A new season of college soccer is right around the corner, and as MLS academies continue to grow, college programs are benefiting more from the talent coming through the league's youth system.
A number of top college recruits are affiliated with MLS clubs across the US, and with most preseason camps across the country opening on Wednesday, there were plenty of academy players looking to integrate themselves before the new season starts in two weeks.
With that, here are eight players to watch this coming year (MLS academy teams listed in parentheses):
F Sean Okoli, Wake Forest (Seattle Sounders FC)
A forward/winger who scored 13 goals in 22 games for Seattle’s U-18 side, Okoli is going to be a big addition to Wake Forest’s offense this year as they look to recover from a disappointing 2011.
“He's a player with tremendous potential,” Wake Forest coach Jay Vidovich said in a press release. “He has soft feet and the pace to stretch other teams, and also [knows] how to combine with other players.”
D Boyd Okuwonu, North Carolina (FC Dallas)
FC Dallas’ youth program continues to groom exciting young prospects, and Okuwonu was part of the US U-18 side that competed at the recent Milk Cup. A versatile and athletic defender, Okuwonu can player either in the middle or on the right side of the back line. He’ll compete to start right off the bat.
MF Wil Trapp, Akron (Columbus Crew)
One of the Crew’s best prospects at the moment, Trapp (above right) is a central midfielder with good technique, athleticism and an innate ability to read the game. He’ll look to play a big part in Akron’s rebuilding project.
“I think he's going to excel at Akron and he’s a guy we’re certainly keeping an eye on,” Crew GM Brian Bliss told MLSsoccer.com earlier in the year.
D Jack Coleman, Indiana (FC Dallas)
The defender and captain of FC Dallas’ U-18 team that came up just short in the Developement Academy Finals should thrive under Todd Yeagley in his freshman year at Indiana. A tough and tenacious defender, he’ll continue to improve at the next level.
D/MF Tyler Rudy, Georgetown (D.C. United)
Another versatile talent, Rudy will stay local and play at nearby Georgetown after a successful stint with DC’s Academy. Rudy, who can play in central midfield or as an outside back, held his own in a reserve match with DC earlier in the year.
GK Keith Cardona, Maryland (New York Red Bulls)
With the departure of Zac MacMath to MLS after last fall, Maryland is in need of a new starting goalkeeper, and Red Bulls Academy product Cardona will fight for that chance. A good shot-stopper with a large 6-foot-4 frame, he’ll need to stay healthy in order to take the next step.
“Keith is a terrific young goalkeeper with tremendous potential,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said in a press release. "He has all of the qualities necessary to have a big impact in our program."
D DeAndre Yedlin, Akron (Seattle Sounders FC)
The heir apparent to Houston’s Kofi Sarkodie at right back, Yedlin is another exciting Seattle prospect heading to a big-time program. He’ll join forces at Akron with Caleb Porter, who spotted Yedlin at a US U-18 camp (Porter is an assistant with the U-18s).
MF Sean Davis, Duke (New York Red Bulls)
A workhorse for New York’s U-18s team last year, Davis is a former US Residency player from Bradenton, Fla., who is part of a loaded recruiting class for Duke. He’ll help the Blue Devils replace the Crew’s Cole Grossman.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.