I've followed NCAA College Division 1 soccer closely for the last decade, primarily as a scouting service in evaluating the draft for future MLS, NASL, and USL Pro players. Each year the college soccer season is decided by a 48-school knockout tournament called the College Cup. If you follow soccer you would know a single player doesn't make a team, so the reality is a well-coached side can succeed in college soccer and make the tournament without having any future MLS players. However, that being said, almost 90% of the players invited to the MLS Combine have college soccer tournament experience and over 80% of the players who are eventually drafted as well.
In my prediction of the pre-tournament draw I mentioned that I developed my own RPI on which club should be in the tournament based on results of the current season. This year my picks were similar to the actual NCAA committee in terms of schools, although our seeding order was quite different. Which means, in my opinion, the regions are quite uneven in terms of quality. Especially with regards to the 2014 MLS draft, prospects and potentially some of the most interesting games will actually take place in the earlier rounds.
Here is a summary of all the first two rounds of games and my overall predictions for the tournament. If wish, you can download the complete bracket here.
Regional Group 1
1. UCLA (11-3-4 Pac-12 At-Large) Plays winner of Clemson (11-7-2 ACC At-Large) at Elon (15-4-2 Southern Champion)
UCLA are always a strong University in terms of soccer and this year is no exception with the senior combination of Victor Chavez (6g/6a), Reed Williams, Joe Sofia and Patrick Matchett. However, the development of German junior Leo Stolz (9g/5a) helped UCLA secure the number one spot. The Bruins play the winners of Clemson led by Thomas McNamara (7g/7a) as they travel to face Daniel Lovitz (4g/6a) at Elon. UCLA should advance easily against Clemson or Elon, although they might have difficulty in Round 3 against UMBC or UCONN
16. UMBC (16-1-2 America East Champion) Plays winner of Quinnipiac (9-4-7 Metro Atlantic Champion) at Connecticut (11-2-6 AAC At-Large)
UMBC were ranked much higher throughout the season, but because they play in a small conference they were given the 16th seed by the committee. Lead by senior striker Pete Caringi (12g/3a/34SOG), whose father coaches the school, they will play the winner of Quinnipiac at UCONN. UCONN are led by the top keeper in college, Andre Blake (0.54GAVG), and Canadian freshman Cyle Larin (11g/2a). If Mamadou Diouf can start scoring, UCONN could win the whole region unseeded, but first will have to get by MAAC champion.
8. Virginia (10-5-5 Atlantic Coast At-Large) Plays winner of St. John's (10-6-2 Big East At-Large) at Delaware (14-4-1 Colonial At-Large)
All three teams in this grouping are very young with only St John's having potential seniors in the draft in Goalkeeper Rafeal Diaz (0.78 Gavg) and Jimmy Mulligan (4g/2a). The Storm will be an underdog against Delaware and their freshman striker Guillermo Delgado (14g/5a), with the winner playing Virginia. Virginia are led by US national youth players sophomore Todd Wharton and freshman Jordan Allen, who are both potential future high draft picks and core MLS players, and have been improving as the season has progressed.
9. Marquette (12-5-2 Big East Champion) Plays winner of Indiana (8-11-2 Big Ten Champion) at Akron (16-3-1 Mid-American Champion)
Certainly the most intriguing first round game is Indiana at Akron with both teams having no less than five potential 2014 MLS draft prospects each. Last year’s Soccer Cup winners Indiana have reconciled a horrible 2013 season by winning the Big Ten Champion and making the tournament, while Akron is in this position by having a very weak strength of schedule. The winner will play Marquette who are led by 6'7 Swedish defender Axel Sjoberg (2g/2a). The sophomore is listed by many as a potential GA, although its unsure if he wishes to leave school and play in MLS.
I will go with the upset and think Akron can go against the odds and win the region over UCONN in the elite 8.
Regional Group 2
4. California (12-4-2 Pac-12 At-Large) Plays winner of Bradley (13-6-2 Missouri Valley Champion) at Northwestern (10-7-3 Big Ten At-Large)
A couple of overrated teams here in my opinion. California are a strong side but have depended on both the offensive and defensive contributions of senior defender Steve Birnnaum (9g/1a), whose performances so far have seen him skyrocket up the draft board from a third round to a first round pick. Northwestern were a bubble team in my opinion, although they have good senior leadership in Chris Ritter (5g/4a) and the goals of sophomore Joey Calistri (12g/4a) and should get by Bradley and the match be fairly even against California.
13. Charlotte (12-5-3 Conference USA Champion) Plays winner of East Tennessee St. (10-5-4 Atlantic Sun Champion) at Coastal Carolina (17-4-0 Big South Champion)
Another team who I thought were unfairly ranked was Costal Carolina, led by my personal favorite player in college this season Pedro Ribeiro. The Brazilian, who I talked about in my preseason article, has only improved, scoring 11 goals and six assists from the midfield. If they get by ETSU, the Chanticleers will play Charlotte who are led by junior striker Giuseppe Gentile (8g/3a) and seniors Tyler Gibson (3g/3a), Aidan Kirkbride and Thomas Allen. Charlotte did beat Coastal Carolina 2-1 during non-conference play.
5. Maryland (13-3-5 Atlantic Coast Champion) Plays winner of Providence (12-5-3 Big East At-Large) at Penn (8-8-1 Ivy Champion)
Despite only having the 5th seed, Maryland should be strong favorites to win this region and shouldn't have much difficulties with either Providence or Penn. Maryland are led by Patrick Mullins and after winning the top soccer player the year before he's continued this season with 14 goals, 7 assists and 42 shots on target. Maryland also have draft prospect Sunny Jane (2g/6a) and one of the top underclassman Schillo Tshuma (6g/1a). Providence play very smart and cagey soccer, lead by senior Anthony Baumann (4g/2a), while Penn are the 2nd lowest ranked team in the tournament.
12. UC Irvine (14-4-3 Big West Champion) Plays winner of South Florida (8-3-9 AAC Champion) at North Carolina (8-5-5 Atlantic Coast At-Large)
A tough group played by three schools who know how to grind out games if needed. Much talked about North Carolina as one of the preseason favorites, but they lost both of their strikers, although they still have a trio of young prospects in Boyd Okwuonu, Jordan McCrary, and Omar Holness. South Florida are led by Senior defender Ben Sweat and had the most ties in college soccer. I wouldn't be surprised if all games go to PK, although UC Irvine does have some offensive class in senior Enrique Cardenas who scored eight goals and also had six assists.
I like Maryland in this region although Costal Carolina, North Carolina, and UC Irvine are also interesting teams to watch.
Regional Group 3
3. Notre Dame (12-1-6 Atlantic Coast At-Large) Plays winner of Milwaukee (14-2-2 Horizon Champion) at Wisconsin (13-4-2 Big Ten At-Large)
After losing Dilon Powers and Ethan Finlay the season before many expected a rebuilding year for the Irish, but the leadership of senior keeper Patrick Wall, defender Grant Van de Casteele and forward Harrison Shipp (9g/8a) have not only made Notre Dame competitive but the top ranked school east of the Pacific Coast. Notre Dame will host the 1st round local derby tie of Wisconsin and Milwaukee. Milwaukee is led by junior Laurie Bell (13g/3a), while Wisconsin have a couple of draft prospects including Canadian Tomislav Zadro (4g/8a) who has been battling injuries, but a real leader on offense when healthy.
14. Wake Forest (9-5-5 Atlantic Coast At-Large) Plays winner of Navy (15-3-2 Patriot Champion) at VCU (11-7-2 Atlantic 10 At-Large)
Wake Forest are one of the most gifted teams in college soccer this season. With potentially four seniors who might be picked in this season’s draft, lead by midfielder Jared Watts (2g/4a) and one of the top GA prospects in Sean Okoli (8g/2a). However, on the pitch the team won less than half their games and are major underdog in terms of advancing through the region. This being said, Wake Forest shouldn't be tested until the third round as neither Navy or VCU represent much of a threat.
6. Georgetown (13-4-2 Big East At-Large) Plays winner of Drexel (8-7-3 Colonial Champion) at Old Dominion (10-5-1 Conference USA At-Large)
Georgetown have two of the most exciting players currently in college soccer. Midfielder/Winger Steve Neumann (10g/6a) is ranked as not only by me as the top senior in the draft, but in my opinion the 1st overall pick. Forward Brandon Allen (11g/3a) is a New York Red Bulls homegrown player and many are looking forward to see what he can do in the MLS. Drexel and Old Dominion are both lead by British forwards with ODU's Tim Hopkinson (10g/4a/40sht) moving up the draft board despite him counting as an international signing.
11. Michigan St. (12-5-3 Big Ten At-Large) Plays winner of Denver (13-3-3 Summit Champion) at Louisville (11-4-3 AAC At-Large)
Like California, Michigan State’s success can be traced to the leadership of their team captain and central defender Kevin Cope (2g/1a). Cope has battled with injuries, but after missing a few games mid-season looks strong going into the tournament and if healthy will continue to move up the draft board. Louisville will provide the Spartans stiff competition as Sophomore Marlon Hairston (3g/2a) continues to impress and tries to follow fellow Cardinal Andrew Farrell as a top draft pick.
This is the most difficult region to pick especially taking draft prospects into account. Since Georgetown was there last season, I will have them repeating to the final four beating Notre Dame in the final 8.
Regional Group 4
2. Washington (14-1-4 Pac-12 Champion) Plays winner of Seattle (10-8-4 Western Athletic Champion) at Creighton (9-8-2 Big East At-Large)
Washington’s success is a bit of a surprise after losing top goalkeeping prospect Spencer Richey, although steady midfield play from seniors Michael Harris (2g/8a), Taylor Peay (6g) and Brad Jacobson (1g/2a) has turned the Huskies into one of the top teams in the US. Washington plays the winner of a disappointing Creighton and Seattle who is led by striker Miguel Gonzalez (13g/3a/44SOG). Creighton does have talent in Zach Barnes, Bruno Castro and preseason GA pick Eric Miller, and if they can get by Seattle they could give Washington trouble.
15. CS-Northridge (15-6-1 Big West At-Large) Plays winner of Loyola Marymount (13-4-2 West Coast Champion) at Stanford (9-6-3 Pac-12 At-Large)
This group includes three West Coast schools, however due to geographical scheduling which is prevalent in college soccer, they did not play each other this season. CS-Northridge are led by Israeli striker Sagi Lev-Ari (16g/6a/31SOG) who has shown an interest in playing in MLS and it will be interesting if and where a team gives him that opportunity. Stanford has a very young team led by Sophomore Aaron Kovar (2g/4a) well Loyola Marymount was a surprise winner of the WCC after going 6-10-4 in 2012.
7. New Mexico (11-5-2 Conference USA At-Large) Plays winner of George Mason (12-2-5 Atlantic 10 Champion) at William & Mary (11-5-2 Colonial At-Large)
New Mexico is led by the senior combination of top draft prospect defender Kyle Venter (1g/1a) and Costa Rican attacking midfielder Michael Calderon (6g/3a). The Lobos are not as strong as the previous season, a team that included Blake Smith and Devon Sandoval who made an impact this MLS season. To many, Venter is the most ready for MLS of all prospects. The winner of George Mason and William & Mary will make the far trip out west with both teams playing steady soccer but neither teams are really a threat to the top schools.
10. UC Santa Barbara (12-5-3 Big West At-Large) Plays winner of St. Francis NY (11-5-1 Northeast Champion) at Penn State (11-5-2 Big Ten At-Large)
Known as soccer haven, UC Santa Barbara averages the highest attendance of all schools in college soccer. They are also known for recruiting international players and this season is no exception as the club is led by the French combination up front of Achille Campion (7g/2a) and Goiffin Boyoko (8g/3a), as well as midfielder Fife Baiden from Ghana. All three are potential sleeper picks in the draft. St Francis NY are led by a strike partnership who combine for 21 goals, while Penn State are a hard-working club lead by senior Grant Warming.
For me this region is by far the weakest of the four, both for quality of team and MLS draft prospects. I feel the region is set up for UC Santa Barbara to advance unless Washington can succeed via a team performance, and if so, expect coach Jamie Clark to be on the top of people's list for the next MLS coach.
My personal final four pick is Akron, Maryland, Georgetown and UC Santa Barbara and Georgetown beating Maryland in the final. If my prediction is correct it would be great story for soccer in America since the Final Four are being held fairly close to both schools in Philadelphia. The Hoyas and Terps both include two of the top underclassman, as well as my number one prospect, Georgetown's Steve Neumann and number two Maryland's Patrick Mullins, in the 2014 MLS Draft.
The chances of my picks coming through are probably slim being this is a knock out tournament with PK's if games are tied, so upsets and surprises are bound to take place. However, no matter who wins, the NCAA Soccer Tournament, men's and women's, are great events on the soccer calendar and also have a huge impact on players you'll soon be watching in MLS.
At twelve noon today, Monday, November 18, the NCAA makes the decision on who is going to be in this season's tournament. Those who are aware of the NCAA Basketball tournament March Madness, the soccer tournament is very similar. However, instead of 64 teams it is 48, with the top 16 ranked schools getting a first round bye. I maintain my own form of RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) which takes into account team records, as well as strength of schedule, since all schools don't play even fixtures.
The NCAA produces their own RPI which they update weekly and in the past many teams who got in, or missed the tournament, was based on their RPI. The problem is they use the same RPI as in basketball, which doesn't treat ties fairly, as well as the geographic scheduling that is used in soccer, more than other college sports, creates issues regarding proper analysis of strength of schedule.
So far I have 42 schools in the tournament with 19 other schools on the bubble, and each could be one of the remaining At-Large spots depending on the direction the tournament committee takes. Twenty-Two schools automatically made the tournament for winning their conferences, either through the regular seasons or conference tournament.
The Horizon Conference had weather issues so the games have been delayed, although both schools should make the tournament. Due to a number of upsets in the conference tournament, as well as weaker conferences, there are schools who will be playing in the tournament who are ranked below the top 48 schools this season. This means a large number of quality schools this year will miss out. According to my analysis these are the spots that are already filled.
1. Washington (14-1-4 Pac-12 Champion)
2. UMBC (16-1-2 America East Champion)
3. UCLA (11-3-4 Pac-12 At-Large)
4. Maryland (13-3-5 Atlantic Coast Champion)
5. Notre Dame (12-1-6 Atlantic Coast At-Large)
6. Marquette (12-5-2 Big East Champion)
7. California (12-4-2 Pac-12 At-Large)
8. Georgetown (13-4-2 Big East At-Large)
9. Virginia (10-5-5 Atlantic Coast At-Large)
10. Akron (16-3-1 Mid-American Champion)
11. UC Irvine (14-4-3 Big West Champion)
12. Charlotte (12-5-3 Conference USA Champion)
13. Connecticut (11-2-6 AAC At-Large)
14. Coastal Carolina (17-4-0 Big South Champion)
15. Penn State (11-5-2 Big Ten At-Large)
16. Navy (15-3-2 Patriot Champion)
17. UC Santa Barbara (12-5-3 Big West At-Large)
18. New Mexico (11-5-2 Conference USA At-Large)
19. Elon (15-4-2 Southern Champion)
20. Wake Forest (9-5-5 Atlantic Coast At-Large)
21. Ill. Chicago (16-3-0 Horizon TBD)
22. Louisville (11-4-3 AAC At-Large)
23. George Mason (12-2-5 Atlantic 10 Champion)
24. Michigan St. (12-5-3 Big Ten At-Large)
25. Providence (12-5-3 Big East At-Large)
26. CS-Northridge (15-6-1 Big West At-Large)
27. South Florida (8-3-9 AAC Champion)
28. Wisconsin (13-4-2 Big Ten At-Large)
29. St. John's (10-6-2 Big East At-Large)
30. North Carolina (8-5-5 Atlantic Coast At-Large)
31. William & Mary (11-5-2 Colonial At-Large)
32. Milwaukee (14-2-2 Horizon TBD)
39. Loyola Marymount (13-4-2 West Coast Champion)
40. St. Francis Ny (11-5-1 Northeast Champion)
41. Bradley (13-6-2 Missouri Valley Champion)
42. Denver (13-3-3 Summit Champion)
43. Indiana (8-11-2 Big Ten Champion)
44. East Tennessee (10-5-4 Atlantic Sun Champion)
45. Quinnipiac (9-4-7 Metro Atlantic Champion)
46. Drexel (8-7-3 Colonial Champion)
47. Penn (8-8-1 Ivy Champion)
48. Seattle (10-8-4 Western Athletic Champion)
This leaves six spots open for one of the following schools Butler (11-8-1), Clemson (11-7-2), Creighton (9-8-2), Delaware (14-4-1), Duke (8-5-6), Furman (11-5-2), Gonzaga (9-6-3), Hartford (13-4-4), NC State (8-5-4), Northwestern (10-7-3), Old Dominion (10-5-1), Saint Louis (14-5-2), Stanford (9-6-3), Temple (10-4-4), Tulsa (11-6-3), UAB (12-5-1), UCF (8-5-5), VCU (11-7-2), Xavier (10-7-2).
In terms of having an effect on MLS and the 2014 Superdraft, hopefully the bubble teams that get in are Xavier, St Louis, Tulsa and Duke, as they have the most players of interest in terms of prospects, while Duke is also led by Canadian and Whitecap's homegrown freshman striker Brody Huitema.
We will know tomorrow afternoon with the tournament beginning its first round later in the week. I will be posting a preview of the tournament before it begins in terms of who are the favorites although in a knockout tournament with games going to penalty kicks upsets are always bound to happen.
On a cold Friday afternoon, one that makes you question the idea of MLS playing a winter schedule, two teams played the most important match of their 2013 season. The game was the 2013 CIS Semi-Finals and the teams were York University and University of British Columbia, however, in many ways the game was Toronto FC verse the Vancouver Whitecaps. York and UBC have become a popular next stops in soccer careers for TFC and Whitecaps Academy players after being released, or those still holding on as a senior academy player.
York currently has seven players with Toronto FC roots, with six of them playing Friday's game, while UBC also has six players with Vancouver Whitecaps roots, four of which played on Friday. Although they were missing Reynold Stewart, a 5th year player and team leader who won the top player of the year in Canada West. York also took the lead in the 11th minute through current TFC Academy player and York first year student Dylan Sacremento. UBC Sean Einarsson tied the game in the 24th minute, who doesn't have Whitecaps ties, while former Whitecaps U18 player Milad Mehrabi scored the winner for UBC in the 58th minute as the Thunderbirds held on to win the game 2-1 and advance to the CIS Finals. Of all the games at the tournament, this game showed the most class and York actually had more shots on target: 5-3.
UBC went on to beat Laval 3-1 in the finals, a game played on a snowy Sunday to repeat as CIS Champions. All three of UBC's goals were scored by players with Whitecaps ties. Niall Cousens, Navid Mashinchi, and Milad Mehrabi scored the game winning goal in the second straight game. Laval are a school featuring mostly local-based players, who are part of the Quebec youth system, took the lead through Amaury Fauvergue, but were outplayed throughout the game including being outshot on target 9 to 1.
As mentioned in my last college review article, there is big difference in attitude between the American and Canadian collegiate game. While the CIS season is now complete, and players will not be mentioned again until next September, anyone who follows the North American game will start becoming aware of the current NCAA season as teams are a week away from conference tournaments and a couple of weeks away from the soccer version of March Madness. As well, individual players will be mentioned for Homegrown positions, Generations Adidas and senior contracts, and where the others will fall in the draft.
It's funny how the hype machine works in sports media, especially when it comes to under-represented sports like soccer. In the past, as schools who progressed through the NCAA tournament, awareness of potential draft picks becomes apparent to the point where a good tournament could take a player from an unknown to a 1st round selection. Often players whose schools miss the big dance can go from being a prospect to being missed in the draft all together.
Even one game can influence what one might call an expert opinion and last year's NCAA final was a good example of this. Indiana won the tournament, lead by a number of players, however the name that stuck out was Femi Hollinger-Janzen: a very raw freshman with good athleticism and a haircut to match his name. Before the tournament Hollinger-Janzen was a sub with just three starts and two goals. Two goals in the tournament, including the game winner in the semi-finals against Creighton, put him on everybodies watch list and calls for possible GA contracts last year and this season. This season Hollinger-Janzen has struggled to keep a starting role, has scored five goals, and his Hoosiers are out of the tournament picture with a record of 6 wins 11 losses and one tie.
When it comes to evaluating college talent the question of who should get a GA contract is always one of the most debated issues. GA (Generation Adidas) are contracts given to players to leave school early and are mainly in place to protect MLS interests so the player doesn't leave school on his own and sign with a team in Europe. It is true that talent-wise the GA's tend to have the greatest potential, since each year you are taking on average ten players out of NCAA soccer who would have been the most high profile seniors. However, I have done a lot of statistical work regarding GA's and the reality is, performance-wise, there is not much difference between players given GA contracts and players drafted as seniors, but the GA's are paid almost four times more than the seniors.
The GA phenomenon also trickles down to the media as sites such as mlssoccer.com starts concentrating on the MLS Draft. It gets so bad, to the point where I've read some writers' draft predictions, and 20 of 40 players picked would have to be GA's, despite the league only giving 10 places or less. In my previous college articles this season, I have profiled players who I believe are the best underclassman, with Andre Blake of UCONN, Boyd Okwounu of UNC, and Akron defender Bryan Gallago, proving to be consistent players throughout their college career, and in my view should be given GA contracts and be first round picks in the upcoming draft.
Other GA candidates who not currently connected to a potential homegrown contract, who in my view should be listed accordingly:
1. Sean Okoli, Jr, Wake Forest
2. Marlon Hairston, So, Louisville
3. Schillo Tshuma, So, Maryland
4. Robbie Kristo, Jr, St Louis
5. Jordan McCary, Jr, North Carolina
6. Axel Sjoberg, So, Marquette
7. Eric Miller, Jr, Crieghton
8. Nick Besler, Jr, Notre Dame
9. Cristian Mata, So, Tulsa
10. Jordan Allen, Fr, Virginia
Truthfully, there are number of potential candidates who have become integral parts of their school's success this season and could move up the list based on how their team progresses the rest of the season. As well, GA's can include high school-aged players, such as Vancouver Whitecaps draft pick Kekuta Manneh, with USMNT U-17 player Rubio Ruben the most likely to join him in the upcoming 2014 draft.
Overall, there is plenty of good soccer talent both North and South of the border. The biggest question that always remains is are they capable of making the transition into the pro game? As I mentioned in my Montreal review article, expectation tends to weigh heavily on players who are picked, and GA contracts just add to this pressure. The reality has been proven if you let a player develop, in his own time you'll get the most out of them whether it's at the age of 17, 23 or 26.
The CIS regular season came to an end this weekend, while state side the NCAA is deep into conference play, and in both associations teams have played between 12 to 14 games, which in term evaluating talent you can start coming to some conclusion on this season's performances.
I have had the chance to personally scout a couple of CIS games, including a match between top ranked York and Guelph lead by striker Robert Murphy who I wrote about in my CIS preview. York won the game 2-0 and Murphy showed some talent but did not stand out. Part of the reason is York, talent-wise, has more depth than Guelph. However, to me it seems CIS players know this is most likely the end of their soccer careers, so they don't appear to have the same determination as you witness south of the border. I do feel there is talent at the CIS level and feel the CSA should put more effort in raising the profile of the domestic game and give these players aged 18 to 22 some hope.
For Canadians there is some hope South of the border. The Syracuse duo of Alex Halis and Chris Nanco are proving to be some of the top freshmans in the NCAA this season, to go along with fellow 905'er UCONN's Cyle Larin. TFC should make sure they do anything possible so these players are potential Homegrown players four years down the road. Another Canadian, MacKenzie Pridham, a senior at Cal-Poly has scored 8 goals in 14 games and now should be in the list of potential draft picks in the 2014 MLS Superdraft.
In terms of the top prospects for the 2014 MLS Superdraft my lists remains mostly the same as it has in previous weeks with my current top 10 prospects.
The biggest change in my complete list are probably the underclassman or potential GA's where the team success of Notre Dame and Louisville has put box-to-box midfielders Nick Besler and Marlon Hairston in the list of potential first round picks. The concern for these two though is neither player has outstanding size or athleticism, while St Louis' Robbie Kristo and Indiana's Femi Hollinger-Janzen, who do have some skills that show potential, their own and teams’ performance this season creates some concerns about giving the players a guaranteed MLS contract.
Speaking of Indiana concerns, last year champions have been the biggest disappointment this season already losing nine games and are probably eliminated from post-season, which puts a number of high profile college players going into this season’s draft potentially in jeopardy.
West Coast teams have had a strong early campaign with California and Washington at the top of the polls, with CS-Northridge and UCLA closely behind. I have a few west coast-based players just out of my top 10 MLS draft prospects including California's Steve Birnnaum, UCLA's Victor Chavez, and CS-Northridge's Sagi Lev-Ari. It could be argued there is an east coast bias to my list. One of the reasons is the NCAA Soccer schedule is very regionalised, so many of the west coast teams haven't played the top east teams and vice-versa, so a bias exists because there is a lot more east coast teams then west.
Another reason I would argue the success of the west coast teams has less to do with individual talent but quality of coaching. As I'm a strong believer in college talent I'm also a strong supporter of NCAA coaching and their potential of being quality MLS Coaches. In the past I've debated this topic with people in the game and my main argument is that NCAA college coaches have the greatest awareness of North American soccer talent and their experience makes them more knowledgeable about the position than a recently retired MLS player.
This has been proven as well in the MLS records books with the league’s greatest coaches Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and Sigi Schmid, and the success this season of new coaches Caleb Porter and John Hackworth, all joined the league from the NCAA ranks.
This being said here is my list of current NCAA Soccer coaches who I think would have the greatest success in the MLS.
Tim Vom Steeg, UC Santa Barbara
Vom Steeg has turned Santa Barbara’s soccer program into a powerhouse both off and on the pitch and has many similarities to what Caleb Porter did at Akron before joining Portland. Vom Steeg has an overall record of 186-72-27 since 1999, and prior coached Santa Barbara City College to a 121-18-4 record.
Vom Steeg won national coach of the year in 2004 and again in 2006 as he led the Gauchos to the national title that season. The 2006 team included MLS players Eric Avila, Chris Pontius, Andy Iro, and Tyler Rosenlund. He also recruited and managed Rob Friend, Dan Kennedy, Sam Garza and Luis Silva. Vom Steeg has also not been afraid of recruiting international players and adapting them into the team despite language and tactical barriers probably one of the biggest transition from the college to the pro game.
Sasho Cirovski, Maryland
In my opinion, it’s a shame this Canadian has not been offered either the Toronto FC or Canada National Team job yet. A man who started his playing career in the old Canadian Soccer League, Cirovski is a legend in college soccer with a 314-116-29 record at Maryland, including two champions and five final four appearances. However, his greatest achievement might be the amount of players he coached who turned professional.
Currently there are 17 MLS players who played at Maryland including Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers, and Graham Zusi. Add to this Maurice Edu is a former Terp and in total Cirovski developed 47 current and retired MLS players. He's probably the greatest Canadian soccer coach of all-time, although the only question regarding him coming to the MLS is he might be taking a pay cut to do so.
Jamie Clark, Washington
Only 36 years old, and born in Scotland, Clark played college soccer for North Carolina and Stanford before being selected in the 1999 MLS draft by San Jose. He played 34 games in the MLS from 1999 to 2001 he then played some games in Scotland, as well as the US minor division A-League.
He tried his hand in coaching in 2002, first as an assistant with New Mexico then Notre Dame. He was offered the head coach position at Harvard in 2008 and lead the team to a 26-10-1 record and NCAA tournament spots. He then became Creighton’s head coach in 2010 and finished the season 13-5-2 before joining Washington in 2011. Each season he's coached he had players drafted in the MLS drafts, so he has shown an ability to recruit but his specialty is motivating teams to success which is also key in the professional game.
Ken Lolla, Louisville
Caught up in the non professional days of American Soccer, Ken Lolla never really got a shot as a professional player despite a number of awards in college. The 47 year old started coaching in his twenties, although made a name for himself as head coach of Akron where he coached from 1993 to 2005 having a record of 160-68-25 and building the framework that later allowed Caleb Porter to be so successful.
He joined Louisville in 2006 and has posted an 88-42-19 record, including runner-up in the 2010 National Championship Game. He has developed 15 MLS players via Louisville including recent highly touted players Austin Berry, Nick DeLeon and Andrew Farrell, and many expected a fall from grace this season but the Cardinals remain as one of the top teams in the country.
Kevin Grimes, California
Kevin Grimes might have the greatest playing pedigree amongst NCAA coaches. The former defender was capped by the US National Team five times and was part of the inaugural MLS player draft in 1996. Although already 30, he retired soon after and joined SMU as an assistant coach in 1997 and then became head coach of the University of California in 2000 and since has won PAC 12 coach of the season five time and three conference titles.
His career record as a coach 131-80-31 isn't as good as the others but he has proven he can develop MLS talent including having six players drafted in the 2010 MLS draft. This year California has surprised many and if Grimes was to lead the Bears to a National Championship a transition to the MLS might be the perfect next step.
Other potential MLS coaching prospects include Carlos Somoano, North Carolina, Brian Wiese, Georgetown and despite Indiana’s struggles this season their coach Todd Yeagley has former MLS experience. Meanwhile veteran coaches Jay Vidovich, Wake Forest and Ray Reid, Connecticut have great experience winning games and developing MLS talent, although like Cirovski they might be happier where they are than in the MLS.
As I've said many times before we need to respect the MLS as a North American product and this should include the promotion of North American talent be it player or coaches.
The college soccer season continues to be in full stride, with most schools in America starting their conference schedule where the games have an added value. The NCAA Division 1 soccer championship is similar to basketball and teams who win their conferences advance automatically to the big dance in November.
It also means most schools have played between eight to ten games, which allows for better evaluation of expectations for this season, both at a team level and at individual level. Team-wise, traditional soccer powers Notre Dame, Creighton, Akron, Washington, Georgetown and Maryland seem to be early championship favorites. California, CS Northridge, UMBC and Dayton might not have the same reputation, but early season success has them equally high up in the polls. Strength of schedule does play a major role, especially during conference play, so the key is not to evaluate teams purely on win-loss record. That being said, six or more losses could see any school eliminated from post-season play.
In terms of prospects for the 2014 MLS Draft an interesting trend has happened where highly rated offensive players such as Mark Sherrod, Mamadou Diouf and Steve Neumann have a high number of shots but are scoring goals at much lower rate than they have in previous seasons. One reason for this is these players would be fully aware that the MLS is interested in them so they might be trying too hard to impress scouts and increase their statistics instead of playing naturally like did earlier in their career.
This can be a concern - in analyzing past drafts, players who had poor seasons as seniors compared to the rest of their career have struggled to make an impact at a MLS level. A great example is Toronto FC Midfielder Kyle Bekker where after a very good junior season for him and his school Boston College, he had a very poor season last year when he was a senior.
Since the season still at the halfway mark I will give the benefit of the doubt, however, I do have concerns for UCONN's Mamadou Diouf who has failed to score, and because he would take up international spot, despite his athletic ability he has fallen significantly on my list. Alternatively, California's Steve Birnnaum who I profiled in my last college article has continued to impress and has moved up, in my opinion, to a first round pick.
Since my top ten has remained mostly the same I thought I would profile the next group of seniors who I haven't written about in my previous articles. These players have a good college reputation, although have not stood out, so there is still questions remaining regarding their MLS potential. I could see MLS inviting all these players to the combine, although in the draft they could fall to the later rounds.
Victor Chavez, UCLA
On the positive side Victor Chavez is a 5'11 forward has played both for the United States under-17 and under-18 national teams and he also plays at very high profile school in UCLA. Although this also creates an issue, since UCLA are one of the top recruiters Chavez has had to wait is turn for his opportunities and prior to this season half his games he came on as a substitute where he scored 19 goals in 59 games going into this season. Another issue is the failure of high profile UCLA alumni forwards in previous drafts and part of the reason is they play more on the wing, which doesn't necessarily translate to the pro game.
Harrison Shipp, Notre Dame
Harrison Shipp is another forward who has had to wait his turn at a high profile school. Shipp is the go to offense that Ryan Finaly was last season so he's only started four of his 60 college games going into this season, scoring 11 goals and 12 assists. Shipp has improved those numbers this season averaging a goal or an assist per game and Notre Dame has performed better than expected. If Shipp is drafted by an MLS club, he might be used more in the midfield which works much better for his size of 5'9/145.
Andy Lubahn, Wake Forest
Andy Lubahn is an interesting story. He had a very successful Freshman and Sophomore season scoring 18 goals in 43 games and going into his Junior season there was talk about him being a GA. He performed adequately in his Junior year, although his goal total fell and he was hurt last season with a knee injury after playing just two games. He's come this year as a fifth year senior and has done well on a team that is expected to challenge for a championship. The 22-year old has good size 6'1/170 and has played on multiple US National teams, however we still have to see if his past injuries will have an effect on his value in the draft.
Zach Barnes, Creighton
Barnes transferred to Creighton from SMU last season and was a key player in the midfield as Creighton advanced to the Soccer Championship Final Four. Barnes is your typical box-to-box hard working midfielder with decent size at 5'10/160 and has shown some ability to create offense. Barnes also represented the US youth national teams and might fit the pro mold better because he's used to being an asset both on offense and defense. Because Barnes doesn't have the statistics of others his value in the draft will be partly based on the success of Creighton this season.
Michael Calderon, New Mexico
The Costa Rican transferred from a small northeastern school Fairleigh Dickenson to give New Mexico a bit of flair in the midfield. The 24-year old attacking midfielder fit in well on a team that included current MLS players Devon Sandoval and Blake Smith. This season Calderon has lot more responsibilities and could become a true attacking midfielder, a position not normally found at US colleges. Calderon has no fear in taking shots, although these shots will have to lead to goals and assists this season if he is going to make a presence on draft day.
Kevin Cope, Michigan State
Like California's Steve Birnnaum, Kevin Cope is a 22-year old red shirt senior with great experience as a central defender. He also added to his reputation for having successful seasons in the PDL including Defender of the Year in 2012. A team captain, his success has almost mirrored the success of Michigan State and these leadership skills may relate well at the pro level. One concern has been his ability to deal with injuries missing most of the 2011 season and so far already missing a few games this season.
Rafeal Diaz, St John's
So far this season other, than the reputation of Andre Blake, the list of top goalkeeping prospects has remained quite open. Other highly touted keepers, Washington’s Spencer Richey has been injured, while SMU’s Jaime Ibarra has struggled. This means St. John's Rafeal Diaz looks to be the second best goalkeeper in the draft. After red shirting his Freshman year Diaz has been the starting keeper for the Red Storm the last four seasons. Small for a keeper at 6'0/160, he is known as a shot stopper and is very athletic compared to other keepers.
Chris Ritter, Northwestern
Ritter is a leader in the midfield and what you expect from the American prototype soccer player: Hard working, great Size at 6'2 190, and has contributed both with goals and assists through effort more than finesse. Ritter is also a fifth year senior who is the captain of his side, playing over 70 games with all but two as a starter. He is the type of player who could potentially be molded in to an MLS pro and once he establishes a greater awareness of the game could use his size to his advantage.
Eric Stevenson, Akron
Despite being overshadowed by his teammates this season and in the past, the 23-year old, 5th year senior has been a useful part in the Zips overall success. The 5'8/145 midfielder had a breakout season last year scoring seven goals and four assists well starting 22 games, many times being the top performer in one of the nation’s best midfield. Stevenson is expected to do the same this season and has already improved his assists ratio from previous seasons. Akron players historically have done well in the draft and although Stevenson might not have the flair as his teammates, his results will make him a commodity on draft day.
Joey Dillon, Georgetown
With the success of Georgetown last season and current Hoyas Steve Neumann and Brandon Allen being two of the most high profile players in college, it has brought many people to the attention of defensive midfielder Joey Dillon. Dillon is certainly more defensive than box-to-box, although he plays a vital role allowing the others to concentrate on offense while he protects the back line. Dillon has decent size at 6'0/160, so he could also be converted into a defender although a defensive specialist in the midfield can be useful especially if a team wishes to play a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation. Dillon understanding his role could provide additional value for the team who takes him in the draft.
Meanwhile, in Canada teams are entering the midpoint of the season and UBC and Montreal continue to show they are dominant teams in their conference this season. Continuing on the MLS theme the two top clubs in Ontario this season are Toronto based York and Ryerson University, but unfortunately because of divisions the Lions and Rams will not potentially play each other until the playoffs.
Both teams are very well balanced, although York might be the deepest team in the country lead by the goal scoring of Mark Kaye, Jonathan Leo, Joseph Cicchillo and Dylan Sacramento, but the top prospect on the team arguably could be 6'3 defender Daniel Fabrizi.
Ryerson has been lead by the goal scoring of Alexander Braletic, but the team has also played great defense going undefeated at 7-0-1 and allowing only five goals in the process. Ryerson looks like it has clinched Ontario East while York still has to hold off Guelph and McMaster.
St Mary's leads things in the East which is interesting since all Canadian Conferences are lead by schools located in the regions largest city.