College Roundup: Fabulous freshmen

The transition from high school to collegiate soccer is never easy. But as youth development in the United States continues to progress, the number of players who are ready to step in during their first year is increasing exponentially.

Here’s a look at eight freshmen who have shined in 2010:

[inline_node:322395]Soony Saad, Michigan, FW

The 2010 High School Player of the Year knows how to find the back of the net. He scored 172 goals during his high school career in Dearborn, Mich., including 76 his senior year. Through Nov. 2, he has scored 14 goals in 16 games as a Michigan Wolverine, best of the freshmen class. While he has netted a number of impressive goals all season, perhaps none is better than a wind-aided 67-yard strike against Bowling Green on Oct. 27.

“He is able to go off both feet, right and left, is good in the air, and has an awareness to his game that not a lot of players have,” Michigan head coach Steve Burns said. “He knows how to use players as decoys, knows how to move off the ball and pull defenders off the ball.

“The guy who can score in close range, but he’s [also] has a great strike from far range.”

Darren Mattocks, Akron, FW

Akron produced some serious attacking talent in the last few years – current MLS players Steve Zakuani and Teal Bunbury emerged from here – and the Jamaican striker has shown he has shown he can follow in the footsteps of Zips before him, netting 11 goals in 16 games.

“He’s what a striker should be – extremely dangerous, has pace, always looking to stretch the game and get behind, and he’s a goal scorer,” Zips coach Caleb Porter said. “We play a very attractive style, we’re on the ball a lot, we have long periods of possession, but in order for that to correlate to wins, you’ve got to have someone that will bring penetration, and that’s what he brings to our team.”

Kelyn Rowe, UCLA, MF

On one of the youngest teams in the nation, 18-year-old Rowe is the unquestioned leader of the Bruins’ offense. A native of Federal Way, Wash., Rowe has started all 16 games for his side so far, driving the attack with six goals (three game-winners) and six assists.

[inline_node:322393]Perry Kitchen, Akron, MF

Tough, gritty and determined, Kitchen captained the US U-17 side in the 2009 World Cup in Nigeria before joining Akron this fall. His value to the Zips is immense, protecting the back line in order to allow Akron to play attack aggressively. Kitchen’s presence has also softened the blow of losing both Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski to MLS last year.

“He’s a leader, a winner, a warrior, plays very simple within himself, and does all the little things right,” Porter said. “He’s a ball winner, good in the air, tenacious, and that allows us to play as adventurously as we do in the attack, as he will sit back and hold things better. [He] probably does the defensive work for two or three guys.

Tyler Polak, Creighton, DF

The US youth national team defender has quickly established himself as one of the best left backs in the country. Polak has emerged as a shut-down back, locking down the opposition’s flank, but he has yet to show a penchant for bombing forward and contribute to the attack.

[inline_node:322394]Patrick Mullins, Maryland, MF

The only reason Patrick Mullins hasn’t made a bigger name for himself this year is Maryland’s impressive depth (nine starters returned from 2009). But the Louisiana native has made the most of his minutes, scoring four goals and adding four assists in 13 appearances (all but one off the bench) in the first year of what is shaping up to be an extremely promising career.

“He’s been great,” said Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski. “He’s got a magic left foot, the ability to serve in a cultured ball or to have a powerful shot, and he’s also scored three goals with his head for us, which was a pleasant surprise.”

Juan Castillo, Southern Methodist University, FW

The Texas native’s nine goals – tops for SMU – have helped the team put together an impressive 2010 season. After notching seven goals in the first eight games, Castillo has hit a bit of a draught, and will need to be in firing form come tournament time if the Mustangs hope to hit the later rounds.

David Opoku, UC Santa Barbara, FW

The Ghanaian is electric, particularly in the attack. Playing with a flair and athleticism that is rarely seen at this stage of a college career, Opoku has tallied five goals, playing a huge role in the Gauchos’ seven-game winning streak earlier this year. If he continues to come along, UCSB might have a chance to play for the College Cup in front of a home crowd.

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