This thursday will see Pac-12 men’s soccer teams kick off the 2021 fall season with Stanford traveling to Dallas To Face a very talented and hungry SMU team, Washington hosts uc Davis, california takes on Saint Mary’s in Moraga, UCLa entertains Lipscomb and san diego state hosts csun. oregon state gets underway on friday when they host denver.
stanford enters the campaign as the reigning pac-12 champions after dethroning washington. the huskies will have their sights set on reclaiming the title that they won in 2019.
whatever the result at the end of the season, there’s little doubt that this is the competiton to watch for exciting young talent.
The Title Race
Stanford will look to retain the title they won in the spring, entering the fall season as the number one team in the conference. Anything other than a successful defense of the title would be a huge surprise. Junior Ousseni Bouda, the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, returns to a team boasting the current PAC-12 best player in redshirt senior All-American Zach Ryan. An exit in the third round of the NCAA tournament will fuel the Cardinals ambitions in the fall. Jeremy Gunn will make them a more proactive and tactically diverse team with the return of Bouda who gives them pace and unpredictability in the offense.
Washington will look to put a dent in Stanford’s title hopes buoyed by the return of preseason first team All American performers in junior midfielder Dylan Teves and junior defender Charlie Ostrem as well as All Pac 12 defender redshirt senior Ryan Sailor. The Huskies are best placed to challenge Stanford, although there is a sense that Jaime Clark’s side is stronger as a team both on the offense and defensive sides of the ball going into the fall than they were in the spring 2021 season. That’s saying a lot about the Huskies considering they played some of the best soccer of any team in the country during the spring 2021 season.
Despite the disappointment of only finishing third in the PAC 12 standings in the spring season and crashing out of the NCAA tournament in heart breaking fashion to Virginia Tech, Oregon State will have the opportunity to build on what was a positive campaign overall in the spring. The loss of Herman trophy winner and top scorer Gloire Amanda to the professional ranks will be a big blow to Terry Boss’s side. If the Beavers are to have any chance of challenging Stanford and Washington, they will need junior playmaker Sofiane Djeffal, a College Soccer News Preseason All-America selection, at his absolute best.
UCLA has gone through a rebuilding phase in the last couple of seasons. A group of promising young players have been carefully pieced together in Los Angeles. The Bruins have had to hit reset. However, a lot can be expected of this new group heading into the fall season with eyes on upsetting the dominance of Stanford and Washington in the last few years, as well as a trip back to the NCAA tournament. The addition of forward Jose Contell Lechon and a host of talented prospects is potentially exciting.
Having been at their lowest ebb for some time San Diego State has gradually improved under Ryan Hopkins. There’s still some things to like about San Diego State going into this fall season: senior midfielder and captain Laukoa Santos will have to be at the peak of his powers to lead a relatively young Aztec team if they are to make some noise in the PAC 12 this fall. Hopkins enters his second season at the helm of the program looking to build on the progress made thus far since his appointment in January of 2020. The timing of his appointment and subsequent events surrounding the pandemic means Hopkins will be excited for his first fall season at the helm.
California has been hampered by injuries but will be optimistic this season. The Golden Bears under Kevin Grimes will be looking to push towards the top of the table. Upward movement upward movement in the Pac-12 will depend heavily on the performance of the seniors. Improvement in the consistency of play on both sides of the ball is needed in order for the Golden Bears to make a push to the top of the Pac-12 table. The Golden Bears could be the surprise team in the Pac-12 if they can find a way to stay in and close out games. They have the talent and technical know-how on board to be very competitive.
Players to Watch
Ousseni Bouda, Stanford
The standout winger caught the eye in his freshman season, earning PAC 12 freshman of the year accolades in 2019. After missing the spring season Jeremy Gunn and his staff will look to ease him back into the fold, the Burkinabes skill, vision and creativity could prove crucial to Stanford’s hopes of returning to the college cup.
Dylan Teves, Washington
After a handful of superb displays for the Huskies in the Spring, Teves is Washington’s headline returnee for the fall season. Much of the creative responsibility will fall to him. If the spring 2021 season is anything to go by we should be in for another great season from the First Team All-American.
Zach Ryan, Stanford
Ryan is the PAC-12’s superstar. The reigning player of the year is a handful for any defense. He constantly finds himself in dangerous areas during a match making it difficult for opposing players to track his whereabouts on the field of play. His all-action style is a key weapon for Stanford and he can defend too.
Sofiane Djeffal, Oregon State
The Beavers captain was hampered by injuries in the later part of last season, which did not stop the French native from recording six goals and two assists. Djeffal is unashamedly direct and prodigiously skillful. He will need to add a consistent stream of goals especially with the departure of forward Gloire Amanda (15g, 7a), the 2020 MAC Hermann Trophy winner.
Charlie Ostrem, Washington
Washington’s defense proved to be one of the best in the nation in the spring, thanks in large part to Pac-12 2020 Defensive Player of the Year Ostrem. The junior defender will be looking to build on an outstanding spring season.
This Fall 2021 season looks set to be another exciting one in the PAC 12. Stanford will be under pressure as reigning champions to defend their title, but it is not going to be an easy feat to accomplish with a chasing pack of determined teams Pac-12 filled with young talent eager to take over the top spot.
Dela Agbotse is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture from Stanford Athletics