The 2013 season is shaping up to be a significant season for the following programs.
Kentucky – It appeared that the wins were going to be few and far between for the Wildcats last year when they came out on the short end of the score in four of their first five matches. However a 1-0 win on the road over rival Louisville seemed to ignite Kentucky and they rebounded to go 9-5-2 for the remainder of the season which was good enough to return the Wildcats to the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since the 2003 season.
Kentucky was a young team in 2012 as reflected in the fact that four freshmen were in the starting lineup when they faced Xavier in the NCAA Tournament. The Kentucky roster in 2013 includes a promising balance between a solid core of talented and experienced seniors and a solid group of talented and hungry sophomores.
Returning seniors who will be counted upon to lead the way include forward Tyler Riggs (7g, 4a), defender Steven Perinovic, goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale, and Dylan Asher (4g. 0a) who provides energy either as a forward or as a defender. Center back Jacob Speed is among a very promising sophomore contingent. Kentucky should benefit from the fact that freshmen make mistakes that sophomores don’t.
Johan Cedergren will enter his second season at the helm of the program with the inherent challenges that accompany a change in coaching staff behind him. The graduation of forward Matt Lodge who was a four-year starter creates a gap to fill on the offensive side of the ball but the defense returns pretty much intact.
Michigan – You can place the Wolverines near the top of the list of teams that successfully experienced a transition to a new coaching staff in 2012. Chaka Daley took over the reigns of the Michigan program after twelve seasons as the head coach at Providence.
The Maize and Blue struggled in the early going last year but found their legs and steadily improved as the season progressed which bodes well for the future of the program. A solid core returns in 2013 from the only Big Ten team that managed to secure a win over ever other Big Ten Conference opponent last year.
You have to be impressed with what Michigan has accomplished in the relatively short time since the men’s soccer program became a varsity sport in 2000. Credit former head coach Steve Burns with a job well done including taking the Wolverines to the Final Four in 2010.
Despite the success the program has enjoyed to date, Michigan is considered by many to be a sleeping giant that Daley will awake and take to an even higher level on a consistent basis. The fact that the Wolverines advanced to the championship match of the Big Ten Conference last year, earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney, and topped Niagara in the first round of the NCAA Tourney is a sign of even better things to come.
Eight starters are slated to retune in 2013 including senior midfielder Fabio Pereira (6g, 8a), junior midfielder Tyler Arnone (5g, 5a), sophomore forward James Murphy, senior forward T.J. Roehn and junior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. Another positive sign is the fact that a very good recruiting class that includes highly regarded midfielder Matthew Miazga and defender Rylee Woods is headed to Ann Arbor in 2013.
SMU – The big question facing SMU heading into the 2013 campaign is how will they fare in the Big East Conference. Over the past ten years SMU has moved from the Missouri Valley Conference to Conference USA and now beginning in 2013 to the Big East Conference.
There is a ton of soccer talent in the State of Texas and the Ponies manage to annually corral their share of it. Only time will tell but it would appear that the move to the Big East will prove to be a positive one for SMU because it may enable the program to attract a few additional players from the Lone Star State that might otherwise have elected to play elsewhere.
Though the sting of a season ending collapse last year that included being taken to the wood shed by Tulsa 5-0 in the C-USA championship game followed by being eliminated at home in the NCAA Tournament by Winthrop may not have yet healed, SMU has reason to be optimistic about their prospects in 2013 with ten starters returning. Senior goalkeeper Jamie Ibarra who was the 2012 C-USA Player of the Year returns to anchor the defense along with juniors Aaron Simmons and Damian Rosales. Juniors Tyler Engel (8g, 7a) and Juan Castillo (2g, 3a) who missed a large part of the 2012 campaign due to injury return to power the attack up-top. Junior Andrew Morales (4g, 4a) is among a solid group of returning midfielders.
SMU has always fielded a team that was quick and has great touch on the ball. Their strengths enable them to match up well with some teams but sometimes not so well with other more physical opponents. How that will impact them in Big East play remains to be seen.
Stanford – Things are looking up for the Cardinal who were 9-8-1 overall last year with a 5-4-1 mark in Pac-12 play. Stanford set the stage for the 2013 season when they closed out the 2012 campaign with impressive wins in three out of their last four contests.
Due to the graduation of leading scorer Adam Janh (13g, 4a) the number one challenge facing Stanford heading into the 2013 campaign looks to be offensive productivity. However with so many returning players and a very good recruiting class coming on board the prognosis for success for the Cardinal in 2013 is very good. Stanford may not catch UCLA next year but contending for the second spot in the Pac-12 Conference and an NCAA Tourney berth are realistic accomplishments.
Returning players include junior forward Zach Batteer (6g, 0a), midfielders senior J.J. Koval, sophomore Aaron Kovar, and junior Jimmy Callinan, defenders sophomore Brandon Vincent and senior Tyler Conklin, and senior goalkeeper Drew Hutchins. Forwards Mark Verson and Jordan Morris and defender Marshall Glover are among the members of a strong recruiting class that could contribute immediately.
Clemson – The Tigers may not yet be ready to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference title but the pieces look to be in place for Clemson to significantly up their win total in 2013. Last year the Tigers were 6-9-5 overall with a 3-2-4 mark in conference play.
Mike Noonan will enter his fourth season as the head coach at Clemson in 2013 with nine starters back along with several newcomers who should make an immediate impact. Wins over the likes of Virginia last year in ACC play and ties with Maryland, Wake Forest, and Boston College indicate that on a given day Clemson can hold their own with anyone.
Consistency, the ability to come up with the big play when needed, and a winning mentality look to be among the critical success factors for the Tigers in 2013. Transfers Tommy McNamara and Bobby Belair who played at Brown last year have the potential to be difference makers in each of those areas. Both should fit in well with returning players and help fill in the gap that exists on the offensive side of the ball due to the graduation of Austin Savage (8g, 4a). Incoming freshman forward Austin Burnikel from Greer, South Carolina is a solid finisher who will likely challenge for playing time right out of the gate.
Junior midfielders Manolo Sanchez (2g, 6a) and Ara Amirkhanian (5g, 2a) are among returning starters who Noonan will likely look to for offensive firepower in 2013. The return of forward Iain Smith who missed almost all of the 2012 season due to a broken leg looks to be another plus heading into the 2013 campaign.
The backline led by juniors Amodou Dia and Phanuel Kavita and sophomore Kyle Fisher returns pretty much intact and should be stronger due to the experience gained last year. Clemson will again have a very challenging schedule that leaves little margin for error which further reinforces the need for greater consistency. If everything falls into place the Tigers look to have the guns to return to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2006.
New Mexico – The Lobos were 18-0-4 in 2011 and 17-4-1 in 2012. That’s an impressive thirty-five w’s in the past two seasons. However, New Mexico will enter the 2013 campaign with a lot more change to deal with than they have had in the past several years.
Change is not necessarily a bad thing. As they say it’s not the change but how you react to it that’s important. In that regard the Lobo’s are a team to keep an eye on in 2013. Change number one is New Mexico's move from the MPSF, which they competed in from 1999 through 2012, to Conference USA. The Lobos were the flagship team of the MPSF but they may find the competition in CUSA more challenging from top to bottom with a slate of opponents that includes Old Dominion, Charlotte, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tulsa, UAB, FIU and Marshall.
Change number two pertains to the loss of a six member 2012 senior class that played a key role in the thirty-five wins that the Lobos enjoyed in 2011 and 2012. The biggest shoes to fill are those that exist on the offensive side of the ball due to the graduation of forward Devon Sandoval (15g, 7a) and midfielder Blake Smith (3g, 13a). Both were prime timers who also personified the competitive spirit and pride that surrounds the program. The Lobos will also be without defender Travis Campbell who was a three-year starter, midfielders Levi Rossi and Nik Robson and goalkeeper Victor Rodriquez who was an All-MPSF First Team selection.
Returning players include junior forward James Rogers, midfielders Michael Kafari and Michael Calderon who were 2012 All-MPSF Second Team selections and sophomore Ben McKendry who was the MPSF Freshman of the Year, senior All-American center back Kyle Venter, junior back Matthew Gibbons who has been a starter for the past two seasons, and redshirt junior goalkeeper Patrick Poblete.
Reinforcements are also on the way in the form of a solid recruiting class that includes senior transfer goalkeeper Michael Lisch who was the starter at Wake Forest last year and freshman midfielders Nick Thiros and Steve Manios who were ranked by College Soccer News as the number 115 and 128 players in the class of 2013.
How the New Mexico players respond to the challenges they face will be a reflection of their toughness and togetherness. The good news is that both of those traits have been hallmarks of the program at New Mexico under the direction of head coach Jeremy Fishbein.
Cal Poly – The Mustangs had a banner season last year finishing with an 11-7-1 overall record and a 6-3-1 mark in Big West Conference play thanks in part to the play of forward Mackenzie Pridhare (11g, 1a) who was the 2012 Big West Conference Player of the Year. There is reason for optimism at Cal Poly heading into the 2013 campaign as Pridham and eight additional starters are slated to return.
Pridham who had no less than six game-winning goals last year gives Cal Poly a strong presence up-top. Newcomer Justin Dhillon, a 2012 NSCAA Youth All-American, who is ranked by College Soccer News as the number nine player in the class of 2013 is among several members of a very good recruiting class that appear to have the potential to add additional pop to the attack up-top.
The midfield looks to be very good with the return of junior Nolan Moore who was an All-Big West First Team selection, senior George Malki (4g, 3a) who was a 2012 All-Big West Second Team selection, senior Mike Hocker (0g, 5a) and sophomore Ruben Duran (1g, 1a) among others. Senior Connor Drechsler and sophomores Kip Colvey and Kody Wakasa will anchor what should a very solid backline. Sophomore Wade Hamilton, a College Soccer News 2012 All-Freshman team selection, returns in goal with a year of experience under his belt.
The Big West Conference always has plenty of storylines. In 2012 one of them was the fact that preseason favorites UCSB and UC Irvine finished at the bottom of their respective Divisions rather than at the top. Who would have thought that CS Northridge would win the 2012 Big West Conference title and that UC Davis, Cal Poly, and Cal State Fullerton were the other three teams in the four team conference tournament. Although both UCSB and UC Irvine are likely to rebound in 2013 one of the storylines heading into the 2013 season has to be that Cal Poly is bursting with athleticism and potential, and has a real shot at claiming the title in 2013.
American – On one hand American University had a very successful season in 2012 going unbeaten in Patriot League play and securing its second consecutive regular season title. On the other hand, the Eagle’s season came to a disappointing end without an invite to the NCAA Tournament when they were topped 2-0 by Lafayette in the championship match of the Patriot League Tourney. The loss marked the fifth time in seven total appearances in the Patriot League championship match that the Eagles have come out on the short end since they joined the league in 2001.
American will enter the 2013 campaign with nine starters back from the 2012 team that was 11-6-2 overall with a 5-0-2 mark in league play. On the defensive side of the ball the Eagles will boast senior back Cristobal Soto who was the 2012 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and senior Billy Knutsen who was the 2012 Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year. Senior forward Dale McDonald (6g, 3a) and senior midfielder Colin Seigfreid (5g, 7a) are slated to return to power the attack. Both were 2012 First Team All-Patriot League selections.
The Eagles look to be a very talented and experienced team. With so many key players returning over confidence is always a potential problem but after the season ending loss to Lafayette last year, this senior driven team should remain very focused and hungry.
American will enter the season the 2013 season as the class of the Patriot League and should be a force from start to finish. So go ahead and pencil the Eagles in as the front runner to win the championship and the berth in the NCAA Tourney that goes with it. However, pencil not ink is the key word as there is always a good chance that Lafayette, Colgate, Bucknell or someone else may prove otherwise in the tough and always unpredictable Patriot League.
Drexel – Sometimes the journey to the top of the mountain is easier than remaining on top of the mountain. Drexel will find out in 2013. The Dragons were predicted to finish tenth in the 2012 preseason CAA Coaches poll but they surprised everyone by winning the CAA regular season title and earning an at-large berth into the NCAA Tourney for the first time since the 1972 season.
Perhaps the real lesson to be learned is that at least for the time being it is foolish to underestimate the Blue and Gold. Doug Hess, who also turned heads during a productive eight year tenure at Campbell University, will enter his fourth season as the coach at Drexel in 2013 having clearly put his footprint on the program.
A solid contingent returns led up-top by senior Nathan Page (9g, 1a) and junior Fabio Machado (4g, 5a). Junior midfielder Michele Pataia (3g, 2a) is among other returning players who have demonstrated a knack for finding the back of the net.
Senior Ken Tribbett (3g, 2a) who does a little bit of everything very well returns as the team centerpiece. Look for Tribbett to set the pace for the Dragons in 2013. Senior Tal Bubil is back along with classmate Skylar Olson and junior Robert Liberratore as part of what should be a very solid backline that only allowed a total of eighteen goals last year. The graduation of Tim Washam creates a hole to plug in goal but senior Pentti Pussinen who was the starter in 2011 provides an experienced option.
The 2013 season will be a challenge for Drexel because no one will look past them as they might have in the past. However, chances are pretty good that Hess and company will come up with a suitable encore to the 2012 campaign that will keep the momentum going. Another solid season in CAA play and a return trip to the NCAA Tourney field will clarify that the 2012 season was not a fluke.
Saint Louis – After two seasons of growing pains under the direction of head coach Mike McGinty the Billikens had a breakthrough season in 2012 in which they returned in a big way to the national scene with a 16-5-0 overall record, a 7-2-0 mark in A-10 play, an A-10 Championship, and a number eight seed and first round bye in the NCAA Tourney. The Billikens had signature wins over Louisville, Creighton, VCU and Xavier.
However, the magical ride came to an abrupt end when Saint Louis was upset at home 2-1 by a determined Fairleigh Dickinson squad in the NCAA Tournament. Regardless of the outcome of that contest credit McGinty who will enter his fourth season at the helm of the program in 2013 for staying the course and for creating a solid foundation for the future growth of the program. The program took a serious step forward in 2012. The Billikens closed out the 2012 campaign ranked in the number nineteen spot in the NSCAA season ending poll and as the number twenty-two team in the country in the College Soccer News season ending poll.
There is plenty of reason for optimism heading into the 2013 season at Saint Louis as a solid nucleus returns. Offensive productivity should not be a struggle for the Billikens since players who scored forty-three of the forty-six goals that Saint Louis put in the back of the net last year will be back. What looks to be a very balanced Saint Louis attack will be led by junior Robbie Kristo (11g, 5a) who was a 2012 NSCAA Third-Team All-American, junior Kingsley Bryce (7g, 3a) and senior Adnan Gabeljic (7g, 5a).
Senior Alex Sweeting (6g, 5a), juniors Raymond Lee (4g, 0a) and William Hidalgo (2g, 1a) and super sophomore David Graydon (2g, 7a) will be part of a Billiken midfield that is loaded with athletic ability. Saint Louis played solid team defense last year allowing a total of only eighteen goals. The prognosis is for more of the same in 2013 with a backline that will feature senior Jon Roeckle (3g, 6a) , junior centerback Anthony Manning, and sophomores Tyler David and Marco Heskamp.
The Billikens will again have a challenging schedule in 2013 so you can expect them to take a few lumps along the way. It is also unlikely that Saint Louis or anyone else for that matter will run the table in A-10 play. However this is a team that baring injuries has the potential come NCAA Tourney time to be among the top teams in the country if everything falls into place.
The 2013 season could be the one that the Billiken fans have been waiting for.
This article was written soon after the conclusion of the 2012 season. Please note that some of the information listed above may have changed since the time that this article was written.