The NCAA soccer season is upon us, with teams kicking off their regular-season schedules on Friday. To help get you ready for the season, MLSsoccer.com takes a look at 10 Players to Watch for the upcoming campaign.
Leo Stolz, M, UCLA (senior)
UCLA are once again the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12, and 2013 Hermann Trophy finalist Stolz (pictured right) is mainly the reason why. The German midfielder’s 11 goals and eight assists won him the Pac-12 Player of the Year by a country mile, and there was plenty of speculation last year about his Generation adidas prospects. He is not the most athletic attacking midfielder you’ll find in the game, but he has fantastic skill on the ball and can pick out passes that few others can even see.
Cyle Larin, M/F, Connecticut (sophomore)
If you want to talk about someone who generated Generation adidas buzz last year, Larin (pictured above) would be the guy. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Canadian combines strength with plenty of skill, and as a freshman last season he put in 14 goals for the Huskies. Perhaps just as important, Larin will still have midfielder Adria Beso, he of 10 assists in 2013, serving up opportunities on goal all season. There’s certainly no reason to suspect that Larin's output will decline this year, and there’s every reason to expect we’ll be talking about him a lot more in about three months.
Darius Madison, M/F, Virginia (junior)
Madison’s modest six-goal output for the Cavaliers last season doesn’t tell the full story of what he can do on the field. At his best, he is a cruelly incisive attacking player who puts the fear of God in whatever defender he happens to be running at with the ball. Playing in the ACC is no walk in the park, and so Madison's flair might be stifled to a degree, but there’s no reason to suspect that, playing on a team staffed with upperclassmen who have been starting the last three seasons, the Philadelphia Union academy prospect won’t be able to impress again.
Sagi Lev-Ari, F, Cal State Northridge (senior)
Lev-Ari powered the Matadors to the final of the Big West tournament and a place in the NCAA Tournament last season with 16 goals, improving on his 2012 output of 15. He needs service to succeed, and that may end up being an issue after the departure of 2013 assist leaders Beto Velasquez and Brian Behrad, but the 6-foot-1 senior is good enough that the service doesn’t even need to be that good. Put it in the box, and he can find a way to finish.
Cristian Roldan, M, Washington (sophomore)
Roldan (pictured right) exploded onto the national stage in 2013 by winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Roldan was the Huskies' co-leader in goals scored, sharing the honors with striker Darwin Jones. That offensive pairing will be re-united in 2014, and they should open plenty of holes in opposing defenses for each other, but make no mistake: If Washington is to defend their conference title, Roldan’s going to have to live up to his No. 10 shirt in midfield.
Spencer Richey, GK, Washington (redshirt senior)
Richey was one of the top goalkeeper prospects in the country last season, but his senior year was cut short by a broken leg suffered in Washington’s trip to play UConn. After taking a medical redshirt, Richey will likely return to his starting role with an eye toward proving that he is fully recovered, and will be ready for the jump to MLS at season’s end.
Alex Shinsky, M/F, Maryland (senior)
Maryland lost a lot of firepower when Patrick Mullins (19 goals, 8 assists) graduated last season, and so it may fall to Shinsky – one of the Terrapins’ only senior attackers – to fill that void. Shinsky is certainly better than the one goal and one assist he registered in 2013 and he should have plenty of support this year. Though Mullins is a major exception, the Terps didn’t lose a ton of the pieces that took them to the 2013 NCAA title game.
Nick Besler, M, Notre Dame (senior)
Much like Maryland, Notre Dame is going to have to replace a ton of their goal-scoring output after the departure of Harry Shipp (12 goals, 10 assists). Some of that load will be taken on by junior midfielder Patrick Hodan and senior striker Vince Cicciarelli (if he can stay healthy), but having a stout defense is probably the best way to make sure that Shipp’s offensive talent won’t be too missed. Unlike his older brother, Besler (pictured right) plays defensive midfield rather than centerback, but much like his brother, he is one of the best in the country at his position.
C. Nortey, F, Marquette (redshirt junior)
Nortey announced his presence with authority in his freshman season with nine goals in 2011, but his promising career was put on hold by an injury that forced him to sit his sophomore year. Returning as a redshirt in 2013, Nortey picked up exactly where he left off by scoring 10 goals. Obviously, if the trend holds, he’s due for another double-digit goalscoring season, but Nortey is an exceptionally quick and pesky striker, so we could be looking at way more than 11 goals by the end of what is technically his junior year.
Jordan Morris, F, Stanford (sophomore)
The Cardinal have a truly terrifying striker tandem this year in Morris (pictured right) and senior Zach Batteer. Morris, a Seattle Sounders academy product, was second on the team last year with six goals as a freshman. With a full season under his belt and facing a conference that lost a ton of talented defenders this offseason, Morris is going to get his chance to shine.