Losing starters is the norm in college soccer; some graduate, others sign professional contracts. After winning the national championship last year, the University of Akron was hit hard by departures.
In all, seven starters moved on from Akron. The aftermath left head coach Caleb Porter and his coaching staff with a lot of work to do. To rebuild, Porter, now entering his sixth season in charge of the Zips, plucked talent from three continents, bringing in 16 new players hoping to start a new cycle of success.
However, it will be his four starters who remain from last year — goalkeeper David Meves, defender Chad Barson, midfielder Scott Caldwell and forward Darren Mattocks — who will lead the team this year.
“The four returning guys, they’re going to be the backbone,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “Those guys have been tremendous [in preseason], and we knew they would be.”
Along with that quartet, Porter’s recruiting class was comprehensive and highly talented. It included a handful of transfers, as well as overseas players from England, South Africa and Jamaica.
While leaning on the experienced players is one key to this season, some of the fresh faces will have to step up, and Porter estimated that they may end up starting five or six freshman.
Two players in particular have stood out to him: midfielder Wil Trapp (Crew Soccer Academy) and defender Bryan Gallego (New York Red Bulls Academy) both have the look of possible starters and bring US youth national team experience with them.
“I knew those two guys would do well, and they’ve not disappointed,” Porter said. “I think a big reason is they’ve played at the international level, so their maturity [and] experience is above what most freshmen come in with.”
Other newcomers have been a pleasant surprise, including left back David Mayer from Wigan’s youth academy in England, and DeAndre Yedlin, another US youth pool player who could be starting on the right in defense.
Even with so much youth, expectations aren’t tempered; Porter is still confident that this team will peak at the right time to contend for a national title at the end of the season.
“We’re not defending anything,” Porter said. “This is a new team, this is a new season. Everybody else has a new team as well, so our mindset isn’t to defend the national title, our mindset is to attack the national title.”
One of the players with the most on his shoulders will be Mattocks. The Jamaican forward led the way with 18 goals last year, benefiting from the talented supporting cast. However, he’s had to adjust to life without Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Darlington Nagbe and Michal Nanchoff, who set the table on a number of Mattocks’ 2010 tallies.
“He needed time to come into an increased role where there’s a bit more pressure now and he’s not just popping up and finishing the play, now he’s got to carry the team,” Porter said of his striker.
The new challenge begins on Saturday, when Akron hosts Cleveland State.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.