2011 with a personal record for goals scored (9) to lead the team. If he takes it up to another level in 2012, the Buckeyes shouldn't have a problem returning to the NCAA tournament.
Reed Losee, Northwestern: One of the many reasons for Northwestern's success in 2011 was the play of lone striker Oliver Kupe. With him no longer eligible, Losee is the heir apparent to that spot, and while he doesn't quite have the speed of Kupe, Losee brings plenty to the table.
(TopDrawerSoccer.com Managing Editor Robert Ziegler recently spent part of a week in Bradenton, Florida with the U17 Men's National Team residency program. Following is one of a series of articles about what he saw and heard there).
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - The U17 Men's National Team recorded a pair of 6-0 victories against a local club team here Saturday in an exercise that allowed coach Richie Williams and his staff to look at the entire squad with a trip to France for an international tournament looming on the horizon.
Williams was guardedly upbeat on the progress of the team after the matches against Florida club Tampa Bay United.
The U17s have played a number of MLS and college teams over the past few weeks and the lineup from those games gives a pretty good idea of who is currently top of the pecking order in the battle for spots in the starting 11. All 31 squad players saw action over the course of the two Saturday contests, but the squad was spread evenly through the two matches and the current starters tended to play less, not more, on the day.
First Match: U17 MNT 6, Tampa Bay United U17s 0
The U17s intent was to attack early and often, and they accomplished this in large measure. Georgians Shaquell Moore of Cobb FC at right back and DeAndre Robinson of Concorde Fire at right forward in the 4-3-3 were employing torrid pace with effect in the early going.
But it was Chivas USA standout Bradford Jamieson who notched the first goal, finishing smartly after some tight passes by Aaron Meyer and Ahinga Selemani. Jamieson then turned provider on the 2nd goal, hitting a quick and low cross for Robinson, who adroitly volleyed home from close range for a 2-0 advantage.
The U.S. side was just getting started. Meyer, a hard-working midfielder from Dallas, Texas, released highly-regarded DC-area prospect Junior Flores with a clever pass, and Flores was gone in a flash, leaving defenders in his wake before applying the 1v1 finish for a 3-0 USA advantage.
The Florida side caught the U.S. on a counter that should have resulted in a goal, but the U.S. defense was spared blushes via a missed open header. The U17s regained tactical control shortly thereafter, as Ann Arbor, MI resident Ahinga Selemani beat his man on the left and sprinted the next 30 yards toward goal before finishing with a bank shot off the far post to make it 4-0.
Amaya is an intense competitor who got forward quite a bit in the 2nd half from his left back position. The Chivas USA player can get a little down on himself when things don't go right, something assistant coach Jim Rooney was encouraging him to rise above during the match. His club teammate Bradford Jamieson just glides down the left wing and has some decent footskills and finishing ability to go with the athleticism. Jamieson's excellent cross provided the final goal of the match, with defender Conor Donovan ghosting in to volley home from close range for a final scoreline of 6-0.
Tampa Bay earned a penalty in the closing minutes but the spot kick was blazed over the crossbar. Meyer had to leave the game a bit prematurely with a cramp on the hot day, but Williams, Rooney and Anthony Latronica continued coaching the squad right to the final minute, encouraging them to make the most of the match time, working to improve each squad member but also encouraging them to not be discouraged when things didn't go quite right.
Match 1 Lineup (vs. Tampa Bay United U17s)
GK: Evan Louro (Aleks Gogic, 45)
D: Shaquell Moore, Tyler Turner (Conor Donovan, 45), Kevin Politz, Adonis Amaya
M: Aaron Meyer (Christopher Lema, 75), Steven Echevarria, Junior Flores (Jorge Calix, 45)
F: DeAndre Robinson (Dembakwi Yomba, 60), Ahinga Selemani (Lawrence Taiwo, 60), Bradford Jamieson
Match 2: U17 MNT 6, Tampa Bay United U16s 0
As the midday sun burned onto the field and players, the 2nd match seemed to be played at a slightly slower tempo in the opening minutes. The lid-lifting goal was made in California, with Cal Odyssey's Elijah Martin hitting a fine cross from his right back position for San Diego Surf forward Corey Baird to finish with his head.
DC United's Jorge Calix and Minnesota Thunder forward Mukwelle Akale both had good scoring chances in the subsequent minutes, but Tampa Bay goalkeeper Christian Knight made a pair of good saves to keep the match close. Knight rose to the occasion again after Baird had fed Akale with a good pass, stretching along the ground to keep the ball out.
After a number of substitutions were made at the break, Westside Metros' left forward Rubio Rubin stretched the U.S. lead to 3-0 with a good run down the wing and an even better finish from a sharp angle. Tampa Bay nearly pulled one back after catching the U.S. on the break, but Marius Heislitz of Georgia United came up with a stretch save to preserve the clean sheet.
The 4th U.S. goal may had been the nicest of the two matches. Duvernay started the move by running down the left and firing a cross toward Baird, who was waiting at the far post. Baird intelligently laid the ball off for Rubin who finished well to make it 4-0.
The team was very much in the mood by now and made it 5-0 when Real So Ca's John Requejo ran through the middle and fed Lawrence Taiwo on the left, the big striker using a good first touch to position himself for the finish. There was time for one more and this time the move was started by Indiana United's Cameron Lindley with a 40-yard swerving ball struck to the wing to unleash Rubin. The Portland-area player's cross found San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Angel Heredia and he put the ball in the back of the net for a final score of 6-0.
Match 2 Lineup (vs. Tampa Bay United U16s)
GK: Paul Christensen (Marius Heislitz, 45)
D: Elijah Martin, Conor Donovan (John Requejo, 45), Tommy Redding (Jorge Miranda, 45), Caleb Duverney
M: Guyllain Kabala, Christopher Lema (Cameron Lindley, 45), Jorge Calix (Angel Heredia, 45)
F: Corey Baird (Lawrence Taiwo, 60), Wesley Wade (Dembakwi Yomba, 60), Mukwelle Akale (Rubio Rubin, 45)
FC DELCO's U16s were one of many teams to make the trip south, and the team came away from the three days in Richmond, Virginia with a 2-0-1 record.
In the first game on Friday, set pieces were the key for Philadelphia-area side DELCO, as they scored three goals from dead balls to beat Freestate Soccer Alliance 4-3. Devyn Hannis and Tayler Jamison were among the goal scorers.
After a 1-0 win on Saturday over the Richmond Strikers - where FC DELCO shut out Richmond's high scoring forward Elizabeth Ball and a goal from Kristina Zahan to grab the win - Tayler Jamison's penalty snatched a draw on Sunday against FC Virginia.
"I think this weekend proves the fact that we have a lot of depth on our team," FC DELCO head coach Nick Chrisanthon told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "Everyone getting a lot of minutes and sharing the workload is a huge difference for us. Being able to share that gives us an opportunity to be a little fresher and more consistent."
Despite the setback on Friday, Freestate Soccer Alliance was able to bounce back the rest of the weekend, winning 2-0 over FC Virginia, and wrapping up the weekend with a big 5-1 win over the Strikers.
There was plenty of action elsewhere, as Carmel United defeated FC Milwaukee 3-0 and Sereno Soccer Club picked up a pair of wins out west, beating Las Vegas Premier 1-0 and Heat FC 3-1.
FC Virginia has the premier weekend of this age group, winning three games, and outscoring their opponents (Strikers, Freestate and FC Delco) by a total of 8-0...Freestate got its weekend off to the right start beating FC Delco on Friday 3-0, but then turned around and lost to FC Virginia and could only manage a 0-0 draw against the Strikers...Mustang SC won its two games of the weekend, a 4-1 defeat of De Anza Force and a 2-0 win over Pleasanton Rage.
One of the club's to come away from the weekend unbeaten was FC Virginia. They started off big with a 5-0 win over Richmond Strikers, because defeating Freestate Alliance 3-1. FC Delco was the only club able to prevent FCV from grabbing a win in all three, forcing a 1-1 draw.
Murielle Turner helped pace the attack on the weekend, scoring four goals for Virginia, while Sarah Hardison and Alex Myers both chipped in a pair across the three games.
Outside of Virginia, there was plenty of action to go around. SC Del Sol picked up a pair of dominant wins, defeating Heat FC 5-0 and Las Vegas Premier 3-0...Ohio Premier Eagles snuck past Ohio Elite Soccer Academy 1-0.
The Strikers U17s bounced back after the opening day defeat, drawing 2-2 against FC Delco and winning 3-0 against Freestate. Megan Fitzsimmons, Kelly Siewers and Sydney Arnold provided the offense on the weekend, accounting for the team's five goals, while Jenny Sinclair stood out along the back line.
FC Virginia produced a solid three-day shift in Richmond, defeating the Strikers 2-1, drawing 1-1 with Freestate and closing the weekend out with a 2-0 win over FC Delco...Real So Cal knocked off the Irvine Strikers 1-0...Crossfire Premier squeaked by instate rivals Washington Premier 1-0.
Two games, first weekend, one hat trick.
In only his second game with the Colorado Rush, Ruben Siguenza recorded a hat trick over the weekend in U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy action. The 18-year-old midfielder notched the three-goal performance in an 8-1 win over Classics Elite on Sunday.
So who is Ruben Siguenza?
He is an El Salvadorian youth international who previously played with Spanish club Sevilla's youth academy.
Ruben SiguenzaAs part of a partnership between the Rush and Futbol Academy in El Salvador (FESA), Siguenza and Jonathan Barahona, also from El Salvador, are playing for the Colorado Rush U18 Academy for the rest of the season. FESA also sent players to other Rush clubs across the country.
Siguenza told the club website that he wanted to come to the U.S. to pursue an education . . . looks like some college assistant coaches will be heading to Denver soon. Rush return to action on March 31 with a derby fixture against Real Colorado.
Who else stood out from last weekend's Development Academy games?
Chicago Fire's youth academy continued to show its class with three wins in four games between the two teams over the weekend. The U18 team went a perfect 2-0 with a pair of 3-0 wins over the two St. Louis Scott Gallagher clubs.
Former U17 national team star Andrew Oliver made his debut with the club on Saturday. Oliver played the final 16 minutes in the shutout victory.
Another former Residency Program standout, Kellen Gulley, stole the headlines though. Gulley notched the game-winning goal of St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri. Joseph Callistri and Drew Conner also scored in the win.
In the U16 age group, Fire dropped Saturday's contest against St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri 3-1. Mark Segbers, Austin Panchot, and Nick Jones scored for St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri. Anthony Smith scored for the Fire.
Fire bounced back on Sunday with a 6-0 win over St. Louis Scott Gallagher Metro. Mississippi-native Marcus Epps scored three goals in ten minutes in the first half to put the game out of reach early. Smith, Christian Henock-Berhanu, and U15 national team midfielder Collin Fernandez also scored in the win.
Down in Dallas, someone finally managed to slow down FC Dallas . . . at least for one day.
Internationals, from Ohio, claimed victories in both the U18 and U16 games on Sunday. George Poppas scored twice for the Internationals U16 in a 2-0 win. 13-year-old John Nelson, who has trained with AC Milan in the past, made his fourth appearance of the season in the win. The Ohio club won the U18 game 1-0.
FC Dallas did enjoy part of the weekend though with a pair of wins over Crew Soccer Academy on Saturday. Antonio Aguilar and Kelyn Acosta scored in a 2-1 win for FC Dallas U16. It was not all-positive news though, as Acosta was forced to exit the game early due to a broken wrist.
In the U18 game, FC Dallas ran rampant with a 5-0 win. Jose de la Tejera scored twice to bring his season tally up to nine. Nicholas Rochowski, Alonso Gallegos, and Marco Ortiz also scored in the win over Columbus Crew's youth academy.
Elsewhere in Texas, Crew Soccer Academy Wolves continued its perfect start to the season with two wins over Texans SC Houston and Texas Rush. Ali Jawad added to his season tally with the winner on Saturday. Jawad leads the Wolves with six goals in seven games.
Colorado Rapids also had a good showing over the weekend with an undefeated run between the two teams. The U16 team collected a 4-0 win over Classics Elite on Saturday. Alex Toderica scored twice in the win on Saturday and added another on Sunday against Lonestar SC Academy in a 3-0 win. Toderica leads the team with 8 goals in 7 games this season. Daniel Devora scored the other two goals on Sunday.
The U18 Rapids team collected a 3-0 win over Classics Elite in the first game of the weekend. Rising star of the Rapids Academy, Ricardo Perez, scored the second goal in the win. Lonestar SC Academy U18 fought to a 1-1 draw with the Rapids on Sunday.
Even in the pouring rain, it is difficult to stop the slick play of RSL-AZ. The MLS residency program slid past Strikers FC 3-0 on Saturday in the U18 game. In the U16 game, U.S. U18 national team forward Benjamin Lopez and Jose Navarro scored for RSL-AZ in a 2-0 win.
On Sunday, Pateadores were not very welcoming for the Arizona Academy and collected a draw and a win in the two games. Outside winger Cameron Waymire scored in the U18 game for Pateadores early in the second half for the game-tying goal. Pateadores U16 team won 4-2 in the afternoon contest.
UCLA commit and U.S. U18 national team midfielder William Raygoza scored twice on Saturday in a 4-1 win for LA Galaxy U18 over San Jose Earthquakes. UCSB commit Drew Murphy also scored twice in the win. Galaxy also won Sunday's game against Cal Odyssey 4-1 to improve to 13-1-3 overall on the season.
San Diego Surf returned to action last weekend with a pair of games in Northern California against De Anza Force and Santa Cruz Breakers. Surf U16 was perfect in the road fixtures with a 2-0 win over De Anza Force and a 2-1 victory over Santa Cruz.
Surf U18 had a win against De Anza thanks to a game-winning strike from Loyola Marymount commit Ryan Kretz, and a 2-2 draw against Santa Cruz Breakers. Cal Poly commit John Chronopoulos started the scoring in the sixth minute. Surf responded shortly before half with a goal from Nick Gagliani in his first start of the season. Breakers answered immediate after half via Jake Snowden, but UC Davis commit Eric Budniewski had the last say for Surf with the game-tying goal in the 68th minute.
In the Northwest, Seattle Sounders Academy topped Crossfire Premier in both age groups in the Seattle derby. Ian Lange, Stefan Bangsund, and Jordan Schweitzer were on point for Sounders U18 in a 3-1 win. James Nosack and David Olsen found the back of the net for the Sounders U16 in a 2-0 victory.
Baltimore Bays Chelsea continues to show it will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season with another two-win weekend for the U18 team. Christian Porras recorded a hat trick in a 6-0 win over South Central Premier on Saturday. Ishmaiah Calwrie, Richard Greensfelder, and Christian Morales scored the other three goals.
On Sunday, Greensfelder was again on point in a 1-0 win over Oakwood Soccer club. BBC is now 5-4-0 overall on the season and riding a four-game winning streak in March.
BBC U16 is also riding a four-game winning streak after claiming two wins over the weekend. BBC knocked off South Central Premier 5-0 on Saturday behind goals from George Campbell, John Jlopleh, Patrick Koscher, Matthew Bautista, and Samuel Wancowicz. BBC U16 topped Oakwood Soccer Club 1-0 on Sunday thanks to a goal from George Campbell.
The New York Red Bulls did not mind hosting some visitors from the Mid-Atlantic Division over the weekend. The Red Bulls won all four games against Potomac and D.C. United.
NYRB U18 won on Saturday 4-2 over Potomac. Ross Tetro, Brandon Allen, Daniel Bedoya, and Sean Sheridan scored for the MLS Academy. Allen and Bedoya found the back of the net again on Sunday in a 2-0 win over D.C. United.
It may be the offseason in college soccer, but the conversation has not changed much since November for Pac-12 men's programs.
The elephant in the room continues to be "Why did we not make the postseason?"
For the Pac-12, that question is a yearly ritual, with seemingly one or two teams having a legitimate gripe with the selection committee's decision on an annual basis.
Last year, Washington was the pallbearer for the Pac-12 feeling underappreciated. With a 12-4-2 record and an end of the season RPI at 43, the Huskies were howling at the disrespect.
"I was bitterly disappointed that we did not get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament," University of Washington head coach Jamie Clark told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "I thought the guys deserved it, and we certainly won enough games. Unfortunately, the NCAA committee felt like we did not win the right games."
San Diego State has felt the same way for the last few years. After churning out 10-win seasons consistently, the Aztecs want their time in the spotlight.
UCLA's Joe Sofia"I feel like it is difficult to qualify out of the west," San Diego State head coach Lev Kirshner told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "We have been on the bubble for a couple of years now - with multiple 10-win seasons . . . we have a lot of moral victories."
Now with spring starting, the coaches still contemplate how to best prove their quality to the postseason selection committee.
For the Aztecs, that means taking on a very challenging schedule in the fall.
"We have an unbelievable schedule for next year," Kirshner said. "We play Notre Dame, Indiana, and Clemson on the road as well as Ohio State at home."
The Aztecs have added a very strong recruiting class to help with the taxing schedule.
"There is great leadership and great talent in this class," Kirshner said. "There are a couple of players expected to fight for start spots."
Headlining the class is Indiana University transfer Blake Wise, who is returning from a season-ending injury during his sophomore campaign with the Hoosiers.
Incoming freshmen Julio Alarcon, Jimmy Estrada, Daniel Flores, Travis Nicklaw, Aaron Thompson, and Keenan Thompson join Wise as the newcomers to San Diego State in 2012.
Kirshner also said he is using spring to improve on some of the shortcomings from last season.
"We are working on some things that deterred us from getting into NCAA playoffs," the coach said. "We are doing things to fix that."
Part of that consists of improving the fitness of the team in the offseason. The coach has been pleased by the progress he has seen as the vast majority of the team passed the fitness test, which had been an issue in the past.
Kirshner's squad should also get a big boost from the return of Tyrone Martin to the squad after dealing with a bad knee injury during his sophomore season. The dominant center back was a breakout star for the Aztecs during his freshman season in 2010.
But the Aztecs and the rest of the Pac-12 men's soccer programs will have a new challenge this season with former Charlotte 49ers head coach Jeremy Gunn taking over at Stanford.
"The biggest thing, to begin with, is getting organized as a group and getting the structure I'll be looking for in the future," Gunn told TopDrawerSoccer.com about his first action as head coach for the Cardinal.
Gunn is still getting to know the group at Palo Alto, but he has been the most active, aggressive PAC-12 coach in the off-season with establishing new ties among California youth clubs.
Earlier this week, he landed his first recruit for the 2013 class with Real So Cal goalkeeper Nico Corti giving his verbal to the Cardinal.
For next season though, Gunn will be building around MLS-prospect Adam Jahn and incoming freshman Aaron Kovar.
Even with all the hand wringing about the NCAA postseason, there is still optimism about next season for most programs, as UCLA looks somewhat vulnerable after losing eight players in the offseason.
"We are still building on what we did last year," UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "We are plugging in new players, and we continue to develop as a team throughout the spring."
The Bruins, which are anticipated to formally announce their recruiting class in the coming weeks, will be looking for freshman contributors from another highly rated class.
Players to watch in Pac-12:
Darwin Jones, Forward, Washington: The Seattle Sounders Academy product is already the apple of Jamie Clark's eye. "I honestly believe Darwin Jones is the best attacking player coming into college soccer next year," Clark said.
Earl Edwards, Goalkeeper, UCLA: After sitting on the bench for two years, former U.S. U17 World Cup veteran Earl Edwards is ready to rightfully take command of the Bruin's net.
Seth Casiple, Midfield, Cal: The words tidy and industrious were made for Seth Casiple. He is the prototypical outside midfielder for MLS, and yet will only be a sophomore in the fall.
For the U.S. U17 Women's National Team, every time the team comes together at this stage of the year is critical with the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament coming in May.
And the team's latest trip to La Manga, Spain provided such an opportunity, as the U17s played three U19 teams - France, England and the Netherlands - in the beginning of March.
"I think the games went well for us," defender Brittany Basinger told TopDrawerSoccer.com of the trip. "We continued to improve tactically and the more we play together, the better we play as a team. I enjoyed going against the older, more experienced players."
From a results standpoint, the USA finished the trip unbeaten. After opening with a 2-0 win against France, the team tied England 1-1 despite hitting the woodwork on three separate occasions, and then finished strong with a 2-0 win over Holland.
Summer Green For U17 head coach Albertin Montoya, one of the best aspects of the trip was getting to play against teams utilizing a variety of playing styles, something he hopes will help preparations for World Cup qualifying.
"It was really good to see our players adjust to different systems, handle adversity that these teams threw at us," he told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "France with possession, England the more physical, athletic team, and then the Dutch very well organized."
Montoya was extremely pleased by how the team responded to each opponent. Against France, the USA was out possessed, but managed to keep its defensive shape, and after entering the half scoreless, broke in behind France's back line to score twice.
The England game was a bit different, as it forced Montoya's side to cope with a physical approach, and while the USA dominated the run of play, England scored with its first chance of the game. Morgan Andrews (Players To Watch National Top 100 #1 player) tied the game right before halftime, and neither side could find a winner.
Finally, the last game of the trip ended in a dominant performance, as Montoya could sense the gorwing confidence of his group, and while the match ended in a 2-0 win, it could have easily been a more lopsided result.
As the team prepares for May's qualifying tournament in Guatemala, this trip provided another chance to continue forming a tight-knit group.
"I think each camp or event we build a little more as a team," North Carolina-bound midfielder Summer Green told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "The team is not only close off the field, but also on."
Added Montoya: "This group is really coming together. You can just see the team chemistry all the time, whether they're at breakfast, lunch, dinner or just going for a walk, (and in) their training sessions."
On the field, the team's impressive defensive form was once again on display, conceding just one goal in three games, as center back Maddie Bauer continued to emerge as a vocal leader along the back line. Montoya was pleased to see progress in the final third as well.
"Our goal going into this camp was making sure that we were better in the attacking third and I thought we were," he said. "We could have finished our chances better, but we created so many in all three of the games. That was very good to see and defensively we're still sound."
Overall, the players themselves were pleased with both the results, and simply having the opportunity to travel abroad and test themselves against strong opposition.
"I think the trip was a very cool experience and also a learning experience," Green said. "It was a trip bringing everyone together again to play the game we love. We all were pumped to play and dug deep in every game to show our US grit."
The team is scheduled to have one more camp before May's qualifying tournament at the beginning of April, providing one last opportunity for the coaching staff to tweak ahead of the trip to Guatemala.
U.S. U17 WNT in La Manga:
Goalkeepers: Jane Campbell (Concorde Fire; Kennesaw, Ga.), Cassie Miller (Sereno FC; Cave Creek, Ariz.)
Defenders: Morgan Andrews (FC Stars of Mass.; Milford, N.H.), Brittany Basinger (FC Virginia; Purcellville, Va.), Maddie Bauer (Slammers FC; Newport Beach, Calif.), Lauren Kaskie (Heat FC; Las Vegas, Nev.), Lizzy Raben (Colorado Rush; Greenwood, Colo.), Morgan Reid (Chelsea Ladies; Cary, N.C.)
Midfielders: Miranda Freeman (Lady Renegades SC; Royal Palm Beach, Fla.), Summer Green (Michigan Hawks; Milford, Mich.), Gabbi Miranda (Colorado Rush; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Sarah Robinson (MVLA Lightning; Los Altos, Calif.), Morgan Stanton (Colorado Rush; Lakewood, Colo.), Andi Sullivan (Bethesda SC; Lorton, Va.)
Forwards: Emily Bruder (Utah Avalanche; Sandy, Utah), Amber Munerlyn (So Cal Blues; Corona, Calif.), Toni Payne (Concorde Fire; Birmingham, Ala.), Margaret Purce (Freestate Soccer; Olney, Md.)
For much of this season, Andrew Brody has been steering the dominance of the U16 Real Salt Lake (AZ) Academy Squad. The team has been running through opponents like finish line tape and their first place standing in the SoCal Division is evidence.
But Brody always kept an eye on an additional goal - his college future - and he recently completed an important hurdle in the process.
Our No. 54 ranked player in the 2013 class, Brody has verbally committed to Louisville. Just as Brody wreaks havoc on defenses alongside teammate Bejamin Lopez, he's looking forward to an equally lethal partnership in college.
Andrew Brody"I know that Romilio Hernandez (No. 47 in the 2013 Top 100) is a great player and I'm looking forward to playing with him and I think we can form an excellent partnership," he said.
Brody said he was taken by the Cardinals coaching staff, and feels that his style will mesh with the Big East powerhouse. He also strongly considered North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Speaking of that style, Brody is a quite nimble attacker. He's not your biggest player, but his speed, vision and elusiveness more than split the difference.
So, yeah, he's looking to dominate; in the present, and the future.
Other commitments include:
Nico Corti (Real So Cal) has verbally committed to Stanford for the 2013 season.
Stathi Patseas (Omaha Football Club) has signed to Hastings College for the 2012 season.
Luis-Gabriel Charvet (East Diablo United SC) has signed to Notre Dame de Namur University for the 2012 season.
Two weeks ago, Washington Premier ECNL U15 pulled off a minor upset. It was not earth shattering. It probably hardly raised an eyebrow outside of the Seattle youth soccer scene, but for those rooting for the little guy, it was noteworthy.
On February 19, Washington Premier beat cross-town rival and perennial Washington State giant Crossfire Premier U15 1-0 in the first ECNL game of the season between the Northwest Conference rivals.
"It is always an interesting game," Crossfire Premier head coach Justi Baumgardt told TopDrawerSoccer.com about the rivalry. "We are the better team, but we don't always get the result we want."
Now, one month later, the two sides meet again for the second and final time of the season. Washington Premier will depend on the strong defending of Jessica Udovich, while Crossfire hopes forward Karli White can run wild in the rematch.
So Cal Blues' Ashley DoyleIn Southern California, West Coast FC U16 gets a redo against Eagles SC on Saturday. The two teams met last week and Eagles SC prevailed in a 2-1 victory behind goals from Courtney Baker and Savannah George-Mours. If Eagles can secure another win, the first year ECNL club would jump WCFC in the SoCal Conference standings and find a spot in the top four.
The Atlanta Fire is back in action this weekend for the first time since November. The Georgia club is 9-0-1 this season and trails only Charlotte Soccer Academy in the Southeast Conference standings.
The high-octane Fire forward trio of Elexa Bahr, Danielle Marcano, and Clara Gastaldi have scored 29 goals and combined for 23 assists in those 10 games. Birmingham United and Gwinnett Soccer Association's defenses will have their hands full when the teams meet this weekend.
On Sunday, Slammers and San Diego Surf are set to write another chapter in the long history between the two Southern California powerhouse clubs. Both teams are back in action for the first time since November and in contention to challenge West Coast FC at the top of the conference.
Midfielder Julianna Vogel leads the Slammers in scoring with three goals and five assists on the season. Multiple players have four or more goals for Surf, but defender Eva Buechler clearly tops the team in assists with seven on the season.
National Flight A leaders Mustang SC takes on Pleasanton Rage on Sunday. The Mustangs are 6-0-1 in conference play and 4-1-1 in Flight A action. U15 national team midfielder Alessandra Dutto leads the team with the help of defender and Pepperdine commit Jamie Van Horn.
In the Midatlantic conference, the two Ohio teams renew their rivalry on Saturday. This is the first meeting of the season between the two clubs. Ohio Elite Soccer Academy is second in the conference with a 7-0-1 record, while Ohio Premier Eagles sits seventh with a 3-3-2 record.
Midatlantic leaders FC Virginia play its final three regular season games this weekend with Richmond Strikers, Freestate Soccer Alliance, and FC Delco all on the schedule.
While FC Virginia currently leads its conference, it needs some help in national standings, as it sits in the 16th spot in Flight A. Wins over Freestate and FC Delco would provide a needed boost to postseason aspirations for the Virginia club.
Led by Cal commit Ifeoma Onumonu, the Arsenal U18 team is currently third in national standings and second in SoCal Conference standings. Both of those spots will be tested this weekend with a game against So Blues on the agenda for Saturday.
In the Mountain West, SC Del Sol heads to Vegas for a pair of games in Sin City. Del Sol will lean on the scoring prowess of star striker Cali Farquharson who has 19 goals and 10 assists this season. Farquharson will be playing for the Arizona State Sun Devils in the fall.
While the arrival of mid-March jumpstarts the year for numerous clubs, many Development Academy sides aren't quite into the thick of their Division schedules.
That aside, non-division games are just as important considering the determining factors of wild card playoff spots.
One of the most dominant teams across the Academy, FC Dallas' U18s, welcomes a pair of Ohio visitors this weekend, with Internationals and Crew Soccer Academy heading to Texas. Crew U18 center back Andrew Souders will have to be at his best to stop high-scoring FC Dallas forward Danny Garcia.
Andrew SoudersInternationals and the Crew will make the most of their trip south also getting a non-division game against the Dallas Texans.
The two St. Louis Scott Gallagher clubs - Missouri and Metro - take to the road this weekend to face the Chicago Fire. Chicago has two talented sides, with the U16s led by goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo and Louis Bennett, while two full professionals in Kellen Gulley and Victor Pineda are part of a strong U18 team. Along with playing the Fire, the two Scott Gallagher sides will also take on the Chicago Magic while in the Windy City.
The Colorado Rapids are amongst those sides playing this weekend for the first time in a long time, hosting Classics Elite and Lonestar SC. Akron-bound midfielder Dillon Serna is likely to be hungry to close out his club career on a high note for the Denver-area side.
The Rapids coaching staff will have plenty of patience given the long layoff entering this weekend.
"Our focus will be totally on ourselves this weekend," Rapids U18 head coach Brian Crookham told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "We've obviously looked at Classics, looked at Lonestar, just kind of see where they are and there are dangerous players in both groups."
FC Milwaukee, like many others, restarts this weekend, hosting Shattuck-Saint Mary's Academy and the Minnesota Thunder. Shattuck-Saint Mary's also plays Sockers FC on the weekend.
A rivalry on the MLS stage dips down to the Academy this weekend, as the LA Galaxy hosts the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. It's a massive test for the Earthquakes who need to boost its points per game average at both the U18 and U16 age groups to have a shot at the playoffs. LA is also scheduled to play against Cal Odyssey on Sunday.
One of the few divisions to see inter-division games is in the Northwest, as the Seattle Sounders face cross-city rivals Crossfire on Sunday. Seattle's U16s are currently top of the division standings, with the U18s trailing only the De Anza Force. Three points are a must for both sides.
It was a perfect start to a new part of the schedule for Baltimore Bays Chelsea, which won all four games last weekend at both age levels. The Bays will host South Central Premier and Oakwood Soccer Club, trying to continue and build momentum in the early stretch of their season.
LA and San Jose aren't the only two MLS Academies to square off this weekend, as the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United tussle on Sunday. Both programs have already sent players through to the first team, and New York's U18 side led by Brandon Allen takes on a tough D.C. side comprised of top players like Jalen Robinson and Collin Martin.
Action in the South Conference is limited to just a few teams as the Florida clubs prepare for the chase. IMG Academy is making the trip to North Carolina, where they'll face both Charlotte Soccer Academy and North Meck SC.
Last year, the SoCal U15 Conference pulled off something no other conference in any age group in the ECNL could - it placed three teams in the top seven of the final National Flight A standings. "It is a very deep age group," West Coast FC U16 head coach Gus Castaneda told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "Every team [in the conference] seems to have at least one national-level player." And somehow the conference got stronger in the offseason with the addition of So Cal Blues to the ECNL. Kayla Mills"Blues coming into the league this year definitely adds to the competitiveness," Castaneda added. The Blues have enjoyed a positive spell to start their first season in the ECNL. The team currently sits top of the table in the conference and the National Flight A Standings. Led by U15 national team defender Indigo Gibson, the Blues have registered five shutouts in 10 games this season. Castaneda also highlighted Real So Cal as another team that is among the best in the nation. "Real So Cal, which came in last year, is a very good team," Castaneda added. "Those four [San Diego Surf, Slammers, Real So Cal, and Blues] are all capable of winning the whole thing at the end of the year." Real So Cal barely missed out on promotion to Flight A in its debut ECNL season last year. This year, the team remains at the top of the table in Flight B behind the play of midfielder and University of Colorado commit Hannah Dearborn. The two teams that finished fourth and seventh in the nation last year, Slammers and San Diego Surf, also are challenging for the title in the SoCal Division. "There is no question that the Slammers have a very talented player in Kayla Mills," Castaneda said while discussing some of the top players in this division. Mills, who has already given her verbal commit to USC, has four goals and two assists on the season. She has also made appearances with the U17 Women's National Team recently. The West Coast FC coach also highlighted Pilar Torres of the San Diego Surf. Torres scored all three goals in the semifinal and final for Cal South in the Olympic Development Program national championships last weekend. She has three goals and four assists for the Surf in ECNL play this season. Even with all this competition, West Coast FC U16 still looks ripe for a return trip to the national event and hopes of claiming the ultimate hardware this year after coming so close last year. "I think we will definitely be poised to make a run at improving on the third place finish," Castaneda said. "Chloe Hemingway will be coming off recovery from her ACL injury by that time and I think we will be very healthy and fit to make a run at it." Hemingway is a defender who has appeared with the U15 national team in the past and has already given her verbal commitment to UCLA for 2014. The defender is not the only WCFC player to make an early commitment. Forward Nosakhare Ogiamien recently gave her verbal commitment to USC for 2013. Goalkeeper Mikaela Berger is committed to Hawaii and Danielle Mellem is committed to University of Charleston. And the two other juniors are also close to making their college choices. The coach attributes the success of the team to the group as a whole, and not to any one player. "The thing about girls soccer, and teams that are very successful, is that you can't have one superstar," Castaneda said. "You have to play as a team. That has made this team special; we don't have a superstar, we play hard as a team." Castaneda's group will be back in action this weekend with a rematch against Eagles Soccer Club, which beat them last weekend. Eagles are fifth in the conference, directly behind WCFC. Players to watch SoCal Conference U16 ECNL: Indigo Gibson, defender, So Cal Blues - The talented defender drew the praises of opposing coaches and has caught the eye of national team scouts in her first season in the ECNL. Kayla Mills, forward, Slammers - The striker is perhaps the most dangerous player in the conference and continues to shine on a weekly basis against some of the best competition in the country.
There's no better time to tinker and rebuild a program than the spring season.
Games don't count towards a championship, players have time to work on technique, and coaches can build and tweak things from a tactical perspective.
And in the Big East, perhaps no team is more eager to utilize this spring than Georgetown, which lost All American attacker Ingrid Wells, as well as a handful of other impact players, to graduation.
It gives the Hoyas a very obvious goal in this spring season.
Christine Exeter"Spring's interesting for us," Georgetown head coach Dave Nolan told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "We graduated six starters and our team for the last five years has been dominated by Ingrid Wells in everything we do...our whole team was shaped around her and the class of seniors that just graduated.
"This spring has really been about trying to form an identity of who's going to step up on the field, who's going to step up off the field, and what kind of team identity that this team's going to take as opposed to the last five years."
A candidate to help fill those shoes is Daphne Corboz, who scored 10 goals as a freshman in the fall. She'll certainly need to take more of the attacking impetus on her shoulders if Georgetown hopes to maintain its recent success.
Despite Georgetown's need to hone in on a new style, Nolan has taken a hands off approach to this stage of the season.
"I've tried to sit back and let individuals step up, see who will naturally step up," he said. "We've probably had mixed results. It's still a team that's trying to figure out its identity."
Meanwhile, other programs like Marquette, Louisville and Notre Dame get a number of players back. The Golden Eagles in particular return nine starters from last fall, and are in the early stages of the spring process, recently completing a futsal tournament.
One of Marquette's cornerstones heading into the fall will be rising junior Maegan Kelly, who scored 14 goals and added 12 assists to Marquette's attack. With the departure of West Virginia, and with so many returning starters, it won't be a surprise to see them listed among the contenders in the fall.
"It's a great mix and we're real excited about having that group back," Marquette head coach Markus Roeders told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "It's been a really good spring so far, they've been highly motivated, worked extremely hard and at times I think we have to slow them down a little bit."
Louisville, which boasts the return of standouts like Christine Exeter and Rachel Melhado, is another team full of familiar faces that will push for Big East honors. Rutgers, Seton Hall, Providence and Syracuse are also among those hoping to contend again in the fall.
The wild card at this stage of the season for every conference and team is how the arrival of a new class impacts proceedings. With the Big East luring a number of top players in the nation, it'll add another wrinkle this fall as the players settle in and adjust to a higher level.
Notre Dame in particular is anxious to bring in its new group.
"We're really eager for this freshman class to come in, because we've got 10 really good freshmen coming and I'm real excited about this class," head coach Randy Waldrum told TopDrawerSocer.com. "Typically in an incoming freshman class, if you're bringing in five or six players, you usually have two or three that are going to be ready to step on right away, and the others are going to need a little bit of time to get settled in.
"But this one, I think every single one of them is ready to step on and play right now. That's going to make for a very, very competitive preseason and that's what we've been trying to emphasize to the kids this spring."
Big East Players to Watch
Daphne Corboz, Georgetown: "She's the dominant attacking player on our team, which is pretty good to see as a freshman." Corboz scored 10 goals as a freshman and will face the expectations of helping replace Ingrid Wells. Can she handle the weight this fall?
Christine Exeter, Louisville: Fresh off a successful U20 World Cup qualifying effort with the Canadian U20s, Exeter is certain to return to campus with more experience and hungry to add to her sensational sophomore year that saw her score 14 goals, add 3 assists and pick up Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Maegan Kelly, Marquette: Few players last fall could match Kelly's numbers from last year, as she scored 14 goals and had 12 assists. With another year under her belt, bigger and better things are expected in the future.
Kyle Dal Santo is a goalkeeper in the making.
Well, he's already a goalkeeper, and a talented one, but there's still a gap between what he is and what he could be - which is a good thing.
The promising prospect, our No. 66 ranked player in the 2013 class, verbally committed to local SIU Edwardsville last week in a move that shows Dal Santo is also looking toward his future.
"I'm looking forward to developing further under the guidance of Head Coach Kevin Kalish and Goalkeeper Coach Brian Jones," he said.
Kyle Dal SantoHe will most certainly do that. The 5-foot-10 Chicago Fire netminder is of slight build, which should change over the next few years, but has showed a command over the defense.
Dal Santo is joined in this update by another notable 2013 player in Nick Jones.
Jones is our No. 43 ranked player in the class and has just announced his commitment to Wisconsin.
Jones is a highly regarded striker with good size and instincts. At Wisconsin he will join club teammates Brian Hail and Alec Cochran and is expected to be an instant impact player.
In other boys' news:
Christian Porras (Baltimore Bays) has signed to Connecticut for the 2012 season.
Kyle Morlack (SC Del Sol) has verbally committed to Denver for the 2013 season.
Kevin Leib (Dallas Texans) has signed with St. Edwards for the 2012 season.
Addison Watson (CJSO) has signed to Missouri State for the 2012 season.
Mac Wheeler (Elm Grove SC) has signed to Marquette for the 2012 season.
Tucker Hackett has signed with Sacred Heart for the 2012 season.
Chad Yanez (CASL) has signed with Columbia International University for the 2012 season.
Michael Broncati (South Central SC) has signed with St. Peter's for the 2012 season.
Tommy Harr (Crew Soccer Academy) has verbally committed to Dayton for the 2013 season.
The formation and faces will be different, but Porter's favored philosophy of playing attractive attacking soccer is something that he's worked hard to impress on this group over the past four months during various pre-qualifying camps.
"It's the style of play that I think is really what we've tried to implement with this group," head coach Caleb Porter told reporters in a conference call. "Through our training [we] imprint those concepts of how we want to play, how we're going to attack, how we're going to defend, the philosophies behind it."
Now, with the announcement of the qualifying roster, another camp starting this week, and the qualifying tournament starting on March 22, Porter's group is preparing to bring that style into the limelight in an attempt to punch a ticket to the 2012 Olympic games.
Caleb PorterOf course, the style of play can only go so far, as in the end it will be dictated by who comprises the roster. And Porter thinks that the 20 players he named this week are up to the task, and can pull it off.
"I think it fits this group of players: we've got technical players, some dangerous attacking pieces, we've got athleticism, which is important to be able to in certain positions go box-to-box, and we've got a group that's very honest and willing to defend immediately," he said. "I think it's really resonated with this group."
There is certainly plenty of talent to go around, between the overseas-based players such as Joe Gyau, Joshua Gatt and Terrence Boyd all making the roster, and the MLS contingent led by Brek Shea, Perry Kitchen and Juan Agudelo.
Not only does Porter possess the belief in the group to execute the particular style, but he also thinks deploying his side in that fashion gives them the best opportunity to punch their ticket to the Games.
"It's the best way to go into qualifying, and for me it gives us the best chance to win," he said. "It's a winning philosophy, players have completely bought into it, they believe in it, we've had great results playing this way recently - we've got a really nice run of momentum going from Costa Rica all the way through the Dallas camp."
Like almost all rosters, there are concerns. The defensive group is a bit on the thin side, with just six defenders listed. Porter indicated that the coaching staff liked the way Perry Kitchen and Ike Opara worked together in central defense, while the ability of players like Josh Gatt and Kofi Sarkodie to play on different spots of the field helped them secure a spot.
The versatile makeup of the roster is one thing Porter thinks will pay off in the grind of qualification.
"With 20 players going into qualifying and 18 players having to be named for each game, and with only three substitutions, and we're playing three games in five days in the group stages and five games in 12 days total, we need versatility," Porter said. "It's nice to be able to shift guys to different spots without having necessarily named specialists in this group."
Regardless of style, results are going to come to the forefront when Olympic qualifying begins on March 22 against Cuba.
U.S. U23 Roster for qualifying:
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United; Annandale, Va.), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire; Lilburn, Ga.)
Defenders: Joshua Gatt (Molde; Plymouth, Mich.), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United; Indianapolis, Ind.), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes; Durham, N.C.), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo; Huber Heights, Ohio), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact; Lancaster, Pa.), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA; Anaheim, Calif.)
Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union; Potomac, Md.), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Mix Diskerud (Gent; Oslo, Norway), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz; Richardson, Texas), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union; Sacramento, Calif.), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy; Naperville, Ill.)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls; Barnegat, N.J.), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund; Berlin, Germany), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City; Prior Lake, Minn.), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim; Silver Spring, Md.), Brek Shea (FC Dallas; Bryan, Texas), Tony Taylor (Estoril Praia, Jacksonville, Fla.)
While four Florida-based Academy sides, Kendall SC, IMG Soccer Academy, Clearwater Chargers and Weston FC are set to resume their Development Academy schedule in March, they are all on a mission.
All four are setting out to hunt down the top four in the division - South Carolina United Battery, Concorde Fire, Georgia United and Birmingham United in a chase for a coveted playoff spot, and all four are now dormant thanks to the high school season.
For IMG Academy U18 coach Scott Dean, it's not a bad thing to be working from behind.
"I don't mind knowing where we stand and going after it," he told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "I guess there's an argument on both sides. For me and for where we are with IMG, I prefer playing more games in the back half because it gives me a chance to get our guys settled in and playing. That's kind of what my take is and just our experience and what we're doing."
IMG's Pablo AguilarBefore resuming action in the Development Academy this weekend with a trip to North Carolina, IMG has been busy playing friendlies, going up against the U.S. U17 men's national team and fitting in a trip to Barcelona. There, they got to train with some Barcelona Academy coaches and catch some La Liga action.
IMG's attacker Marlon Hairston (going to Louisville) will play a pivotal role in deciding his side's fortunes, as will Pablo Aguilar and the ever improving left back Joey Hutchinson.
The stagnation in league action over the past few months gave Dean time to tinker and have his team ready to peak in the later stages of the season.
"It always takes us a little bit of time to get going, so the beginning half of the year it's a lot of molding, training, showing them what we want and we'll always perform better in the second half of the year than we do at the first half of the year," he said.
Right now, all four Florida teams have played six games, with Kendall SC's nine points leading that quarter as the race to the top begins. The intra-Florida games don't begin until the last weekend in March, and if one team picks up maximum points, it assumes the driver's seat towards a Division title.
Meanwhile, the other four non-Florida teams are in a holding pattern until each plays a handful of remaining game in June. With players away for high school obligations, it's now a waiting game to see how the division shakes out.
South Carolina United Battery coach Clark Brisson, whose team is currently at the top of the division, is hoping to control its destiny heading into the final two games of the season later in June.
"My gut is if we win two games we'll probably win the division" Brisson told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "If we win one of the two games, that maybe good enough for a wild card. If we lose two, we'll probably be out would be my guess.
"For us, getting out in front there is great, I still think the division's going to come down to the final two games for sure and the playoff spots."
Georgia United, who have just two games left and trail South Carolina and Concorde Fire in the standings, want to close out its first season in the Development Academy the right way.
"We want to go out the last couple of games and do our best," head coach Ray Tomlin told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "The two teams ahead of us have the advantage, they can only slip to let us in. Even if we finish out the season strong, it's out of our hands, but we'll give it all we have in the last couple of games to get the results."
What's easy to deduce at this stage is that even come June, all eight teams could have a shot at winning the division and qualifying for the playoffs. The next few months are certain to dictate that.
U18 Southeast Division Players to Watch
Joey Hutchinson, IMG Academy: The former attacker is now a rock at left back for IMG, and he'll be a key part of the back line as IMG aims to climb the standings. He'll play at Florida Gold Coast in the fall.
Nahuel Medina, Kendall SC: The leading goal scorer through the first half of Kendall's season, Medina must come up big in front of goal in the late stages of the season as well.
If spring is any indication, this fall's ACC is certain to be as competitive as ever.
While the conference only had one representative at the College Cup last fall, there's little doubting the likes of Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Duke are going to be among the best programs in the nation once again.
The reigning champs North Carolina know this, and enter the spring season with a clean slate, focusing on the rebuilding process the spring season allows.
"It's a new season, we have to start from the beginning just like we do every spring," head coach Carlos Somoano told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "Even if we just changed a few players, it's a new team. And every time you change a few players, you have a new team dynamic, new group regardless. We take it from step one and we're going to work as if we have everything to prove."
Perhaps no team in the conference faces as significant a turnover as the Tar Heels, who lost starters like Enzo Martinez, Ben Speas, Kirk Urso, Billy Schuler and Matt Hedges to the pro ranks.
Nick PalodichukHowever, as usual, Somoano reloads with an excellent recruiting class (ranked No. 4 in the nation), including FC Dallas standout Daniel Garcia, and returns plenty of talent, including defender Boyd Okwuono, attacker Robbie Lovejoy and midfielder Mikey Lopez.
One of UNC's in-state rivals, Wake Forest, is in the opposite boat, having lost no starters. Even more importantly for head coach Jay Vidovich, he's eagerly anticipating the arrival of this fall's freshman class and the challenge they'll pose to an already strong team.
"I think it will be tremendous with this incoming group, there are some strong players who are pretty ambitious who will force the older guys to play a little better and raise the overall quality of the game which should help our speed of play," he told TopDrawerSoccer.com earlier in the year.
This spring, Wake will get a chance to matchup against the Tar Heels allowing both sides to see where things progress with each side.
Outside of North Carolina, the big names of the ACC are working feverishly to be ready come the fall. Maryland already opened up its spring season with a 2-1 win over Virginia Commonwealth on March 9, before dropping a 3-1 loss to El Salvador's U23 team two days later.
The loss to El Salvador came in front of an audience of more than 5,000 at the nearby Germantown Soccerplex in Maryland.
"I was very pleased with just the whole event in general," Terps head coach Sasho Cirovski told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "It was a fantastic spring event, a bonus game for us, incredibly valuable experience for everyone involved."
Despite losing leading scorer Casey Townsend to graduation, Maryland has plenty of goal-scoring options returning, including Patrick Mullins, Sunny Jane and John Stertzer. Along with that, the team returned eight starters in all, and will lean on a strong senior class led by Stertzer and defenders Taylor Kemp and London Woodberry.
For that trio, who all had pro possibilities come up in the offseason, the goal is clear.
"I think they all had some talk [to go pro], none of them got the kind of offers that were going to pull them out of college," Cirovski said. "All three of those guys are quite excited about coming back because I think they're on a little bit of a mission to make sure they get to a College Cup, because they have not experienced a College Cup."
The rest of the ACC will have plenty to say about those aspirations. Duke, which lost Hermann Trophy winning forward Andrew Wenger, can count on the return of standout freshman Nick Palodichuk, and Virginia is set to get forward Will Bates back after his ACL injury last fall. That's without mentioning the growing programs such as Boston College and Clemson that will continue to work themselves into the mix.
However, for the time being, all eyes will be on the Tar Heels, as they carry the target of national champs, who have a firm spring target in mind.
"I think [our goal is] to have a better understanding of who we are, what our strengths our, which players can fulfill whatever new roles we may have," Somoano said. "We may have a new system of play, we may not. And to try and get a better understanding of each player's individual expectations of themselves and of the team."
ACC Players to Watch
Boyd Okwuono, North Carolina: The outstanding central defender paired well with the now departed Matt Hedges, leading to a dominant UNC back line. Okwuono, a product of the FC Dallas Academy, is going to have to adapt more of a leadership role in order to help his side build a dynasty.
Alex Shinsky, Maryland: "He's coming off his best week of training and playing probably since he's been here," Cirovski said of Shinsky. "If he can keep building that momentum he can play a huge role in our team next fall." Injuries troubled the former U.S. youth international in his freshman year last fall, but provided that he stays healthy, he'll certainly have a breakout year at Maryland.
Nick Palodichuk, Duke: The second-leading scorer on Duke's roster last year, he'll be thrust into the spotlight by Wenger's departure. How he copes with the added pressure is going to factor significantly into the Blue Devils' success.
It consisted of 18 players, a trip to Spain, and games against some of the best youth academies in the world. It added up to a memory that will last a lifetime.
The 2012 id2 National Selection International Tour wrapped up its annual trip to Europe on February 27 after spending a week and a half in Spain.
"Pretty much everything you could ask for from a ten-day trip," id2 tour head coach Gerry McKeown told TopDrawerSoccer.com last week about the success of the tour.
The id2 program is set up to identify players through camps and other programs in order to take some of the best boys youth soccer players in the United States to Europe. This year's tour included players born in 1998 and 1999.
The highlight from the trip came only a few days into the Spanish adventure when McKeown's group took on the world-renowned FC Barcelona youth team.
Christian Pulisic"We had two days to shape them up and play Barcelona," McKeown said. "The good thing is we knew how they would play, so we had those two days to prepare for a 4-3-3."
The first time McKeown gets the full group together is when all of them meet in Spain, so the practice time is obviously limited for his group. He was happy with how quickly it came together, especially while implementing a 4-3-3 formation of his own for the team.
"We aren't going to do what Bayer Leverkusen did the week before in Champions League." McKeown said about what he told the boys before the game against Barcelona. "You can respect them, but you have to outwork them and out-pass them."
Behind a hat trick from Elijah Rice, the id2 national selection tour won 3-1 over FC Barcelona.
"They played as good of a game as possible," McKeown said. "Our strikers gave them some problems at times, as well as Christian Pulisic coming through the middle. He was actually better than their guy [in the same midfield role]."
After the game, McKeown was surprised by his team's reaction.
"We went in the locker room, and they were quiet," McKeown said. "I came in late, and I asked them, 'do you know what you accomplished?'
"This was something special. All the humility is an important part of the game, but now you accomplished something not many teams do - they got it going after that."
It may have taken a while for the significance of the experience to set in, but eventually the players realized how monumental the occasion was.
"I'll remember that forever," Rice told TopDrawerSoccer.com recently about the hat trick against Barcelona.
Overall, he really enjoyed the experience with the tour, as the star striker from Chicago Magic PSG is now looking forward to leading his club at Dallas Cup in a few weeks.
"That was incredible," Rice said about the tour. "It was one of the best experiences in my life."
McKeown was very impressed with how Rice performed during the games, and also how he continued to advance his game when defenders started to figure out his game.
"Elijah played well," McKeown said. "He, like a bunch of other guys, came around as the week progressed. We had him leading the line to defend and he became a real leader especially vocally. He did a lot of things and added to his game."
Midfielder Christian Pulisic also had a very good showing during the tour.
"The last month has been a busy month and I've had a lot of fun," Pulisic told TopDrawerSoccer.com "I've got some great experiences and it will help me a lot in my future career."
The coach was thoroughly pleased with how the attacking midfielder performed during the tour.
"[Pulisic] was exceptional," McKeown said. "We were asking Christian to help defensively and he did that. If he can add that to his game, he is going to be an extra special player because he some very unique talent going forward."
The coach also highlighted goalkeeper Kevin Silva who did well with distribution as well as making athletic saves against Barcelona.
The future of the tour continues to look bright, as McKeown says more attention is being paid to the program now.
Since Claudio Reyna accepted the position of Technical Director for U.S. Soccer Youth National Teams in 2010, he has preached the same message to anyone who would listen, 'one style of play.'
The continuity from one age group to the next perhaps has been lacking in the past, as a clear vision was not always apparent, but Reyna has set out to change that from top to bottom.
In the combined U14 and U15 Boys National Team camp, the two youngest age groups in the national program, that wrapped up last weekend, Reyna's blueprint and message of continuity was obvious.
Both teams stuck religiously to a 4-3-3 formation and attempted to hold possession for long stretches throughout the scrimmages against local clubs and an ODP team from California.
Claudio Reyna"I think what has been nice is that we don't feel like we are starting over with each camp," U15 Boys National Team head coach Tony LePore told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "There have been some good moments with that, and some moments where we think we could get better."
The similarities between LePore's U15 team and Hugo Perez's U14 team are easy to spot, as both coaches preached building from the back and holding onto the ball, but it is still a laborious process to teach a style of play that the players may not be familiar with at the club level.
"You go building up little by little," U14 Boys National Team head coach Hugo Perez told TopDrawerSoccer.com. "The focus for the first few days here was building out of the back. [And] we did not boot the ball once [in the scrimmages]."
Perez was referencing the scrimmages for the U14 national team where his group of 36 players was split into two groups and played against LA Galaxy Academy and ODP - Cal South.
Perez's teams ended the pair of friendlies with a win and a loss, but it was the style of play that pleased the coach more than any result.
"The concept of the team and the style of play is very important and I was happy to see it today," Perez said on Wednesday.
After wrapping up camp on Sunday, Perez will not see the U14 national team group again for three months, but he is pleased with the initiative from the federation to stay more involved even when players are not in camp.
"U.S. Soccer is trying to do a little bit more now," Perez said. "We are leaving them with homework: skills, [watching] games, technical stuff - to play like this you have to be technical."
So what exactly is the style?
Beyond the formation and possession-heavy mantra, there are some obvious other messages that Perez and LePore are trying to teach the players at an early stage in the development.
"Our message is if we lose the ball, we have to win it back because we need to have the ball to play the way we want to play," Perez said. "Losing the ball cannot be an excuse anymore - in terms of being unlucky or anything like that - so they have to press and win it back."
The coaches continue to build one stage at a time, as Perez said this camp was focused on keeping the ball on the ground and moving it quickly.
"That was the goal for this camp - to see if we can play a lot with the ball on our feet," Perez said.
LePore was encouraged by what he saw from the players in bringing the lessons from training into the scrimmages on Tuesday.
"The big emphasis was implementing things from training especially in terms of style of play in these games," Lepore said. "That is a big part of what we are trying to do - keep the ball, move it quickly, and also make sure we are looking [to get] behind [the defense]."
As for Reyna, the former U.S. national team captain stays heavily involved with the structure, and loomed on the sidelines over both camps.