When the NCAA men’s soccer season begins on Aug. 30, teams from all over the country will begin a nearly four-month quest to take home the national championship. MLSsoccer.com runs down the Top 10 who are most likely to end up with a cherished piece of silverware.
1) Georgetown University
Senior Steve Neumann and sophomore Brandon Allen might be the most fearsome strike tandem in college soccer. Yes, the Hoyas lost some midfield punch with the departure of Ian Christianson and Andy Riemer, but Neumann’s 13 assists last season prove that he can play the provider role as well as put the ball in the back of the net. On the other end, junior goalkeeper Tomas Gomez is solid, and even though Tommy Muller and Jimmy Nealis are gone, Georgetown returns enough experience on their backline to make another run to the NCAA title game.
- Key Player: Steve Neumann, F
- Alumnus in MLS: Dan Gargan
2) University of Maryland
The Terrapins have the best player in the country in senior forward Patrick Mullins. They have eight starters returning from a team that finished first in the perennially dominant ACC and was eliminated in the NCAA Tournament semifinal on penalty kicks. The only question the Terrapins have yet to answer is at goalkeeper, where junior Keith Cardona had an unspectacular season in 2012. However, with freshman phenom Zack Steffen (a product of the Philadelphia Union Academy system) newly arrived in College Park, this may yet turn out to be one of Maryland’s strongest positions.
- Key Player: Patrick Mullins, F
- Alumnus in MLS: Omar Gonzalez
3) Indiana University
IU won a national title last year, but they still had an up-and-down season. And this is by no means the same team as the one that took the field in 2012. Their top scorer, Eriq Zavaleta, is gone, as well as stud goalkeeper Luis Soffner and defensive stalwart Caleb Konstanski. They still have plenty of talent on offense, particularly with the addition of Louisville transfer forward Dylan Mares, but don’t expect the Hoosiers to stroll back into the College Cup.
- Key Player: A.J. Corrado, MF
- Alumnus in MLS: Will Bruin
4) North Carolina
UNC enters the 2013 season needing to replace midfield maestro Danny Garcia, who signed a Homegrown contract with FC Dallas in June. That said, the Tar Heels allowed just seven goals during the 2012 regular season. Yes, Carolina will also need to find a way to cope with the departures of goalkeeper Scott Goodwin and defender Jordan Gafa, but with junior Boyd Okwuonu among the returning backliners, the Heels’ defense should be just as stifling this campaign.
- Key Player: Boyd Okwuonu, D
- Alumnus in MLS: Dax McCarty
5) University of Connecticut
With junior goalkeeping sensation Andre Blake, lethal senior Mamadou Doudou Diouf (15 goals in 2012) at forward and two starters returning to a backline that allowed just 12 goals, the Huskies are a frightening prospect for opposing teams. UConn has been in the NCAA Tournament every year since 1998, but has not advanced past the quarterfinals since they won it all in 2000. Don’t sleep on the Huskies, but they still have a lot to prove.
- Key Player: Mamadou Doudou Diouf, F
- Alumnus in MLS: Andrew Jean-Baptiste
An uncharacteristic 5-2 loss to San Diego in their 2012 NCAA Tournament opener ended what was otherwise a good season for the Bruins. UCLA won a slew of individual accolades, but most of the players who won them – Pac-12 Player of the Year Ryan Hollingshead, for example – have left. The Bruins did rack up a stellar recruiting class to bolster what was already a talented roster, and it’s hard to see them not winning the Pac-12 again.
- Key Player: Leo Stolz, MF
- Alumnus in MLS: Nick Rimando
7) Marquette University
OK, bad news first: The Golden Eagles lost 10 goals and four assists with the departure of All-Big East striker Andy Huftalin. The good news is that it probably won’t make much of a dent in Marquette’s offensive output. Redshirt sophomore striker James “C.” Nortey returns after missing 2012 due to injury, and senior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka is back to power the midfield. The Golden Eagles are stacked on defense as well, meaning that the team that racked up 42 goals last year should be more than able to hold the leads they create for themselves.
- Key Player: Bryan Ciesiulka, MF
- Alumnus in MLS: Calum Mallace
8) University of Akron
Any team would suffer if it lost a coach like Caleb Porter, but it shouldn’t be earth-shattering for the Zips. Jared Embick coached under Porter for six seasons and helped form the program’s aggressive playing style, making him singularly equipped to provide the team some stability during the transition. The bigger issue facing Akron are the holes left by the departures of Wil Trapp, DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Barson and Dillon Serna, among others. It’s a testament to the work put in by Porter and Embick that the Zips still have enough depth in players like senior forward Reinaldo Brenes and junior defender Bryan Gallego that it’s reasonable to believe they’ll excel again in 2013.
- Key Player: Reinaldo Brenes, F
- Alumnus in MLS: Darlington Nagbe
9) St. Louis University
The Billikens aren’t necessarily a sexy pick to make a run for a national title. After all, SLU haven’t won one since 1973, and despite winning the Atlantic 10 last season, they bowed out to unseeded Fairleigh Dickinson in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Nonetheless, St. Louis can put basically the same team on the field in 2013 that it did in 2012, and it spread out its 46 goals scored fairly democratically. The Billikens have plenty of weapons at their disposal, but with games against UConn, Creighton and Louisville on the docket, we’ll have to wait and see if they translate to wins.
- Key Player: Robert Kristo, F
- Alumnus in MLS: Brad Davis
10) University of Virginia
There’s plenty going against UVa. They got smoked in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by New Mexico last season, struggled to get results in big games and play in the cutthroat ACC, where they racked up an unimpressive 3-4-1 record. But Virginia carried a very young roster last year, and are consequently returning 10 starters. Combine that with a top-five recruiting class and the addition of transfer goalkeeper Jeff Gal, and the Cavaliers should be able to improve on their 2012 performance.
- Key Player: Scott Thomsen, MF/D
- Alumnus in MLS: Chris Tierney