College Soccer Coast to Coast. The 2016 season is just around the corner. These teams may be absent from the 2016 preseason national polls but all have the potential to make a run in their respective conferences and to make their presence known on the national scene.
Xavier – The Musketeers had several big wins last year but lacked consistency. They will enter the 2016 season with a solid group of midfielders and defenders but questions exist regarding offensive firepower up-top and a new face will be in goal. Junior Matt Vasquenza and senior Jalen Brown are among those with the talent to spark the attack. Cory Brown will anchor the backline. The good news is that the Musketeers will have to rely less on new faces this year than many Big East teams.
Resolve the gaps and Xavier will be in the hunt for the Big East Title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Furman – The Paladins return their top five goal scorers from the 2015 team led by seniors Lewis Hawke and Bobby Edet which is a big plus but they have significant voids to fill on the defensive side of the ball due to the graduation of back Eric Steber and goalkeeper Sven Lissek. Junior center back Kyle McLagan will be called upon to anchor the defense.
If the Paladins up their productivity on the offensive side of the ball without a significant drop on the defensive side of the ball they should secure a lot of wins.
Butler – The Bulldogs were on the bubble for a berth in the NCAA Tournament last year. Butler will be very solid down the spine with redshirt junior Erick Dick between the pipes, center backs Joe Mouldin and Mitch Ostrowski, center midfielders Jared Timmer, Marco Charalambous and Eric Leonard patroling the center of the park, and senior David Goldsmith adding power to the attack up-top. Butler played everyone close last year in route to a 10-4-4 overall record with a 6-3-0 mark in Big East play. A few key goals and a few big stops last year and the Bulldogs would have had a great season.
Make those plays in 2016 and this is a team that has the talent, experience, and grit to prevail in the close contests and move upward in the Big East standings and on the national scene.
Drake – Nine starters return from the 2015 team that was 13-5-3 overall, won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, and defeated Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Senior midfielders James Wypch (7g, 1a) and playmaker Mueng Sunday (1g, 7a) return to power the attack. Senior back James Grunert (3g, 0a) and senior Darrin Macleod who has been the starter in goal for Drake for the past three seasons return to anchor the defense.
Gareth Smith will enter his second season at the helm of the Drake program with a team that has a ton of potential and momentum along with the challenge of playing their first five contests of the 2016 season on the road.
LIU Brooklyn – Where is the love for the Blackbirds. Nine starters return from the young 2015 squad that was undefeated in Northeast Conference play, won the NEC Tournament for the first time since the 2004 campaign, and gave Rutgers all they could handle in the first round of the NCAA Tourney before coming out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout. Sophomore midfielder Rasmus Hansen (8g, 4a) who was the 2015 NEC Conference Rookie of the Year and a CSN Second Team All-Freshman selection returns with the advantage of a year of experience under his belt. Redshirt sophomore Romario Guscott (7g, 0a) and sophomore midfielder Simen Hestnes (4g, 5a) are among other playmakers who will add an additional dimension to the attack. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Logan Keys returns to anchor the defense.
What the young Blackbirds accomplished last year under the direction of TJ Kostecky was a major boost for a program, that if hungry for more, should be very competitive again in 2016.
California – With their entire starting lineup and a host of supporting players back, the Golden Bears look to bounce back from a disappointing, by their own standards, 2015 season in which they were 9-6-2 overall. California showed a lot of grit and determination when they rallied down the homestretch last year to win four out of their last five matches but it turned out to be too little too late and they failed to receive an invite to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons. Senior forward Christian Thierjung who led the Cal attack last year with nine goals, junior forward Paul Salcedo and redshirt junior center midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia return to pace the offense in 2016. Senior back Nick Lima who was a 2015 All-Pac 12 First Team selection, senior defensive midfielder Trevor Haberkorn and sophomore goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann return to anchor what should be a solid defense.
Look for a determined California team led by equally determined head coach Kevin Grimes to hit the ground running in 2016 but redemption is not going to be easy. After hosting St. Mary's and Penn State, California travels to Bloomington to face highly regarded and equally determined Indiana and Notre Dame. The Golden Bears have another difficult task in front of them when they travel to face UC Santa Barbara in Harder Stadium to close out the month of September before traveling to tangle with defending national champion Stanford to open Pac-12 Conference play.
Dayton – The Flyers have huge gaps to plug due to the departure of midfielder Amas Amankona (13g, 5a), forward Maik Schoonderwood (11g, 6a) and defender Carlos Sendin among others from the 2015 team that won the Atlantic 10 Tournament, returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tourney for the first time in the history of the program. Regardless a solid core returns including senior forward James Haupt (7g, 7a), senior defender Lalas Abubkar and senior goalkeeper Justin Saliba. Dennis Currier has added a six member recruiting class that includes center midfielder Louis St. John among others who have the ability to contribute on the offensive side of the ball.
Adjustments will be required to acclimate quickly to the departures, but the Flyers have enough talent on board to again be very good.
Oakland – The Golden Grizzlies are among the teams that have a ton of potential but enter the season facing more than the average number of voids to plug due to the loss of a very productive senior class that played a key role in the success the program has enjoyed over the past few years. Oakland will likely undergo a learning curve of sorts in the early going but the fact that this is a program with a winning culture as reflected in back-to-back Horizon League Championship and NCAA Tournament seasons should help in that regard. Ditto that for the addition of what looks to be a very good recruiting class. Junior forward Austin Ricci (8g, 3a), the 2015 Horizon League Co-Offensive Player of the Year, and senior midfielder Alex Serwatka (3g, 1a) will likey have to buoy the attack due to the departures. Some new faces like transfer defender Wilfred Williams who was an NJCAA First Team All-American last year will have to step forward on the defensive side of the ball as well in order for Oakland to secure a third consecutive berth in the NCAA Tourney in 2016.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, but chances a pretty good that the Golden Grizzlies will gain momentum as the season progresses if all the pieces fall in place.
Tulsa – Tom McIntosh always fields a competitive team. No reason to expect the 2016 season to be any different with eight starters back from a very young 2015 squad that won the American Athletic Conference Tournament and topped FIU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before their season came to an end in the second round when they were topped by Notre Dame in a match that required penalty kicks to determine who advanced. Key departures include defender Bradley Bourgeois, the 2015 American Athletic Conference Defense Player of the Year, due to graduation and midfielder Geoffrey Dee who transferred. Sophomore forwards Juan Sanchez (8g, 3a) and Miguel Velasquez (4g, 1a) and sophomore midfielder Lesley Nchanji (2g, 3a) are among returning players who should experience the bump that goes along with having a year of experience under their belts.
Senior midfielder Ray Saari (1g, 4a) who has been a starter for the past two seasons and senior Jake McGuire, a Second Team All-Conference selection last year, who has been the starter between the pipes for the past three years will add experience and set the pace for the team.
Hofstra – The Pride is coming off a banner fourteen win season in which they won the Colonial Athletic Association Championship, returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2006 season, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Hofstra returns almost all of their offense from the 2015 campaign but have a few holes to plug on the defensive side of the ball due to the graduation of goalkeeper Patric Pray and defender Marius Flateboe among others. On the positive side of the ledger, senior All-American midfielder Joseph Holland (8g, 9a), the 2015 CAA Player of the Year and an impact player since arriving on campus, returns to power the offense. The attack should be very balanced with junior forward Meshack Eshun Addy (6g, 3a) and junior midfielder Mani Walcott (4g, 2a) among a contingent of experienced playmakers slated to return. Seniors Harri Hawkins (2g, 1a) and Rory Murphy (0g, 5a) and sophomore Sean Nealis (1g, 0a) are among a solid nucleus of returning backs.
Richard Nuttal will not have to wait long to determine how competitive his team will be since they have a very challenging schedule that includes an early season gauntlet on the road with non-conference foes Charlotte, Boston College and Syracuse. The Pride also has away games with Virginia and Maryland on their dance card in October.
Washington – When there is a gap on the west coast someone always emerges to fill it. In 2013 Washington under the direction of Jamie Clark appeared to be emerging as the west coast coast powerhouse when they won the Pac-12 Conference, secured sixteen wins, and earned the number two seed in the NCAA Tournament. In 2014 the Huskies had a total of twelve wins and returned to the NCAA Tournament with a number fourteen seed but in 2015, perhaps in part due to key injuries, they dropped to 8-5-6 overall with a 4-3-3 mark in Pac-12 play and were absent from the NCAA Tournament field. The 2016 season may be a tipping point of sorts for the Huskies who will seek to get back on track. Last year Washington's attack produced a total of only eighteen goals while the defense allowed a total of only thirteen goals. Offensive productivity is an area where there is an opportunity for improvement in 2016. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Coffee (2g, 0a) and senior forward Mason Robertson who missed a large portion of the 2015 season due to injury are among those who could jump start the attack. Redshirt senior Justin Schmidt (1g, 3a) and sophomore Quentin Pearson (2g, 1a) return to anchor the defense.
The Huskies have the potential to be very good but just how good will likely depend on significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball without a decline on the defensive side of the ball in order for that to become a reality. The Huskies have the opportunity to make a statement right out of the gate when they open the season on the road with a very good at Utah Valley team.
Albany – A very solid nucleus returns on both sides of the ball for head coach Trevor Gorman who will enter his sixth season at the helm of the Albany program in 2016. The Great Danes had a breakthrough season in 2015 during which they won the America East regular season title and finished with a 10-8-1 overall record to secure their first winning season since 2008. As a result they will enter the 2016 season in the unusual position of being the preseason favorite to win the America East title. Twelve players who made at least eight starts last year return to give Gorman a lot of experienced material to work with.
The offense will be very capably powered up-top by junior forward Afonso Pinheiro (11g, 4a) who was the 2015 America East Strike of the Year. The defense should also be a team strength with the return of backs Keith Traut, Bernardo Mattos, Luke Palmateer, and Jeff Medina and goalkeepers Danny Vitiello and Eric Orologio.