The college soccer season is just around the corner. Over the next week-and-a-half, teams will play out their exhibition schedules, but starting August 30, it’s all business as the NCAA’s elite look to unseat the Indiana Hoosiers as national champions. To help you prepare, MLSsoccer.com takes a look at the Top 10 Players to Watch for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
Nikita Kotlov, Sr., M, Indiana
Indiana’s last season may have ended with a championship, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing to get there. This time around, they’ll have to navigate a tricky Big Ten schedule without 18-goal sensation Eriq Zavaleta, recently departed for the Seattle Sounders. Their next highest scorer, Kotlov, had a banner season last year with nine goals – including the winner in the national title game – but the Hoosiers need another one from him to have a chance at a repeat.
Patrick Mullins, Sr., M/F, Maryland
The Terps are never far out of the picture for title contention, but with eight starters returning to a team that made the national semifinals last season, they make a very strong case for themselves in 2013. Mullins (pictured at top), the reigning first-team All-America selection and Hermann Trophy winner in 2012, is widely viewed as the best player in college soccer at the moment, and Maryland’s title hopes will live and die by him.
Andre Blake, Jr., GK, Connecticut
It’s difficult to overstate just how good Blake has been for the Huskies in his first two seasons. Since arriving in Storrs, Blake has started all 47 of the team’s games, allowing 22 goals and tallying 27 shut outs. UConn lost three starters on defense, but it won’t matter if Blake keeps doing his thing.
Steve Neumann, Sr., F/M, Georgetown
Neumann finished last season with 10 goals – including a hat trick in the NCAA semifinals against Maryland – as well as 13 assists. With a killer instinct and plenty of individual skill, he would be a handful all on his own, but with reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Brandon Allen lining up alongside him (16 goals in 2012), his versatility going forward should be devastating.
Boyd Okwuonu, Jr., D, North Carolina
Okwuonu was a dominant force on the top-ranked defense in the country last year. That said, the 2013 edition of the Tar Heels won’t be able to rely on Scott Goodwin, their departing ‘keeper who registered a ridiculous 17 shutouts last season. It will be up to Okwuonu and his backline to prove that they really are the best group in college soccer.
Ricardo Perez, Fr., M, Creighton
Elmar Bolowich’s teams have a history of success, but the Bluejays have plenty of questions to answer this season. Goalkeeper Jeff Gal decided to leave the program in favor of Virginia, and First Team All-America defender Andrew Ribeiro graduated at the end of last season. There’s still talent on this team, but the way the Colorado Rapids academy product Perez performs out of the gate will set the tone for just how effective the Jays can be.
James Rogers, Jr., F, New Mexico
The departures of 15-goal scorer Devon Sandoval and the MLS SuperDraft’s eighth overall pick Blake Smith leave the Lobos with some giant holes to fill on offense. Rogers, who has spent time in both the Rapids and RSL systems, put up a tidy eight-goal and five-assist season last year, and he should be the guy to shoulder some of the excess scoring duties.
Robert Kristo, Jr., F, St. Louis
It’s tough to know where to start with Kristo. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he would be an imposing striker even in MLS. With 11 goals and five assists last year, you know that he’s more than just a big body. But for everything going for him, the Billikens were still unable to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Can Kristo take himself and his team to the next level?
Cristian Mata, So., F, Tulsa
Mata’s freshman campaign saw the young US international pool player put up 14 goals and six assists. It’s unlikely it’s just a flash in the pan, as Mata racked up 70 career goals in high school, and with the lethal offense that the Golden Hurricane can put on the field (again) this year, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to show his quality.
Chris Ritter, Sr., D, Northwestern
After winning the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Ritter surprised many by passing up a chance at a professional career to come back to NU as a fifth-year senior. Last year, the Wildcats were Big Ten co-champions without a staggering offensive output, making their living instead on the defensive side of the ball. If the 2013 'Cats try to follow the same model, it will be on Ritter to make sure they pull it off.