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2013 Big Ten Conference Preview - By Ben Roth

 

Possibly the most competitive conference in the country, the Big Ten, returns all seven elite members including defending national champion, Indiana.  The conference, which had four teams reach the NCAA tournament last year, will look to keep their stellar track record in regards to success in the tournament.  The annual race for the Big Ten title is always a tight one. The proof is in last year’s regular season winner, Penn State.  The Nittany Lions didn’t qualify for the NCAA tourney while the fifth place team, Michigan State went on to win the Big Ten tournament title and earn a tournament bid.  As preseason has opened and we’re on the verge of the regular season, it’s wide open as all seven teams are fighting for the coveted College Cup trophy with a chance to bring it back to the Big Ten’s possession for the 12th time in conference history.

Indiana (Favorite): The Hoosiers are coming off a historic season winning their fifth national championship in the last fifteen years and have a weight on their shoulders heading into 2013.  The eight time national champions return eight starters to a team that is ranked #1 by College Soccer News heading into their fall campaign.  The highly talented Hoosiers lose scoring sensation Eriq Zavaleta (18g, 4a) to the MLS along with pivotal seniors, but come locked and loaded for the upcoming season.  Head Coach Todd Yeagley, son of former Indiana coaching great Jerry Yeagley, brings in a five star recruiting class that will look to build on the national champions’ already impressive roster.

Yeagley brings in a seven man recruiting class and a transfer that has this year’s Hoosier class ranked #7 in the country according to College Soccer News.  Yeagley will hope his 2013 incoming freshman class can perform like last year’s and with four top 150 College Soccer News freshmen they might just do that.  The top rated recruit in the bunch is San Jose Earthquakes Academy forward Tommy Thompson ranked 37 by College Soccer News.  Thompson, a target forward has drawn excellent reviews from Earthquakes 1st team staff and thus may be eligible for a homegrown contract soon, but for now expect him to contribute immediately to the Hoosiers.  Tommy Thompson’s brother Tanner Thompson ranked 54 by College Soccer News is a great attack minded midfielder who plays well off his brother and should only improve this loaded midfield.  The top incoming defender is Billy McConnell ranked 107 by College Soccer News.  McConnell, a center back from PDA is a solid presence and is expected to gain significant minutes as a freshman in Bloomington.  The fourth member of the top 150 is 124th ranked player, goalkeeper Colin Webb who should compete for the starting role.  The biggest addition to the 2013 Indiana squad is without a doubt, Louisville transfer, Dylan Mares (7g, 6a).  The 2010 Big East freshman of the year, Mares is one of the nation’s top midfielder and with two year’s of eligibility remaining expect Mares to be a pivotal part of the Hoosiers future success.

Indiana looks to be a legitimate title contender once again with the return of eight starters and one of the most talented rosters in the country.  The goalkeeping position is one of the few question marks heading into the season as four-year starter Luis Soffner (0.93 GAA) graduates.  Whoever takes Soffner’s spot will have big shoes to fill, but will have a solid defense in front of them.  The back line loses center back and captain Caleb Konstanski (2g, 1a), but retains senior right back Matt McKain (24 starts, 2a) and center back Kerel Bradford.  Expect freshman Billy McConnell to slot into the talented backline at center back and Patrick Doody to go into the outside back position.

One of the best midfields in the country from 2012 looks to be even more improved heading into 2013.  The trio made up of Louisville transfer Dylan Mares, Nikita Kotlov (9g, 4a), and College Soccer News Preseason third team member AJ Corrado (1g, 12 a) may form the most creative midfield in the country.  Corrado especially creates something from nothing constantly and is a threat for any team to handle.  The flux of midfielders continues with seniors Jacob Bushue (1g, 5a) and Harrison Petts (1g, 2a) both expected to start.  Also 2012 Big Ten All Freshman, Richard Ballard and freshman Tanner Thompson should contribute to the midfield.  Coach Yeagley will have a great problem in his hands figuring out how to find playing time for all these talented players.  The biggest void in the squad is at the lone striker position with the loss of star forward Eriq Zavaleta.  The Hoosiers will most likely only deploy one forward again this season and expect a rotation of guys to be used.  The main players expected to be used are forward Femi Hollinger-Janzen (4g, 1a) and Tommy Thompson, who has started during preseason.  Hollinger-Janzen really made a name for himself in the College Cup and will look to earn a starting role and improve on last year’s numbers.  The competitors with Hollinger-Janzen will be natural goal scorer sophomore Andrew Oliver (8 starts, 2g).  The Hoosiers are definitely the conference favorites heading into 2013 and appear to be ready to vie for back-to-back national championships.

Michigan State (Experienced):  The Spartans come off a tremendous 12-10-1 season that saw the team reach the NCAA Tournament second round only to lose to number one seed Notre Dame.  The 2012 Big Ten Tournament Champs will look to avoid another slow start and will seek to maintain the the form in which they finished the 2012 season. Michigan State ranked #25 in the country by College Soccer News returns nine starters and is ranked #2 in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll.  Head Coach Damon Rensing, entering his fifth season as head coach of the Spartans, brings in a talented but relatively small recruiting class looking to build on last year’s successes.

Coach Rensing’s four-star recruiting class is comprised of five players, two of who are members of the College Soccer News top 150.  The top players in the class are midfielders Brian Winterfield and Dewey Lewis, ranked 138 and 143 by College Soccer News, respectively.  Winterfield, a talented playmaker out of Vardar Academy has the intangibles to play immediately in the Spartan program.  Lewis, the Michigan Gatorade player of the year is another crafty player who could gain significant time in the squad.   Coach Rensing brings in three more players all from the state of Michigan to round out this local recruiting class.  This group of players may be small in quantity, but they are all quality players whom are talented enough to improve the team for years to come.

Michigan State returns nine starters to an experienced roster, which includes six seniors and eight juniors.  The goalkeeping position will be a battle to the end between sophomore Zach Bennett and redshirt senior Bryce Dobbins.  While Dobbins struggled during the onset of the 2012 season, Bennett thrived going 9-4 to close out the year.  The strong back line returns valuable contributors led by redshirt senior Kevin Cope (23 starts, 1 a).  Cope, a 2012 Big Ten All-Second team member is the catalyst of the defense, which allowed 1.09 goals a game and will look to close out his Spartan career on top.  Surrounding Cope will be fellow seniors Ryan Thelen (23 starts, 7 a) and Josh Barens who missed last year due to injury.  Redshirt junior Ryan Keener (1g, 1a) will also return as a physical presence to keep the defense sound.

The midfield is centered around athletic Michigan native, junior Fatai Alashe (1g, 5a).  Alashe will be helped by fellow starters senior Cody Henderson (2g, 2a) and sophomore Sean Conerty (2g, 3a).  Conerty was a high ranked recruit coming in last year and didn’t disappoint in his rookie campaign; expect him to shine this year.  Freshman midfielders Brian Winterfield and Dewey Lewis should also gain significant minutes alongside the experienced core.  The forward line is led by 2012 First Team All-Big Ten junior forward Adam Montague (8g, 6a).  The powerful striker was the second leading points leader in the conference last year and will look to improve on last year’s breakout numbers.  Helping Montague up front will be 2012 Big Ten All Freshman member Jay Chapman (4g, 1a) and redshirt junior Tim Kreutz (1g, 1a).  This Michigan State squad looks dangerous once again and if they can avoid another bad start then expect the Green and White to make an NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in seven years.

Michigan (Talented): The Wolverines look to be highly competitive in the Big Ten this year, after completing a solid 2012 campaign.  The 2013 Big Ten tournament finalists went on a hot streak to conclude last year by winning six of their final seven games before being knocked out of the NCAA tournament by the #5 ranked Akron Zips in the second round.  The team is very close to reaching that next level as seven of last year’s ten losses were by only one goal.  In only his second year in Ann Arbor, Head Coach Chaka Daley leads the maize and blue to a spot in the College Soccer News top 30.  The 28th ranked squad thoroughly improved last year winning six more games than the 2011 squad.  Coach Daley brings in another talented freshmen class ranked #8 by College Soccer News who will look to build on last years upward winning trend.

Coach Daley brings in another large and talented ten men recruiting class led by nine true freshmen and one transfer.  Despite the amount of talent in the class, one key piece is missing as US U-18 national team center back Matthew Miazga decided to sign professionally with the New York Red Bulls instead of playing his time out with the Wolverines.  With that said, the class is still led by five College Soccer News top 150 freshmen including defender Rylee Woods and midfielder Brett Nason, ranked 26 and 47 respectively.  Woods is a top-level player and should earn minutes immediately in the backline, possibly at left back while a tough center mid, Nason will fight for time in the stacked midfield.  Incoming defenders Lars Eckenrode (64) and Andre Morris (96) are both talented enough to earn spots in the weakened backline.  Forward George Tsirukis (120) has a fantastic scoring record and will look to continue that run of play in Ann Arbor.  Possibly the best new player brought in is Providence University transfer Marcos Ugarte (2g, 2a).  The 2011 Big East All Rookie midfielder, Ugarte, who played for Daley as a freshman at Provicence, will undoubtedly make an instant impact with the team.  Coach Daley brings in four more players, all of whom are more than talented enough to battle for playing time.

Michigan comes into the season with a good mix of experience and raw young talent.  The team loses star defender Kofi Opare to the MLS along with other talented seniors, but there is enough remaining quality to compete for a Big Ten title.  2012 Second Team All Big Ten Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis comes into his third season starting in the net and this should really be the season for him to show his maturity and boss the backline.  Most of the defenders in front of Grinwis will be newcomers so the co-captain will need to take charge and show his leadership ability.  Athletic senior center back Ezekiel Harris will manage the back line alongside the help of redshirt junior Nick Lewin (21 starts).  The other two positions will be comprised mainly of inexperienced guys.  A leading candidate for the left back position is highly touted freshman Rylee Woods.

The midfield is the heart of this team and is led by 2012 First Team All Big Ten member Tyler Arnone (5g, 5a).  One of the team captains, Arnone, is a creative playmaker and should have a fantastic junior season for the Wolverines.  The second half of the dynamic duo is fellow 2012 All-Big Ten First Team member and senior Fabio Pereira (6g, 8a).  The Brazilian is the returning team point’s leader and will need to have another great year for the team to thrive.  Joining them in the midfield will be Providence University transfer Marcos Ugarte who should slot in out wide and senior Dylan Mencia (1g, 1a) who should earn a starting role as well.  Michigan has plenty of depth everywhere in the midfield with junior TJ Vanslooten (0g, 1a), redshirt sophomore Colin McAtee (1g, 1a), and freshman Brett Nason all of whom should contribute.  The forward line will be led by versatile senior TJ Roehn (4g, 4a) and 2012 All Freshman Big Ten selection James Murphy (3g, 2a).  If the two can work well again in their second year together, than they will be a force. Senior Malcolm Miller and freshman forward George Tsirukis provide depth in the forward position.  The Wolverines are contenders in the Big Ten, but it is yet to be seen what they can do against top caliber teams.  Last year the team went a mediocre 1-6 against ranked opponents, but expect this year to be a different story.  Coach Daley has Michigan back on track. Expect the squad to stay at a high level, while still competing for a Big Ten Championship and a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

Northwestern (Dark Horse): The Wildcats are coming off an impressive year sharing the Big Ten regular season title and earning their seventh NCAA Tournament bid in the last nine years.  Northwestern has had a wild offseason gaining notoriety for a Messi & Friends all star game on ESPN which saw nine former Wildcat players perform against some of the world’s most elite soccer players.  The team will look to stay prominent during the season for their regular play this fall.  Head Coach Tim Lenahan took over the program after a winless 2000 year and has since turned the program around and hasn’t looked back.  The 16th ranked team according to College Soccer News, returns eight starters and brings in a very promising recruiting class that will look to continue the legacy Coach Lenahan has started.

Six new recruits are coming to Evanston including two top 150 candidates all of whom look keen to compete for spots immediately.  The top recruit in this recruiting class ranked 28 by College Soccer News is Brandon Medina Ruiz (116).  Ruiz, the Illinois Gatorade player of the year, is a very skilled midfielder with very strong attacking abilities.  He’s definitely one to keep an eye on going forward for the Wildcats.  The next highest ranked recruit is Nathan Dearth ranked 148 by College Soccer News.  The hardnosed defender’s play should translate well to the collegiate game, as he will look to continue Northwestern’s great defensive track record.  Midfielder Jeff Hopson out of Scott Gallagher is unranked, but should be another immediate impact player.  Coach Lenahan has a knack for turning average players into great players for his system as he has proven in the past.  The other three players could be important providers for the squad as well.

Northwestern looks to be a contender once again after a solid run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last year.  The strength of the squad is surely the defense which only allowed .82 goals per game last season, second in the conference behind Indiana.  The back line essentially stays in tact beginning with Hermann Trophy watch list member and two-time First Team All Big Ten goalkeeper Tyler Miller.  Miller, who is entering his third year as the Wildcats’ starter, is poised for another tremendous season in Evanston.  The defense, which retains three of the four defenders from last year, is glued down by junior center back and First Team All Big ten member Nikko Boxall (22 starts, 1g, 1a).  Next to Boxall in the back should be Scott Larkin (23 starts) and junior Grant Wilson (23 starts, 1g, 7a).  Expect incoming freshman Nate Dearth to win a role and for sophomore Henry Herrill (1g, 3a) to make an even bigger impact this year as well.

The midfield is centered around Big Ten defensive player of the year and fifth year senior, Chris Ritter (5g. 6a).  Ritter, the College Soccer News preseason third team All-American is a tough, talented player; the quintessential Wildcat.  The experienced midfield also has three-year starters and fellow seniors Lepe Seetane and Layth Masri to rely on.  Junior Eric Weberman (3g, 4a), Sophomore Cole Missimo, and freshman Brandon Medina Ruiz should all be very important impact players whether it’s off the bench or in the starting XI.  The departure of forwards Kyle Schieckel (4g, 1a) and Nick Gendron (2g, 3a) leaves a hole up top for someone to fill.  2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Joey Calistri (9g, 2a) is a great option going forward, but he needs another partner up top in order to enhance his productivity. Overall the team is very experienced and has all the ingredients needed to once again compete favorably in the highly competitve Big Ten.  The combination of great talent and coaching positions makes this team a viable candidate for a third Big Ten regular season title in as many years.

Penn State (Hit-or-Miss): The Nittany Lions had possibly their best season in recent years, sharing the Big Ten regular season title while earning the number one seed in the conference tournament.  Penn State narrowly missed the NCAA tournament last year and is determined to reach the Big Ten championship game for the third time in four years after a disappointing postseason in 2012.  The team, ranked fifth in the Big Ten preseason coaches’ poll, has performed adequately thus far in preseason tying the #2 team in the country, Maryland, but also losing to Navy.  The squad is very hit or miss, but with the addition of eight new players, the Nittany Lions may be poised for a breakout season.

2012 Big Ten Coach of the Year, Bob Warming brings in an eight-man class for 2013 led by nine true freshmen and one transfer.  The top player coming into State College is midfielder/forward Connor Maloney, ranked 63 by College Soccer News.  Maloney, a NSCAA high school All-American, notched 110 career goals and 68 assists while also becoming a Pennsylvania football star as his team’s kicker.  Expect Maloney to play a major role in the Nittany Lions’ future success.  Another top recruit coach Warming has brought in is forward Mark Wadid.  Wadid, an athletic forward from Toronto FC academy, has seen time with the Canadian youth national teams and has performed well during preseason for the Nittany Lions.  Incoming goalkeeper Evan Finney has trained with the US-17s and looks to be the future net minder of the program.  Another big acquisition for the team is St. Johns University transfer, Martin Seiler.  Seiler, a center back with one year of eligibility left, looks to be an essential part of the team as he’s already scored two goals in two games during preseason.  Coach Warming appears to have brought on board a great recruiting class with several special players and several under the radar recruits who have the potential to positively impact the squad going forward.

The team comes into the season looking strong despite the graduation of ten seniors.  The goalkeeping position is held down by one of Penn State’s three Big Ten players to watch, junior goalie Andrew Wolverton.  The 6’2” goalkeeper, Wolverton, who is entering his third season as the starter, comes in with a .65 career goals against average and will look to maintain the team’s stellar defensive record.  The defensive line is led by senior backs Martin Seiler and Akil Howard (1g, 1a).  Junior Mike Robinson and redshirt freshman Nate Lee round out this almost entirely new back line for 2013.

The midfield is led by center mids senior Grant Warming and junior Owen Griffith (1g, 2a).  Both players are defensive minded leaders who will look to lock down this already stellar defensive and provide a spark to the attack.  Out on the wings will be sophomore Shane Campbell and freshman Connor Maloney.  A versatile player, Campbell will use his athleticism to help the team, while freshman Maloney will look to make a positive impact during his freshman campaign.  Sophomore Drew Klingenberg and redshirt sophomore Kyle MacDonald will look to add depth to the talented midfield.  The forward line will rely on redshirt junior Jordan Tyler and freshman Mark Wadid.  Tyler is coming off an injury and will look to regain the form he had during his first two year at the program.  Senior Mikey Minutillo (1g, 1a) rejoins the forward line and will be an important piece op top whether it be in the starting XI or as a super sub.  This Penn State team will be without ten key members from the 2012 squad, but they have added some talented pieces to try to replace them.  Becoming back-to-back regular season champs seems to be a difficult task, but this team is built for the future.  Coach Warming is capable of getting the most out of his players so expect the Nittany Lions to compete every game and grit out results in an attempt to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

Wisconsin (Underdogs):  The 6-8-5 record of the 2012 Badgers doesn’t tell the entire story.  Of the team’s eight losses, five of them were by one goal and the five ties also doesn’t do the team justice considering the strength of those five opponents.  Wisconsin is close to playing at that next level but they’re not quite there yet.  This offseason US National Team midfielder Landon Donovan joined the Badgers to get himself back into shape and it’s an experience the player’s said they would never forget.  Hopefully some of the US all time leading goal scorer’s magic rubs off on the Wisconsin player’s as they approach the 2013 season.  Head coach John Trask will enter his fourth season at the helm of the promgram with what may be his most talented recruiting class to date.  

The 2013 recruiting class, ranked 40 by College Soccer News, is comprised of five true freshmen and one transfer.  The top player in this group is true freshman Nick Jones, ranked 11 by College Soccer News among incoming freshman.  The highly talented Jones has drawn compliments from coach Trask who stated, “Nick will provide Wisconsin with a true number nine and I feel Nick has all the tools to become an All-American and professional player in the future.” Although there are no other players ranked in the top 150, there are still plenty of future stars for the program.  Another player to look out for is forward Skyler Feit.  Feit is very athletic and has the ability to play in any of Wisconsin’s attacking positions.  The transfer coming to the team is defender Junho Seok out of Illinois Central College.  Seok adds stability and experience to the back line.  Coach Trask has some quality members all around in this class who should immediately help improve the squad.

The team returns a number of their starters and has a new mix of players who should allow this team to compete every game.  The goalkeeper will be redshirt freshman and solid presence Casey Beyers.  This will be Beyers first season as the number one for the team, but he’s performed well thus far during preseason.  The back line, which allowed a mere 20 goals last year returns College Soccer News preseason 3rd team All-American center back, AJ Cochran (19 starts, 1g, 2a).  Along side one of the best defenders in the country, Cochran, will be fellow center back Paul Yonga (19 starts, 1g).  Yonga has the capability of playing in the midfield as well, but if Yonga and Cochran pair up in the back, they will form one of the best defensive duos in the conference.  Senior Blake Succa (19 starts, 3a) is poised to start for his fourth consecutive year while former high school star and current junior David Caban is the top option at outside back.  Transfer JunHo Seok is an option at center back as well if Coach Trask decides to put Yonga at defensive midfield.

The focal point of the midfield if healthy for the year is 6’3” 2011 First Team All Big Ten Canadian Tomislav Zadro.  Other important midfielders include seniors Joey Tennyson and Nick Janus (15 starts, 4g, 1a), along with 2012 Big Team All Freshman, Drew Connor (18 starts, 2g, 1a).  The forward tandem who will make some noise this year are 2012 team points leader senior Chris Prince (19 starts, 3g, 5a) and freshmen prodigy Nick Jones.  Together the two form an athletic combination that if they can learn to play off each other will be very difficult to stop.  Coach Trask has a tough task to bring Wisconsin to prominence, but this year they contain the necessary tools to make it happen.  The team, ranked 6th in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll, is going to be underdogs and they should embrace that role, as they are capable to turning some of those 2012 disappointing results into W’s for 2013.

Ohio State (Up and Coming):  The Buckeyes are coming off a disappointing 6-10-3 season and will look to rebound in 2013. Ohio State, ranked last in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll, are a promising young team with only four seniors.  Although they may not succeed this year, their time is coming.   John Bluem, the three time Big Ten Coach of the Year, will enter his 17th year in Columbus with the addition of ten new faces who he hopes will help revamp this struggling team.

Ohio States ten man recruiting class, ranked 29 by College Soccer News, includes three top 150 players.  The top player in the group is Texan forward, Christian Soldat, ranked 109th by CSN.  Soldat is a technical forward with a knack for scoring who should help the team from the get-go.  Another pair of top 150 recruits are Weston FC teammates Danny Jensen and Diego Aguirre, ranked 112 and 113 respectively.  The duo of Jensen who is an attack minded player and Aguirre who is a defender, will look to be key members in the team’s success.  All of the members of the class have impressive résumés and are more than capable of succeeding at the next level.  All of the freshmen have seen playing time this preseason and look to be part of the squad’s future plans.

The Buckeyes have a decent group of returning players and some newcomers who should make a difference to the squad.  The back line starts with Akron transfer goalkeeper Andrian McAdams.  McAdams has good experience and has performed well thus far in preseason.  The back line is comprised of Big Ten Preseason Players To Watch and fellow seniors Sage Gardner (19 starts, 2g) and Ben Killian, who will look to rebound after medical redshirting last year.  Freshmen defenders Austin Bergstrom, Zach Dobey, Tyler Kidwell, and Diego Aguirre are all vying for the final two spots in the back line.

The midfield’s maestro is junior Alec Lowell and sophomore Zach Mason whom will both run the field for the team.  Junior midfielder Adam Gorski, known for his long throw ability should be a starter this year, but the other spots are wide open with Rutgers transfer Max Moller, freshman Christian Soldat, junior Yianni Sarris, and sophomore Kyle Cubertson all competing for minutes.

The two starting forwards for the Buckeyes should be junior target man Kenny Cunningham (10 starts, 3g, 1a) and sophomore Raymond Olavarria.  Freshman forward Danny Jensen should compete for minutes early on in the season as well.  The team is returning from their worst season in recent history, but they are coming back with vengeance.  Coach Bluem has picked up new members and this is definitely a team to watch going forward, but for now the Buckeyes should stride for a .500 and hope to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament.


Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.