MLS on Campus: Defending champions Notre Dame hold top spot heading into the 2014 season

Notre Dame celebrate winning the 2013 College Cup

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports

With the NCAA men's soccer season getting underway this week, the quest for the 2014 College Cup is on. MLSsoccer.com runs down the top 10 contenders heading into the season.


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Notre Dame
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Our preseason rankings last year put reigning champions Indiana at No. 3. The first comment we received on the article: “Stick to not knowing anything about professional soccer.” For the record, Indiana went 8-12-2 last year, so our concerns about putting reigning champions Notre Dame at No. 1 this year have an illustrious precedent. It’s not a given that the Fighting Irish will be able to replace Harry Shipp’s goalscoring output, particularly if striker Vince Cicciarelli succumbs to the injury bug again. And, lest we forget, they’re still playing in the ACC. That said, they are the champions, so we’ll obey the first rule of mass media: Give the people what they want. Irish No. 1!

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Maryland
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If we didn’t know any better, we’d have put the Terrapins at No. 1. Like Notre Dame, they lost a ton of firepower, mostly courtesy of Patrick Mullins’ graduation. There’s not a ton of experience up top, and Michael Sauers (D.C. United Academy) and Alex Shinsky have some huge shoes to fill when they inevitably move from attacking midfielders to forwards. But most of the other pieces on the team have stayed. Having Dan Metzger (New York Red Bulls academy) and Tsubasa Endoh anchoring your midfield would be plenty good, but adding All-Conference midfielder Mael Corboz (New York Red Bulls Academy) in a transfer from Rutgers does even more to bolster it. Add in goalkeeper Zack Steffen (Philadelphia Union Academy) and a back four that has a year of working together under their belt, and you’re looking at a team that could make another College Cup run.

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UCLA
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On paper, the Bruins should be the stuff of nightmares for every team they face, but there are still some holes to plug. Losing striker Victor Chavez takes away eight goals, and losing midfielder Victor Munoz – Pac-12 Player of the Year Leo Stolz’s favorite passing partner in 2013 – takes away eight assists. UCLA will get a reinforcement at striker with Loyola transfer Larry Ndjock, and the backline and goalkeeping remain a strength. Without Chavez and Munoz to soak up some pressure, though, Stolz is going to have to do a lot more work to make sure the midfield can hum like it did last season.

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Connecticut
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Let’s start with the obvious: It’s going to be a trick to replace goalkeeper Andre Blake, and whoever wins that job will probably not be as effective. The Huskies backline still features defensive stalwart Sergio Campbell, though, and up front they can attack teams with the combination of midfield string-puller Adria Beso and goalscoring wunderkind Cyle Larin. This is a strong team, and one that will likely put up a ton of goals.

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Virginia
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It’s possible the Cavaliers should be higher on this list, because the team that was too young to do anything last year ended up going to College Cup, and most of those players stuck around with the exception of Real Salt Lake Homegrown Jordan Allen. On the other hand, playing in the ACC is no joke, so it’s perhaps just as likely that Virginia picks up where they left off in 2013 as it is that every team in the conference will beat each other up, figuratively speaking.

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Washington
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This team has a lot of youth and talent, and a good amount of experience where it counts. Midfielder Cristian Roldan should have an expanded role in the offense in his sophomore campaign – to be expected from the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year – and forward Darwin Jones (Seattle Sounders academy), when he’s at his best, can cut a defense to ribbons. In the back, despite the loss of Taylor Peay, Washington is getting back redshirt senior goalkeeper Spencer Richey, who was well on his way to being a top goalkeeping prospect at the 2014 SuperDraft before breaking his leg early last season. They have the pieces to defend their conference title, but beating back their Pac-12 opponents won’t be easy.

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Georgetown
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The biggest obstacle the Hoyas are going to face this season is replacing Steve Neumann, their dual-threat midfield maestro. Strikers Brandon Allen (New York Red Bulls academy) and Alex Muyl (New York Red Bulls academy) should be able to take care of the goalscoring duties, but even if they don’t, we’re talking about a defense that allowed a grand total of 10 goals last season. That backline, which includes highly touted prospect Joshua Yaro, probably isn’t going to get worse this year.

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North Carolina
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The Tar Heels still have enough talent to be higher on this list, but that assumes they’ll find the scoring stroke that completely abandoned them last season. North Carolina’s defense, led by stud center back Boyd Okwuonu (FC Dallas academy), allowed just 13 goals last season, but Tyler Engel (Chicago Fire academy) never quite emerged as a scoring threat and fellow striker Rob Lovejoy missed the season with an injury. With Lovejoy back, the scoring should pick up enough to give UNC results. But they have to prove it for us to buy in.

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Louisville
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Jumping into the ACC is tough, but hey, it worked for Notre Dame. And the Cardinals are already being tabbed for big things, with the preseason poll predicting they’ll finish fourth in the conference. They lost Marlon Hairston and Jimmy Ockford to the pros, but Ricardo Velazco and Andrew Brody (Real Salt Lake academy) aren’t anything to sniff at.

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Stanford
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This is our “dark horse,” as it were, though it’s hard to see how a team could be called that when they could feature the first college-based player to receive a USMNT cap since 1995 in Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders academy) and Zach Batteer up top. The Cardinal are going to have to fill some holes in midfield left by the departures of JJ Koval and Aaron Kovar at the end of last season, but they still have a good backline anchored by centerback Brandon Vincent. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to supplant UCLA or Washington as Pac-12 frontrunners, but the Cardinal have the personnel to get some results this year.