Justin Meram notched 12 goals this season for the Michigan Wolverines.
U-M Athletic Communication

Ten players to watch at NCAA Tournament

There’s a huge difference between regular and postseason college soccer. In the playoffs, the stakes are raised and one misstep can be the difference between moving on and going home.

With the pressure on, coaches hope that they can get big performances from their big players. Here’s a look at 10 of the season's best who could prove to be the difference between the next round and a trip home.

Justin Meram, Michigan, FW

One part of a three-pronged strike force in Ann Arbor, Meram’s experience as a senior will be almost as vital as his 12 goals were for the Wolverines this year. He stepped up big time in the Big 10 tournament final against Penn State. If that continues, Michigan is going to be tough to shut down.

Kofi Sarkodie, Akron, D

Anytime a right back can tally seven goals and assist on five while in your starting lineup, he’s certainly a special player. Such is the case for Sarkodie, the US youth international who adds exciting pace and a seemingly unstoppable element to the Akron attack.

[inline_node:320378]Ben Sippola, Butler, FW

Not many folks knew the Northfield, Minn., senior before the start of the season, but the midfielder’s eight goals and nine assists led the undefeated Bulldogs. He will need to replicate that form to assure a Butler run.

Tony Cascio, Connecticut, FW

Cascio is the linchpin of a talented Connecticut attack, and the onus will fall on his shoulders to make sure the inconsistent Huskies comes out firing. With the best defense in the league, Cascio must get on track and ignite Connecticut's offense to put the Huskies within College Cup reach.

A.J. Soares, Cal, D

The Pac-10 Player of the Year is one of the most important for the Golden Bears. A towering central defender, Soares’ leadership is key to keeping the defense organized.

[inline_node:323611]Will Bruin, Indiana, FW

Some have contested whether or not the Hoosiers rate as a top 16 seed, but with Bruin hungry and ready to battle for the national scoring lead (his 16 goals are just two off the lead), Indiana should be able to quiet the doubters and string together a couple of wins. 

Matt Kassel, Maryland, MF

Even with so many weapons at the Terps’ disposal, a lot of the playmaking falls on the shoulders of Kassel, a product of the New York Red Bull Academy. The midfielder has shown a nose for goal this season with eight tallies, while also leading Maryland with nine assists.

Charlie Rugg, Boston College

BC’s goal-scoring leader is reminiscent of former Eagle Charlie Davies – this stage will test Rugg to see if he is capable of taking his game to the next level.

F Colin Rolfe, Louisville, FW

[inline_node:323613]The junior forward has gone from pure goal scorer to a dual threat, turning provider on five goals to go with six scores of his own. His all-around improvement is one of many reasons the Cardinals have enjoyed a high level of success in 2010.

Kirk Urso, North Carolina, MF

For a team to be battered so much by injury, Urso was the glue that held things together for the Tar Heels. Unless one of the unproven forwards steps up in the tournament, the responsibility will once again fall on Urso and the midfield.

Honorable Mentions

Ryan Finley (Duke, FW), Soony Saad (Michigan, FW), Anthony Ampaipitakwong (Akron, MF), Tyler Polak (Creighton, D), Zac MacMath (Maryland, GK)

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