As the season quickly approaches, every player is fighting for a starting spot on their respective teams. This task becomes even more difficult for incoming freshmen that have yet to experience the collegiate game. This following list is made up of a special group of true freshmen that College Soccer News believes will make the biggest impact on their team this year.
Jordan Allen (Virginia): The top rated player in this list, Allen is ranked 3rd in the country among incoming freshmen and is sure to not disappoint. The versatile athlete played midfield for his academy, outside back for the US U-18s, but appears to be playing a role up top for the Cavaliers. Allen has great experience with the US youth national teams, which should translate well to the collegiate game. The Real Salt Lake academy product is equal with both feet, something that should allow him to play in any position in the front three for the Cavs. The 2011-2012 USSDA player of the year has impressed thus far during preseason and looks poised for a starting role in the team that is ranked 14 by College Soccer News. Expect Allen to thrive in Charlottesville and become a future homegrown player with Real Salt Lake of the MLS.
Tommy Thompson (Indiana): Hoosier fans shouldn’t worry despite the loss of former Indiana striker, Eriq Zavaleta. Thompson, ranked 37 by College Soccer News should be the new target man for Indiana. The Hoosier army are familiar with big powerful forwards recently with 6’2” Will Bruin from 2008-2010 and then 6’1” Eriq Zavaleta until 2012, but Thompson brings in a different style of play to the team. The 5’7” San Jose Earthquakes academy product is a technical and extremely athletic forward who can play with his back to goal as well as being able to beat people off the dribble. Thompson has arguably the best midfield in the country behind him led by junior Dylan Mares and senior A.J Corrado and Nikita Kotlov who can all distribute the ball to the lone striker. Expect Thompson to shine in Coach Yeagley’s system and be a contributor for years to come.
Adam Najem (Akron): The AK Rowdies may have found a new favorite player as Adam Najem comes onto Cub Cadet Field this year. The New York Red Bulls academy product Najem is a real gem to watch as he combines his one-on-one explosiveness with the sleek technical aspect of the game. Najem, ranked 19 by College Soccer News has thrived thus far for the Zips during preseason scoring two goals and recording an assist in a 4-1 rout over Marshall University. Najem has seen time with the US youth national teams in the past and is definitely one of the Akron’s stars entering the season. With former Akron midfielders Will Trapp and Dillon Serna deciding to leave early for the MLS, spots are up for grabs in the middle of the park. The squad, ranked 9 by CSN needs a maestro in the midfield and Najem provides the team with a player who can set players up as well as having a knack for scoring, especially from long range. Coach Embick, entering his first season with the team wants to start off on the right foot and Najem is a player that will help them do just that.
Alex Crognale (Maryland): It’s not everyday you see a 6’5” center back playing division one soccer…Well unless you’re from College Park. Crognale, ranked 48 by College Soccer News has drawn comparisons to former towering Terps defenders Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson. Head Coach Sacho Cirovski has named Crognale a starter, which says a lot coming from the Maryland coaching legend. The Columbus Crew academy product is very athletic, great in the air, and moves very well for his size. After last year’s loss to Georgetown, Cirovski vowed the team would be back to the College Cup and for that to happen, Crognale will need to have a stellar year defending in the top conference in the country. If the Terrapins, ranked 3 in the country by CSN have national championship aspirations, their defense will need to perform outstanding and Crognale is exactly the piece they need to succeed.
Erik Sa (Rutgers): The second New York Red Bulls academy product on the list, Erik Sa stays local going to the up and coming Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. Sa, ranked 23rd by College Soccer News joins the likes of sophomores Mael Corboz and Ross Tetro to form one of the most technical midfields in the country. Head Coach Dan Donigan has brought in talented local players in hopes of making a dynasty and Sa is a major piece to his plans. The creative midfielder, Sa captained his USSDA Red Bulls academy side during a great season, which culminated in a national championship. Sa will make an immediate impact for this young Scarlet Knight side who looks to bounce back after narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament this past year. The former US youth national teamer has tremendous on ball skill and will look to be a vital part of the team moving forward. Rutgers is on the cusp of being a great team and Sa is a player that can help them get there.
Jordan Morris (Stanford): The Cardinals pick up one of the most exciting young prospects in the country in winger, Jordan Morris. Morris, a Seattle Sounders academy is part of Head Coach Jeremy Gunn’s incoming class ranked 11 by College Soccer News. Morris only joined the MLS academy in 2012 and has since blossomed into a superstar. The blazing forward has had quite a year winning USSDA National Player of the Year along with the Washington state Gatorade Player of the Year award. The player who notched 27 goals in 28 games this past year in academy play earned a U-20 National Team call up and looks to only be getting better. Head Coach Jeremy Gunn brings in Morris hoping to replace 2012 first team All Pac 12 forward and current MLS rookie Alex Jahn. Morris hasn’t disappointed thus far scoring the game winner in the first preseason game against Sonoma State. Morris will be a handful for any opposition to control and is only going to improve. Expect Morris to be a standout for Stanford this year and if he excels a homegrown contract may be well on its way.
Billy McConnell (Indiana): The second Hoosier on the list is hailed by current head coach Jerry Yeagley as “the top defender in his class, in the nation”. McConnell, ranked 107 by College Soccer News has earned a starting role as center back for the defending national champions. The PDA/Philadelphia Union academy product is part of Coach Yeagley’s freshmen class ranked 7 in the country by CSN and is expected to be a key piece of the team’s success. McConnell will replace former captain and 2012 Big Ten All second team center defender Caleb Konstanski, as part of the defense, which only let up a conference best 18 goals last year. The gifted athlete McConnell is very versatile as he can play anywhere in the back or at defensive mid if injuries occur in the squad. The 5’10” freshman has seen time with the Philadelphia Union reserves and is definitely a prospect for the future.
Brody Huitema (Duke): The Blue Devils look to have found their first true goal scoring striker since Hermann Trophy award winner Andrew Wenger. Huitema, ranked 7 among incoming freshmen by College Soccer News combines all of what you look for in a natural number nine-type player. The Vancouver Whitecaps academy product has good hold up play and is excellent in the air. Huitema led all of development academy in goals with 30 goals in 29 games en route to a Finals Week appearance. The Canadian youth international is part of head coach John Kerr’s well-rounded recruiting class ranked 22 by CSN. Huitema’s play will be crucial to how much the Blue Devils accomplish this year. Coach Kerr has been very complimentary of 6’1” forward using words like “driven” and “strong” to access his future star’s play. Duke will rely on Huitema for goals this year and if the instinctive forward can find his form, the Blue Devils will be tough to stop.
Zack Steffen (Maryland): The factory of Maryland goalkeepers continues once again as head coach Sacho Cirovski brings in the top goalkeeper in the class, Zack Steffen. Steffen, ranked 10 by College Soccer News is a physical beast in goal. Coach Cirovski proves he has faith in the freshman as Steffen has beaten out former US youth national team starting goalkeeper and current junior Keith Cardona, who compiled only one loss last season. Steffen himself has experience with the US youth national teams appearing at every age since U14 and even playing up in certain occasions like with the US U-20s this past year. The FC Delco/Philadelphia Union academy standout just turned eighteen years old and therefore has time to improve, which is a scary thought. Steffen has an extremely talented roster surrounding him, which should allow him to mature and mold into a star. Steffen has the capability of becoming a homegrown player with the Union or his dream of becoming a professional in Europe.
Alex Muyl (Georgetown): #43 The Hoyas faithful are in for a treat as they will experience the best trio of attacking players in the country this year. This tandem is made up of College Soccer News preseason All-Americans Steve Neumann and Brandon Allen, along with newcomer, freshman Alex Muyl. Muyl, ranked 43 by CSN only adds to the dynamic duo, which are Allen and Neumann. Muyl possesses strength, speed, and a wicked shot something that would benefit any program. Muyl most recently won his second USSDA national championship in as many years, both times being the team’s leading goal scorer. The 5’11” freshman has been part of the youth national team structure for the past three years and most recently represented the US U18s in the Milk Cup. Despite the Hoyas’ results this preseason, Muyl has performed well and will be in the discussion for a starting role. Whether Muyl is in the starting XI or coming off the bench behind two of the best forwards in the country, he will make an impact. Muyl is definitely a player to watch for the #2 ranked team in the country.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org