Michigan - Five Star Recruiting Class - The consensus is that Michigan is going to be a very difficult opponent to face in 2013. That's what occurs when you finish the prior season strong, return a solid nucleus including your top three goal scorers, and bring on board one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
When Chaka Daley became the new head coach at Michigan last year he inherited a team that had gone 5-14-1 in 2011 and that most believed was several seasons away from having the ingredients needed to contend for a Big Ten title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Daley significantly accelerated the learning curve in his first season at the helm of the program by effectively merging together and maximizing the talents of his players. The end result was a 11-1-1 overall record in 2012, a 3-2-1 mark in Big Ten play, and an at-large invite to the NCAA Tourney.
The Wolverines advanced to the championship match of the Big Ten Tournament for the third time in the history of the program by topping Wisconsin and Northwestern and ended the 2012 season as the only team in the Big Ten to post a win over every team in the conference. They subsequently topped Niagara in the first round of the NCAA Tourney before falling to number five seed Akron in the second round.
This time last year Daley was busy trying to learn the skills of his players and the Michigan players were busy trying to become familiar with Daley's system of play and expectations. Those basic transition tasks are now successfully in the rearview mirror which means that Daley and his players will enter the 2013 season prepared to hit the ground running.
Daley will enter his second season with a "new look Michigan" team bolstered by an eleven member recruiting class that includes six incoming freshmen rated by College Soccer News as among the top 150 players in the class of 2013. The class also includes junior transfer midfielder Marcos Ugarte who has been a starter at Providence for the past two seasons. Defender Rylee Woods and midfielder Brett Nason who are rated by CSN as among the top fifty incoming freshmen in the country are among the marquee players in a group of newcomers that should compete for playing time and contribute right away.
Daley stated, "We believe that the quality of the incoming class can, and will, complement our returning group very nicely as we look to improve upon 2012 and build in to a nationally recognized program on a consistent basis."
Any successful youth movement requires solid senior leadership. That responsibility will likely fall largely on the shoulders of senior defender Ezekiel Harris (1g, 0a) who has been a starter for the past three seasons and senior midfielders Fabio Peira (6g, 8a) and Dylan Mencia (1g, 1a).
The Wolverines will be without the services of midfielder Latif Alashe (2g, 1a) due to graduation. Alshe was a four-year starter and highly regarded team leader. However the Wolverine midfield has the potential to be extremely productive in 2013 beginning with redshirt junior Tyler Arnone (5g, 5a) who was a 2012 All-Big Ten First Team selection. Arnone is a very gifted and creative playmaker who will be at the heart of the Michigan offense in 2013.
Arnone is among the top players in the Big Ten and is likely the key to the Michigan attack but he's not the team's only offensive talent. Fabio Pereira, who was Michigan's top goal scorer last year, joins Arnone in the midfield to add another dynamic dimension to the offense. Together they combine to give Michigan a midfield duo that will be very dangerous. Dylan Menica, who missed a portion of the 2012 campaign due to injury, junior T.J. Vanslooten (0g, 1a) and redshirt sophomore Colin McAtee (1g, 1a) are among other returning linkmen who figure to be in the mix in 2013. Junior transfer Marcos Ugarte, who was an All-Big East Rookie Team selection at Providence under Daley in 2011, is an attack minded midfielder who should fit in nicely in either a central role or outside wide. Sophomore Jack Brown who is from Ann Arbor also looks to be in the hunt for playing time in the midfield or in the back.
Senior T.J. Roehn (4g, 4a), who transferred to Michigan last year after two seasons at South Florida, returns up-top to give the Maize and Blue a back to goal target player. His productivity could be the X-Factor in the Michigan offense in 2013. If healthy and on top of his game Roehn has the potential to add an additional element to the Wolverine offense. Sophomore forward James Murphy (3a, 2a), a 2012 All-Big Ten Freshman selection, also returns up-top with the benefit of a year of experience under his belt. If Murphy is able to successfully leverage the experience he gained last year to improve his game then he could be a real difference maker in 2013. Senior Malcolm Miller who saw action in thirteen contests last year is among other returning forwards.
Some rebuilding will be required in the backline due to the graduation of Kofi Opare and Brian Klemczak who were rock solid four year starters. However Ezekiel Harris and redshirt junior NIck Lewin do return to give Daley a solid foundation upon which to build. Levin and Harris will be counted on to provide leadership and stability in the back. Newcomers Andre Morris, Lars Eckenrode, and Andre Morris are all highly regarded and should compete for playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
Redshirt junior Adam Grinwis from Ada, Michigan who has been the starter in goal for the past two seasons returns to give the Maize and Blue a talented, experienced, and composed presence between the pipes. Grinwis, a 2012 All-Big Ten Second Team selection, is considered by many to be among the top shot stoppers in the country. Last year he posted six clean sheets and had a 1.11 goals against average. Without Opare and Klemczak on the pitch, Grinwis will need to assume more of a leadership role in 2013 in assisting the less experience defenders who will face a learning curve.
All things considered the Michigan coaching staff has to feel good about the progress the program made last year. However the words complacency and status quo do not appear to be a part of the vocabulary at Michigan.
The Wolverines face the challenge of a brutal schedule in 2013 that includes non-conference games with the likes of Notre Dame, Akron, Creighton, Marquette, South Florida, and West Virginia. In addition the Big Ten will again be extremely competitive from top to bottom. In addition, Daley and his staff face the very real challenge of molding a talented recruiting class in with the returning players while creating a unified culture that will enable Michigan to successfully compete at the highest level on a consistent basis.
The Wolverines should be very competitive in 2013 but lack of depth across the board is a concern. It also remains to be seen whether the heralded freshmen can live up to their reputations.
Michigan is not one of the frontrunners in the Big Ten race heading into the 2013 season. However, that could change as the season progresses. Clearly this is a team that should not be taken lightly.
Tyler Anderson - Midfielder - Bloomington, Minnesota - Jefferson High School - All-State selection. Played club for the Minnesota Thunder Academy.
Lars Eckenrode - Defender - Springfield, Virginia - West Springfield High School - Played for DC United Academy for three seasons. Rated by CSN as the number 64 player in the class of 2013.
Ali Jawad - Forward - Dearborn Heights, Michigan - Dearborn High School - Played club with the Michigan Wolves. Eighty goals and fifty-one assists in high school.
Michael Kapitula - Midfield - North Caldwell, New Jersey - Seton Hall Prep - Played for New York Red Bull Academy for five years. All-State Third Team selection as a junior.
Grant Mattia - Goalkeeper - Macomb Township, Michigan - De La Salle Collegiate - Played for Crew Soccer Academy Wolves for three seasons.
Andre Morris - Defender - Kentwood, Michigan - East Kentwood High School - Played for the Crew Soccer Academy. All-Michigan selection. Rated by CSN as the #96 player in the class of 2013.
Brett Nason - Midfield - Melville, New York - Half Hollow West High School. Plays for the Albertson FC. All-League selection. All-Nassau County. Rated by CSN as the #47 player in the class of 2013.
George Tsirukis - Forward - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania - Moravian Academy - Played for FC Delco. Named Lehigh Valley MVP. Rated by CSN as the #120 player in the class of 2013.
Rylee Woods - Defender - Jamestown, Ohio - Greeneview High School - Crew Soccer Academy Wolves. All-Ohio Heritage Conference. All-State. Rated by CSN as the #26 player in the class of 2013.
Marcos Ugarte - Midfield - Providence, Rhode Island - Providence College - Junior transfer from Providence. Started as a freshman and sophomore. Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year.