Playmakers – In clutch situations you can count on them coming up with the big play. They not only play big, but they thrive in pressure situations and consistently can be counted upon to make something special happen. All of them are capable of taking command of a game and thrive on the the challenges that come with the NCAA Tournament.
Khiry Shelton – Senior – Forward – Oregon State – Impressive, determined and aggressive are three words that describe Shelton who was recently named the 2014 Pac-12 Player of the Year. After missing a large part of his freshman and junior seasons due to injury, he has had a banner senior season and is without a doubt one of the key reasons that the Beavers returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 for the first time since the 2003 season. Shelton is an explosive finisher who has no reservations about taking on an opposing defender when he has the ball at this feet in the attacking third. His effectiveness at making good things happen for the Beavers is reflected in the fact that he has found the back of the net ten times to date this year while also contributing eleven assists. Shelton combines with teammates freshmen Timmy Mueller (11g, 2a) and Jordan Jones (7g, 1a) to give the Beavers an offense that is very campable of making a sustained run in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. With a first round win over Denver in the record books, Oregon State now travels to Omaha to take on a talented number twelve seeded Creighton team in a match-up that the Beavers are very capable of winning.
Leo Stolz – Midfielder – Senior – UCLA – The 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year and First Team All-America selection is considered by many to be the premier player in college soccer. He is a tireless and very creative box to box playmaker who is as good as they get at creating and finishing scoring opportunities. Stolz sets the pace for the Bruin attack and is the type player who raises the level of play of those around him. After an earlier than expected exit from the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Stolz and his talented UCLA teammates will no doubt seek a different outcome in 2014. Stolz returned for his senior season to earn his degree but he no doubt also has his sights set on winning a national championship. The first hurdle toward accomplishing that will take place on Sunday when UCLA hosts a San Diego team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament by topping Cal State Fullerton 2-1 in overtime on Thursday night. The Bruins were upset 1-0 by San Diego when the two teams faced each other back on September 26 in San Diego.
Andy Craven – Senior – Forward – North Carolina – Craven transferred to North Carolina his junior season after playing for two seasons at the College of Charleston. He lead the Tar Heels in scoring with six goals and five assists as a junior in 2012 but missed the entire 2013 season due to a foot injury. Craven returned this year and has played a key role in jump starting the North Carolina offense with fourteen goals including eight game winners and four assists to date. Craven's quickness and touch on the ball make him an extremely dangerous player to contain. When not contained he has the ability to score in multiples and take over a game. Craven netted a hat trick in North Carolina's 6-0 thumping of James Madison in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but the competition is going to be much more difficult for UNC when they travel to face a Charlotte team on Sunday that would like nothing better than to upend the Tar Heels.
Robert Kristo – Senior – Forward – Saint Louis – Kristo has big play ability. The Atlantic 10 2014 Offensive Player of the Year and three-time All-Conference First Team selection is a constant threat on the offensive side of the ball for a Saint Louis team that has the potential to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Kristo has been at the heart of Saint Louis' attack since his freshman season in 2011. This year he has placed the ball into the back of the net fourteen times including six game winning goals for a Billiken team that has signature wins over Louisville and Creighton. Kristo has the soccer skills, athletic ability, and size needed to create problems for opposing defenses. Kristo and his teammates will likely have to play their best soccer of the year to prevail in the second round of the NCAA Tourney when they travel to Louisville on Sunday for a rematch with a Louisville team that they defeated 1-0 back on September 9 at home.
Patrick Hodan – Junior – Midfielder – Notre Dame – Hodan is a winner pure and simple with a work ethic and competitive spirit that give him and his teammates an edge. The Irish entered the 2014 season knowing that they had some really big shoes to fill due to the graduation of Harrison Shipp. Hodan, who has scored nine goals to date and contributed three assists, has stepped forward as many thought he would to help fill that void. Look for Hodan to continue to come up with big plays for the number one seeded Irish and to set the pace for a team that will seek to replicate the success that the 2013 team achieved. The Irish will host an Ohio State team on Sunday that plays a very direct style of soccer than can be problematic.
Brandon Allen – Junior – Forward – Georgetown – Mr. Clutch. Allen is the real deal when it comes to big plays and as good as they get at finishing scoring opportunities. He is among the best pure scorers in college soccer and seems to thrive in pressure situations. He is the guy who you want to have the ball at his feet in the attacking third when you need a big goal in the closing minutes of a match. Allen's consistency as a goal scorer is reflected in the fact that he has scored a total of ten goals so far this year, scored a total of sixteen goals in 2012, and eleven goals in 2013.
Jamie Dell – Senior – Midfielder – UNCW – Breakthrough might be the one word that best describes the type of season that Dell and his UNCW teammates are having this year. Dell, who has been named the CAA Player of the Week on three different occasions this year, makes good things happen for the Seahawks. He has ten goals to date including four game winning strikes. Dell's solid touch on the ball and his quickness make him very tough to contain when he has the ball at his feet in the attacking third. Dell and his teammates topped Bucknell 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to earn the right to face Virginia on Sunday in what has to be considered one of the biggest games in the history of the UNCW program.
Kay Banjo – Senior – Forward- UMBC – The America East Conference Striker of the Year played for three seasons at Towson before the program was discontinued at the conclusion of the 2012 season. He joined UMBC in 2014 and hit the ground running. He leads the UMBC attack with eight goals and five assists and is among the key reasons the Retrievers won their third consecutive America East Soccer Championship this year and advanced past Wake Forest in penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Banjo and his UMBC teammates now have a huge challenge in front of them when they square off with a red hot Maryland team on Sunday at Ludwig Field in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fabian Herbers – Sophomore – Forward – Creighton – Herbers and his Creighton teammates have exceeded expectations thus far in 2014 but the success of their season will ultimately be determined by how far they advance in the NCAA Tournament. Herbers, who was named the 2014 Big East Offensive Player of the Year, is the go-to guy in Creighton's attack with nine goals and seven assists to date and four game-winning goals. The Bluejays under the direction of Elmar Bolowich exceeded expectations when they advanced to the College Cup in 2011 and 2012 but they underachieved in 2013 when they were one and done in the NCAA Tournament when upset at home by Seattle. Creighton has once again exceeded expectations to date in 2014 but whether they have the offensive firepower to make a sustained run in the 2014 NCAA Tournament is debatable. What is not debatable is the fact that the play of Herbers and midfielder Timo Pitter will have a big impact on how the Jays fare in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. They have a huge test on Sunday when they face an Oregon State team that is having a banner season.
Kyle Parker – Junior – Forward – Charlotte – Parker, who hails from Marvin, North Carolina, is an essential ingredient in the 49er offense. He and sophomore midfielder Brandt Bronico from High Point, North Carolina lead a very balanced Charlotte attack that has scored a total of forty goals this year. Parker leads an up-tempo 49er offense that has the ability to take a toll on opposing defenders as reflected in the fact that so far this year the 49ers have outscored opponents 25 to 5 in the second half of play. Parker is a finisher who netted a total of eleven goals in 2013 for the 49ers and has eight so far this year along with seven assists. He was recently named the CUSA 2014 Co-Offensive MVP while teammate Bronico was also named a CUSA First Team selection. The number ten seeded 49ers have a lot on the line when they host a North Carolina team on Sunday night that has equally potent attack that has produced forty-five goals to date. This looks to be a very competitive second round match-up and a contest that should be occurring further along the road in the NCAA Tournament but geographical considerations likely influenced that.
Mael Corboz – Junior – Midfielder – Maryland – Corboz gives the Terps big play ability. After two highly productive seasons at Rutgers, Corboz transferred to Maryland as a junior this year. He has ten goals to date and has contributed three assists for the Terps and has helped to plug the huge hole that existed in the Terp offense due to the graduation of two-time Herman Award winner Patrick Mullins (19g, 8a) and the decision of Schillo Tshuma (6g, 1a) to leave early to enter the professional ranks. Corboz is the real deal but may not be the best playmaker in the family with sisters Rachel and Daphne also making good things happen themselves as players at Georgetown. Nonetheless, count on Mael playing a key role in how far Maryland advances this year in the NCAA Tourney. The Big Ten Champion Terps will bring an eleven game unbeaten streak into their second round NCAA Tourney match on Sunday with a determined and talented UMBC team that tied the Terps when the two teams played back on September 5 in an early season contest.
Emil Ekblom – Sophomore – Forward – Syracuse – Ekblom is an opportunistic goal scorer with great touch on the ball and the quickness to create the separation needed to thread a shot into the back of the net. He has been an impact player for the Orange since arriving on campus as a freshman in 2013 when he scored ten goals and contributed three assists. This year Ekblom has seven goals to date with six of them being game-winners for a Syracuse team that has had a brilliant season to date but needs a good run in the NCAA Tournament to make it really special. Sophomores Chris Nanco (5g, 2a) and Alex Halis (3g, 2a) join Ekblom as underclassmen who will enter the NCAA Tourney in 2014 with the benefit of the experience they have gained over the past two seasons but don't underestimate the role that guys like senior midfielder Nick Perea (5g, 0a) will have in terms of setting the pace for the Orange when they host a Penn State team on Sunday that is lead by Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Connor Maloney. You can count on veteran Penn State head coach Bob Warming having his team prepared and ready to give it their all.
Eric Bird – Senior – Midfielder – Virginia – Bird is a pacesetter, playmaker, and leader with a great work ethic. His statistics are not really staggering this year, he has five goals and two assists to date for the Cavaliersk, but make no mistake about it, he is the catalyst of the Virginia attack and the guy that George Gelnovatch describes as the "engine" of the team. Bird is the guy who will set the pace if the Cavaliers have a deep run in the NCAA Tourney like they did last year when they played their way into the College Cup. Virginia will entertain a very talented UNCW team on Sunday that is very capable of leaving Klockner Stadium with a win if the Cavaliers take them lightly.
Cristian Roldan – Sophomore – Midfielder – Washington – Creative might be the best word to describe Roldan whose statistics (three goals and two assists) don't truly reflect the impact he has on Washington's offense. He is at the center of the Washington attack serving as the team's quarterback. Roldan's touch on the ball, quickness, versatility, vision, and work ethic combine to make him a special player. He fits perfectly into Washington's style of play and will no doubt play a key role in setting the pace for the Huskies as they seek to equal and then better the run they made to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament last year. The 2012-2013 Gatorade National Boys Player of the Year in high school has more than lived up to expectations during his two year tenure to date at Washington. First Team All-Pac-12 forward Darwin Jones (8g, 4a), Mason Robertson (7g, 2a) and Josh Heard (7g, 1a) combine with Roldan to give the Dawgs a very balanced offense. Washington will host a Furman team on Sunday that has a rich soccer heritage but that has not advanced to the Round of Sixteen since the 2002 season.