The 2018 college season is almost here, with Stanford once again stamping their dominance in 2017 by winning their third consecutive NCAA title. A new season means a new opportunity to make an impact in college soccer, with the big teams in the top conferences looking to their star players to inspire a deep run into the postseason come November. With the 2018 season just around the corner, it is time to take a look at the top two (three in a few cases) players in every position in the top four men's college soccer conferences. These are the players who will provide the excitement and look to shoulder the expectations of their various programs.
Brandon Guhl (Butler) – Having departed SMU in 2016, Guhl has gone from strength to strength at Butler, playing a major role in the Bulldog'’s rejuvenation. The junior’s form has been so impressive that he was named 2017 Big East Forward of the Year. Brandon is most definitely one to watch in 2018 should he repeat his form from last season when he recorded an impressive thirteen goals and five assists.
Jack Shearer (St. John's) – An integral part of the Red Storm run to the semifinals of the Big East Conference tournament in 2017. The unanimous Big East All-Freshman Team member and College Soccer News 2017 All-Freshman Third Team selection scored three goals and added three assists in a formidable rookie campaign. Look for Shearer to build on the success he enjoyed last year.
Luka Prpa (Marquette) – Prpa scored one goal and contributed five assists in 2017 compared to the ten goals he netted in 2016, yet he is still one of the best midfielders in the Big East. After recieving a Second Team All-Big East nod in 2017, Luka will be looking to offer more production in the fall in his junior season for a Marquette side that was 3-11-2 overall last year.
Joel Rydstrand (Creighton) – Rydstrand is a three-year starter who has contributed eighteen assists during his tenure to date in Omaha. Look for the dynamic senior midfielder to be a key ingredient and pacesetter in the Bluejay attack as Creighton seeks to reenter the NCAA Tourament field in 2018 after a rare absence in 2017.
Brendan McDonough (Georgetown) – The All-Big East and All-Great Lakes Region First Team performer and team captain has been rock solid at the back for Georgetown during a transition period for the Hoyas which culminated in a Big East championship in 2017. He will have his sights set on helping Georgetown stay in contention for a College Cup (Final Four) berth in 2018.
Cameron Taylor (Xavier) – With six goals and four assists during a breakout 2017 season, Taylor has established himself as one of the top defenders and a threat out of set pieces not only in the Big East but also in college soccer.
Colin Miller (Providence) – The Friar tri-captain and redshirt senior has played in thirty-four career contests during which time he has posted thirteen shutouts and recorded a 0.92 goals against average. The 2016 Big East Goalkeeper of the Year will no doubt be a key ingredient in Providence's efforts to bounce back from a 5-8-5 overall record last year and get back into the thick of things in the Big East as well as on the national scene.
Zack Nelson (Xavier) – The 2017 All-Big East Freshman Team team keeper is an all around performer who excels in many categories. In particular, he's strong and very decisive and more often than not comes up with big match winning saves. Nelson made thirteen starts in goal last year before sustaining an injury and being replaced by now senior Colin Hanley who was between the pipes for Xavier for seven contests down the homestretch including Xavier's run to the Big East Championship contest.
Andrew Withers (St. John's) – Withers was a stable presence in the Red Storm backline last year recording seventy-one saves, eight shutouts and a 0.71 goals against average while helping his team advance to the semifinals of the Big East Championship. In order for St. John's to improve on their 9-7-3 overall record in 2017, and make another postseason run in 2018, the New Zealand shot stopper will have to be at his very best.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Tate Schmitt (Louisville) – Alongside Mo Thiaw, the rising senior forward was at the center of things for the Cardinals in 2017. His nine goals and three assists was a key ingredient in Louisville's 13-2-5 record and their fifth trip to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament in the past eight seasons. Look for Schmitt who was an All-ACC Second Team selection and Third Team All-South Region selection to once again be a force on the offensive side of the ball for Louisville in 2018.
Jelani Pieters (North Carolina)– Pieters' nine goals and seven assists last year outlined his importance to the Tar Heels. He is sure to shoulder more offensive responsibility in 2018 with the departure of a number of star players.
Jean-Christophe Koffi (Virginia) – Koffi was an All-ACC First Team selection in 2017 and a All-ACC Second Team member in 2016. Last year he scored three goals including two game-winners and contributed four assists. HIs physicality, quickness, and work ethic should create match-up problems for Cavalier opponents in 2018.
Mauricio Pineda – (North Carolina) – The junior playmaker who has been a starter for the past two seasons will take on an even bigger role in the midfield for the Tar Heels due to the decison of Cam Lindley to depart early to enter the professional ranks. Pineda, a Third Team All-ACC selection last year, is a team catalyst who will make a lot of good things happen for UNC in 2018.
Manny Perez (North Carolina State) – Perez was an impact player in his rookie season for the Wolfpack. The ACC Freshman of the Year, who recently was called up to the U-20 Men's National Team, recorded five goals and four assists in fifteen games for NC State, thriving in his playmaking role in 2017. He is among the reasons that the Pack, who returned to the NCAA Tourney field last year for the first time since 2009, is definitely back.
Sergi Nus (Virginia) – The rising senior is a tough and powerful center back who is confident and typically dominant in the air. Nus scored six goals from his center back position last year and added an assist. A Third Team All-ACC and All-South Region performer in 2017, Nus will once again look to establish his authority on Cavalier opponents in 2018.
Brad Dunwell (Wake Forest) – The skipper was excellent as Wake Forest trampled their way through the ACC to win the conference tournament for the second consecutive season and secure the number one seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Dunwell, who has been an impact player since arriving on campus in 2015, returns as one of the best holding midfielders in the country going into the 2018 season.
John Nelson – (North Carolina) – With a year of experience under his belt it is likely that the highly regarded sophomore defender who was rock solid in his rookie campaign will anchor a tenacious and organized Tar Heel defense that opponents will have a difficult time breaking down.
Will Pulisic (Duke) – The Duke freshman had a stonking 2017 for the Blue Devils, recording sixty-seven saves and seven shutouts while putting in some truly highlight reel performances to help Duke claim thirteen wins and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Pulsic will look to have a similar effect in 2018 for Duke.
Andreu Cases Mundet (Wake Forest) – Pleasingly consistent for Wake Forest last season on its way to the ACC championship. Mundet had a brilliant 0.49 goals against average in 2017 in route to posting twelve shutouts. He commands the area between the pipes very well and does an excellent job of controlling his backline. Mundet will have to be at his consistent best again in 2018 in order for the Demon Deacons to claim a third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship and make another solid run in the NCAA Tournament.
Kyle Coffee (Washington) – With six goals, the redshirt senior who missed time early in the season due to injury, was an unsung hero for the Huskies last season. Coffee's work-rate and versatility was a real asset to the team, while his defensive capabilities also cannot be overlooked. Due to the departure of Handwalla Bwana (8g, 6a) who elected to forgo his final two seasons to enter the progessional ranks, Coffee, a 2017 All-Pac-12 Second Team player, will shoulder a lot more offensive responsibility for his side.
Don Tchilao (Oregon State) – The senior forward was the fulcrum for his team last season. His soccer savvy play and positioning helped him to notch four goals and an assist in 2017. However, more than his goals was his ability to make his team better. Named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team last year, Tchilao will be looking once again to lead the lines for the Beavers in 2018.
Blake Bodily (Washington) – Bodily had a simply sensational 2017 season on his way to being named the PAC-12 Conference Freshman of the Year following in the footsteps of fellow Husky and Seattle Sounders signee Handwalla Bwana. Bodily, who scored three goals and contributed eight assist in 2017, will need to be a big impact player for Washington if they are to make a postseason run in 2018.
Anderson Asiedu (UCLA) – The deep lying midfielder recorded two goals and two assists last year after transferring in from Monmouth University. Asiedu had a productive 2017 season for the Bruins during which he was tabbed an All-Pac-12 Second Team selection. He will be looking to cap off his senior season by helping UCLA challenge for the Pac-12 Conference title and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament field.
Tanner Beason (Stanford) – One of the first names on the Stanford team sheet, Beason established himself as a key ingredient last season on a wonderful Stanford side that clinched it’s third straight NCAA championship while allowing a total of only nine goals and none during NCAA Tourney play. Beason along with teammates Adam Mosharrafa, Logan Panchot and Carson Vom Steeg face the challenge of filling the void that exists due to the graduation of All-American back Tomas Hillare-Arce. Last year Beason scored four goals and added three assists en route to being named to the All-Pac-12 First Team.
Erik Holt (UCLA) – Holt has a wonderful skill set for a central defender. A good case could be made that he’s college soccer’s best long-range passer. Holt always looks comfortable in possession and commands his box brilliantly. The 2017 All-Pac-12 First Team selection seems to be the complete defender. Holt is a team leader who will need to set the pace in order for the Bruins to bounce back from a 7-10-1 season last year.
Drake Callender (California) – Callender had seventy-nine saves and six shutouts in 2017. He had an up-and-down 2017 season in line with California's travails, but generally speaking, Callender can be relied to make the key saves he needs to make to help his team out of tight spots as he did on numerous occasions last year.
Saif Kerawala (Washington) – With forty-eight saves and seven seven shutouts last year, Kerawala has established himself as a solid and very capable presence between the pipes for the Huskies. He was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team in 2017 while helping Washington procure a 5-4-1 record in PAC-12 play. Kerawala's stability in goal was an important factor in the success Washingon enjoyed last year and will be again in 2018.
Jack Hallahan (Michigan) – Hallahan is a technical player who can play as an attacking midfielder or a second striker. He was in fine form throughout 2017 contributing nine goals and seven assists assists in twenty games. Look for Hallahan, a 2017 All-Big Ten First Team selection, to be in the conversation as 2018 Big Ten Attacker of the Year.
Ryan Sierakowski (Michigan State)- Sierakowski scored nine goals and added three assists in 2017 for the Spartans who advanced to the Elite Eight for the third time in the past five seasons. The 2017 campaign was an impressive season overall for Sierakowski and his Michigan State teammates. Sierakowski will need to continue with his form in 2018 in order for Michigan State to maintain the momentum and make another big run in the NCAA Tournament.
Griffin Dorsey (Indiana) – Look for the Hoosier sophomore who tallied three goals and contributed six assists last year to play an even greater role in a possesion oriented Indiana offense in 2018. The Hoosiers will enter the 2018 season as the team to beat in the Big Ten. The sky is the limit for Indiana in 2018 if everything falls into place.
Giuseppe Barone – (Michigan State) – With one goal and one assist in 2017, Barone may not have been at his clinical best for the Spartans. However, the stats didn't accurately reflect the contribution Barone made to the success of his team. His role on the team can not be understated as his creativity and intelligence on the ball gave purpose to the Spartan offense in 2017. Expect Barone, who was the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, to again be a linchpin for Michigan State in 2018.
Francesco Moore (Indiana) – Indiana was reliant on the midfielder to bring calm and balance to the 2017 team, an attribute which was key in helping the Hoosiers to an impressive season during which they won eighteen contests and advanced to the National Championship match. Not to mention, he scored three goals and notched three assists in the process. Look for the 2017 First-Team All-Big Ten selection who has been a starter for the past three years to have a banner season in 2018.
Marcello Borges (Michigan) – The Michigan defender embraced the role of left back during the Wolverine's regular season conference winning season in 2017 as Chaka Daley utilized Borges’ energy and stamina to great effect. Borges notched three assists from his defensive position last year.
Andrew Gutman (Indiana) – He was part of a resolute defense for indiana in 2017 that gave up only seven goals all year. The All-American added an impressive seven goals and four assists from his defensive position. The versatile and tenacious defender has proven himself to be equally adept at right-back or midfield for the Hoosiers.
Jimmy Hague (Michigan State) – Hague had eleven clean sheets in twenty games for the Spartans in 2017, earning plenty of plaudits along the way. He was an All-Big Ten First-Team selectin, as well as the Big Ten Goalkeeper of he Year, ahead of the very impressive Trey Muse. Hague kept Michigan state in numerous games over the season with massive saves in close contests.
Trey Muse (Indiana) – Muse's performance last year was amazing particulaly when you consider that he was only a freshman. The young stopper recorded an impressive 0.26 goals against average with sixty-five saves and eighteen shutouts. His speed off his line and agility are the base from which indiana’s attack begins.
Dela Agbotse is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org