UCLA – The Bruins' stock surged upward when All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year midfielder Leo Stolz indicated he was going to return for his senior season. Add to that the return of an experienced backline that includes veteran goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. and backs Michael Amick and Nathan Smith who now have a year of starting experience under their belts as well as Aaron Simmons and Grady Howe who will add value in the midfield or in the back. Jordan Vale and a healthy Brian Iloski are among others who should make an impact in the midfield. Top that off with a group of newcomers that includes highly productive junior transfer forward Larry Ndjock who will immediately add an additional dimension to the Bruin offensive and highly regarded incoming freshman forward Adu Danladi and the prognosis looks very good for UCLA heading into the 2014 campaign.
Virginia – George Gelnovatch fielded a very young but talented Cavalier team in 2013 that delivered a year ahead of schedule when they advanced to the College Cup. Just about everyone returns in 2014 with the exception of freshman midfielder Jordan Allen who signed a Homegrown contract with Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer and defender Kevin McBride who graduated. The Cavaliers should hit the ground running with Eric Bird (7g, 5a), Darius Madison (6g, 3a), Ryan Zinkhan (5g, 0a), Todd Wharton (6g, 3a) Riggs Lennon (5g, 2a) and Marcus Salandy-Defour (3g, 4a) among those returning to power the attack and a backline that will include Scott Thomsen, Matt Brown, Kyler Sullivan and Patrick Foss among others along with goalkeepers Jeff Gal and Calle Brown.
Georgetown – The Hoyas must fill the void that exists due to the graduation of forward Steve Neumann who was the 2013 Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Joey Dillon who was named the Big East Co-Midfielder of the Year but a very solid core returns including All-American forward Brandon Allen (11g, 5a), Tomas Gomez who was the 2013 Co-Big East Goalkeeper of the Year, and defenders Joshua Yaro who had a brilliant freshman season despite missing four contests due to a broken arm, and Keegan Rosenberry. Midfielder Alex Muyl (4g, 9a) is among other returning players who lived up to high expectations as a freshman. Reinforcements are also on the way in the form of another very impressive recruiting class that includes highly touted midfielders Arun Basuljevic and Christopher Lema out of the New York Red Bulls Academy.
Marquette – The Golden Eagles returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2012 since the 1997 campaign. They earned a repeat invite in 2013 and earned their first ever win in the NCAA Tournament. This is a program that first had to learn to win and then had to learn how to win the big games. With C. Nortey (10g, 2a) scheduled to return up-top, Axel Sjoberg in the back and Charlie Lyon in goal the Golden Eagles should be very competitive again in 2014. The 2013 recruiting class that included midfielder Louis Bennett II (4g, 5a) and forward Coco Navarro (3g, 5a) lived up to its reputation as the best recruiting class in the history of the program. Marquette under the direction of head coach Louis Bennett will be very capable of accomplishing additional program firsts in 2014.
Connecticut – The Huskies will be without All-American Andre Blake who became the first goalkeeper to be the number one pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Blake recorded a total of thirty-six clean sheets during his three year tenure at Connecticut. They also must replace forward Mamadou Diouf and ironman midfielder George Fochive among others. However, a solid contingent is slated to return led by rising senior playmaker midfielder Adria Beso (0g, 10a) as well as forward Cyle Larin (14g, 3a) who was the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, forward Nicholas Zuniga (4g, 3a) and defender Kwame Awuah who had outstanding freshmen seasons. Center back Sergio Campbell returns to anchor what should again be a rock solid Connecticut defense.
UAB – The Blazers led the nation in scoring last year averaging 2.39 goals per game. With their top-three scorers slated to return, forward Freddy Ruiz (11g, 4a), co-captain midfielder Alex Clay (8g, 6a) and forward Diego Navarrete (6g, 7a), UAB should again find the back of the net on a regular basis in 2014. Forward Rami Dajani (4g, 2a) who saw action in all of UAB's contests last year as a freshman is among others who will add punch to the attack. Rising senior back co-captain Darion Copeland who has been a starter since arriving on campus will anchor the defense.
UC Santa Barbara – The Gauchos must replace a solid senior class that included forward Achille Campion, center back Peter Schmetz and midfielders Fifi Baiden and Goffin Boyoko but there are plenty of reasons to feel upbeat about UCSB heading into the 2014 campaign. Tim Vom Steeg's 2013 recruiting class leaned less heavily on transfers and featured more true freshmen than in the past and they delivered which bodes well for the future of the program. Forward Ismaila Jome was named to the All-Big West First Team and was the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year. Goalkeeper Josh McNeely, midfielders Drew Murphy and Paul Ehmann, and defender Nick DePuy all had outstanding rookie seasons. The 2014 UCSB recruiting haul that features incoming freshman midfielder Adonis Amaya looks to be among the best classses top to bottom in the country.
Navy – The Mids have some gaps to fill due to the departure of a very productive senior class from the 2013 team that was 16-3-2 overall, won the Patriot League Regular Season and Tournament Championships, and earned a berth in the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 1971. Midfielder Martin Sanchez (2g, 10a) in particular will be difficult to replace but with forward Jamie Dubyoski , the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, and the center back duo of Joseph Greenspan, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, and Derek Vogel among those scheduled to return in 2014 you can expect Dave Brandt to again field a team that will win a lot of games.
Syracuse – Another very talented and experienced recruiting class is on its way to Syracuse to join a team that returns forward Emil Ekblom (10g, 3a) and midfielder Alex Halis (6g, 1a) who had banner freshman seasons. The Orange also return goalkeeper Alex Bono who is among the best at his trade in the college ranks and rising senior midfielder Nick Perea to a program that should again have a ten plus win season. Syracuse experienced some growing pains in 2013 due to the transition to the Atlantic Coast Conference. With a year of ACC play behind them look for the Orange to pick up more wins in conference play in 2014 than they did in 2013.
Stanford – It took Jeremy Gunn five seasons to put together a team at Charlotte that was good enough to advance to the College Cup. The 2014 season will be Gunn's third as the head coach at Stanford so it's unlikely but not out of the picture that he will duplicate that feat at Stanford. The Cardinal took a step forward last year when they had a ten win season and qualified for the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2009. They advanced past Loyola Marymount and Cal State Northridge to reach the Sweet Sixteen before losing to fellow Pac-12 member Washington. Holding midfielder JJ Koval, goalkeeper Drew Hutchings and outside back Tyler Conklin were the only seniors on the 2013 roster which means that a solid foundation is in place heading into the 2014 season. First Team All-Pac-12 forwards Zach Batteer (9g, 3a) and Jordan Morris (6g, 7a) return to give the Cardinal one of the strongest forward duos in the country. Rising junior Aaron Kovar is among a solid group of returning linkmen. Center backs Brandon Vincent and Matt Taylor along with Brian Nana-Sinkham provide a nucleus for a very solid backline.
Washington – In the past the norm for even the very best Washington teams was an NCAA Tourney berth and a one game appearance in the NCAA Tourney. In fact, prior to 2013 no Washington team had ever won more than a single game in NCAA Tourney play. That glass ceiling was shattered by the 2013 team that won the Pac-12 title for the first time since 2000, was awarded the number two seed in the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the Elite Eight. The Huskies lose All-American defender Taylor Peay and defender Michael Harris whose signature flip throws will also be missed on the offensive side of the ball. They also with be without midfielder Brad Jacobson who transferred in from Dartmouth with only one season of eligibility. Darwin Jones (7g, 4a) a First Team 2013 All-Pac-12 selection and rising sophomore Mason Robertson (6g, 0a) are slated to return up-top. Midfielder Cristian Roldan (7g, 5a), the 2013 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and center mid and team catalyst James Moberg (1g, 9a) also return. As a result the prognosis for Washington looks really good heading into the 2014 campaign. It remains to be seen whether or not the Huskies can repeat the level of success that they enjoyed in 2013. What we do know for sure is that no program in the country has more momentum than Washington.
Maryland – There are unanswered questions at this point regarding exactly what the Terp lineup will look like on the offensive side of the ball in 2014 due to departures up-top that included the graduation of All-American Patrick Mullins and the decision of Schillo Tshuma to leave early to enter the professional ranks. Mullins, who found the back of the net forty-seven times during his tenure at College Park, was the MAC Hermann Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013 becoming just the seventh person to ever win the trophy in back-to-back seasons. Tshuma netted sixteen goals during his two-year stay at Maryland. The good news is that the Terps return a very solid and now experienced group on the defensive side of the ball including All-ACC First team defensive midfielder Dan Metzger and All-ACC Second Team back Mikey Ambrose in addition to a rock solid group of rising sophomores including backs Suli Dainkeh, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Michael Sauers, and Alex Crognale and goalkeeper Zack Steffen who now have a year of starting experience. You need look no further than the fact that Sasho Cirovski has taken the Terps to the College Cup (Final Four) eight out of the past sixteen seasons to conclude that this is a program that reloads rather than rebuilds. When Maryland has a down season, and by down we mean a season in which they do not advance to the College Cup, it occurs when they have several players leave early to enter the professional ranks in addition to the normal attrition due to graduation. Tsubasa Endoh (6g, 1a) and David Kabelik (2g, 0a) are among returning players who Cirovski will likely look to for offensive production.
Creighton – After playing their way into the College Cup in 2011 and 2012 you might say the worm turned for the Bluejays in 2013 when they completed the season with a 9-9-2 overall record that included a disappointing 2-1 loss to Seattle out of the Western Athletic Conference in the friendly confines of Morrison Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The bottom line at Creighton in 2013 was they were unable to win the close contests that they found a way to win the prior two seasons. All of their losses in 2013 were by a single goal. The biggest concern at Creighton, if there is one, is the fact that the quality of their play declined rather than improved last year as the season progressed. In sports it's often all about "what have you done for me lately" but it is hard to find fault with Creighton head coach Elmar Bolowich whose impressive streak of five consecutive seasons at the College Cup (three at North Carolina and two at Creighton) came to an end last year. So the bottom line is that it's likely that Bolowich and the Bluejays will rebound in 2014 but for that to happen this is a team that is going to have to improve on both sides of the ball. Key loses include defender Eric Miller who departed early to enter the professional ranks and midfielders Zach Barnes and Bruno Castro who graduated. Rising senior Timo Pitter (7g, 4a) who led the Bluejays in scoring the past two seasons will again play a key role in the attack. Midfielders Fabian Herbers, who missed a portion of the 2013 season due to injury, and highly regarded Ricardo Perez gained valuable experience as freshmen that should enable them to hit the ground running in 2014. Incoming freshman forward Ricky Lopez-Espin is a potential impact player with the size and skill to add an additional dimension to be attack up-top. Jose Ribas and Brendan Hines-Ike and goalkeeper Alex Bolowich are among returning players who will likely set the pace on the defensive side of the ball.
Notre Dame – Like all the great coaches Bobby Clark has his own system or approach that always produces a very competitive team that can hold its own with anyone but not necessarily a team that will make a deep run in NCAA Tournament play. That is until last year when everything fell into place and the result was a National Championship. All-American Harry Shipp was the difference maker in 2013 who made everything come together. Shipp always seemed to come up with the big play when the Irish needed it to prevail while also doing the things he needed to do to make good things happen for his teammates. One player does not make a great team but what Shipp brought to the pitch for the Irish last year will be difficult to replicate. Ditto that for defender Grant Van De Casteele who was a strong leader on the field. However, with eight starters returning from the 2013 National Championship team, Clark should again field a team that will be a force to contend with in 2014. Midfielder Nick Besler is a prime timer and the guy who will serve as the crucial link between the defense and the offense. Midfielder Patrick Hodan (11g, 5a) and high striker Vince Cicciarelli (6g, 3a),who sustained a broken collar bone in the NCAA Final, are among returning players who will add offensive firepower. Defender Andrew O'Malley and athletic goalkeeper Patrick Wall are likely the guys who will set the pace for the team and anchor what should again be a solid Irish defense.
North Carolina – The difference between a great and a good season can often be slight. In North Carolina's case offensive productivity, or more precisely the lack of it, hampered the Tar Heels effectiveness last year. Things don't always go as planned and what looks like a deep roster can change significantly due to a few key injuries as UNC experienced last year. The old adage that defense wins championships has merit but that is predicated on a certain level of offensive productivity. The Tar Heels were 9-6-5 last year and their season ended with a 1-0 loss to U.C. Irvine on the road in the second round of the NCAA Tourney. Statistics can be misleading but they can also be revealing. Last year the Heels held opponents to a total of only thirteen goals but were only able to find the back of the net a total of nineteen times. Compare that with a sixteen win season in 2012 in which the Heels scored a total of thirty-three goals while allowing seven and a twenty-one win season in 2011 in which they scored a total of fifty-three while allowing only eighteen and you get the picture. With power forwards Rob Lovejoy and Andy Craven and midfielder Nyambi Jabang who all missed the 2013 campaign due to injury now healthy and scheduled to return in 2014 you can expect a significant increase in offensive productivity. Forwards Tyler Engel (6g, 2a) and Cooper Vandermass-Peeler (3g, 4a) and midfielder Omar Holness (2g, 3a) are among returning players who will also contribute to the Tar Heel offense.