Eriq Zavaleta
Photo courtesy of Indiana University

NCAA College Cup: Five players to watch this weekend college soccer writer Daniel Robertson looks at the five best MLS prospects competing in this weekend’s NCAA College Cup, listed in alphabetical order.

1. Jose Gomez – Senior Midfielder – Creighton

Playing in Omaha, away from any MLS market, Gomez has flown a little bit under the radar during his college career. But that’s all about to change. The attacking midfielder from Southern California wasn’t even on the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list at the start of the year, but is now one of three finalists for the NCAA player of the year.

Gomez is almost as pure an attacking midfielder as you’ll find, most comfortable in the traditional No. 10 role, though he will be pushed up to forward for Creighton when the situation dictates. MLS scouts are no doubt divided on whether his skills can translate to the next level, but with the spotlight squarely on Gomez at the College Cup, his stock could quickly rise.

2. Patrick Mullins – Junior Forward – Maryland

Mullins is your typical hard-working college forward who has put together three very good years at Maryland. That being said, he broke out in a huge way in 2012 with a 16-goal, six-assist campaign, good for seventh in the NCAA in points.

Mullins is one of three finalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy and could be in line for a Generation adidas contract in a few weeks’ time. His strengths lie in a strong left foot and good finishing sense that should translate to the next level.

3. Steve Neumann – Junior Midfielder – Georgetown

Few players can raise their profile in this year’s College Cup more than the junior attacking midfielder from Pennsylvania. Neumann has certainly been on Big East radars, making All-Big East in both his freshman and sophomore years, but with Georgetown on the national stage at the College Cup, this will be the first time many have seen the attacker in action.

Neumann has a relatively free role behind Brandon Allen, roaming around to find spots in the midfield to exploit. One of the final 15 players nominated for the MAC Hermann Trophy, Neumann racked up seven goals and 13 assists for one of the most prolific point totals in the country.

4. London Woodberry – Senior Defender – Maryland

Folks around FC Dallas circles have been grumbling this offseason about how their much-hyped youth academy has produced a national champion, but not a single player has made an impact on the first team. That should change if they can lock down Woodberry to a Homegrown deal after the College Cup.

The 6-foot-1 senior was rumored to have turned down an offer from FC Dallas last year to come back for one final shot at a College Cup and that decision has certainly paid off. While he plays at center back for Maryland, Woodberry likely slots in as an outside back at the professional level. His biggest strengths are a strong aerial game and good positioning sense, but Woodberry will need to improve his passing out of the back if he ends up playing for Schellas Hyndman.

5. Eriq Zavaleta – Sophomore Forward – Indiana

One of the most hyped players in the NCAA this year, and for good reason, Zavaleta (above) is the rare top-of-the-line NCAA forward that can likely contribute immediately to any MLS squad. The comparisons with fellow Hoosier Will Bruin are inevitable, but Zavaleta’s game is much more technical.

He has the size and aerial ability to play as a target forward, but many times you’ll see him drift wide and take on a defender, a la New York’s Kenny Cooper. Incredibly, Zavaleta has spent time with MLS academies in Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake and Columbus, but he is very much MLS-draft eligible when the time is right. Should he bang in a few more goals in Hoover and earn a Generation adidas contract, that time could come in just a handful of weeks.

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