Despite classes only starting a couple of weeks ago, the US College Soccer season is already a 1/5th complete with some schools already playing as many as six games. There has been a few upsets to start the season with probably the most significant being last season’s champions Indiana falling out of most polls after starting the season 2-3-1.
Some rankings had the Hoosiers as preseason favorites this season, although I felt they had a few questions to answer, including: can 2014 MLS draft prospect Nikita Kotlov replace the goals scored last season by Seattle Sounders GA player Eriq Zavaleta, who scored 18 goals during the 2012 season?
Other teams with early seasons upsets include Georgetown and Maryland, who have already lost two games. However, top MLS prospects for the Hoyas Steve Neumann and Brandon Allen and Terps Patrick Mullins have continued to show the offensive skills that have them rated so highly. Some individual highlights from 2014 MLS draft prospects includes UCONN keeper Andre Blake not allowing a goal in his first 3 games and Coastal Carolina Pedro Ribeiro scoring 4 goals in his first 5 games despite his club having also lost two of their first five games.
One of Coastal Carolina losses was a 4-0 loss to North Carolina. The Tar Heels are currently ranked 2nd behind Creighton in the polls and despite being a traditional soccer powerhouse, this season might be more of a struggle than expected as the they have lost seniors, and 2014 MLS draft prospects, Rob Lovejoy and Andy Craven to injury for the entire season. I spoke about Lovejoy as a player to watch in my last NCAA article, however, for him and Craven this season is lost but now may return to college next year as 5th year Seniors.
My 2014 MLS draft rankings remains relatively unchanged:
1. Mamadou Diouf UCONN
2. Steve Neumann Georgetown
3. Sebastian Ibeagha, Duke
4. Brandon Allen, Georgetown
5. Andre Blake UCONN
6. Patrick Mullins Maryland
7. Boyd Okwuonu UNC
8. Kyle Venter, New Mexico
9. Mark Sherrod, Memphis
10. Jared Watts, Wake Forest
I thought I’d profile some of the lesser known players but as the season develops they could see themselves on the 2014 MLS draft radar.
Tomislav Zadro, Wisconsin
I will be honest Zardo hasn't been on my radar in over two years. The Canadian midfielder, who was born in Bosnia, had made a name for himself when he first transferred to Wisconsin in 2011 after being named Midfielder of the Year in the NJCAA at Illinois Central College. In 2011, Zadro scored 6 goals and had 8 assists but missed the entire 2012 season with an ACL Injury. Tomislav has great size at 6'3/175, is naturally left footed, has been healthy this season and has already scored two goals and four assists in five games. If he continues at this pace he will be of interest to all and should be a high priority for the Canadian teams.
Pete Caringi, UMBC
Caringi is your classic college player who excels for his school as well as his PDL team, but because he plays for a small school the jury is still out if he will be worth a shot for a MLS club. The 6'1 forward had already scored 24 goals in 60 college games before joining PDL club Baltimore this summer and winning leagues top young player as leading goalscorer with 16 goals in 12 games. He has also started the 2013 college season scoring a further eight goals in five wins. Caringi is the son of UMBC head coach so you can understand him playing there oppose to a bigger name school nd despite his goal totals this decision, ultimately may hurt his potential for a pro career.
Matt Walker, Xavier
Walker also had a strong PDL season this summer and was one of the league’s top creative players with six assists and has continued this form in the early season with three goals and four assists in five games. Walker plays for Xavier who have proven to be a good soccer program and have developed some players who have been drafted. However, the biggest concern regarding Walker’s pro potential is his size listed at 5'6/150. Smaller players don't have the greatest track record in establishing themselves as MLS pros, although Walker has shown a skill set to succeed at every level and maybe this type of offensive awareness is something MLS clubs should explore.
Steven Birnbaum, California
During his Freshman season with the Golden Bears, Steven Birnbaum’s defensive partners included AJ Soares and Demitrius Omphroy. Both players would be drafted into MLS with Soares being far more successful than Omphroy. One of the attributes that was noticeable in both players’ college stats was Soares additional skill set, including the ability to score goals. Birnbaum has taken this to heart as the 6'2 5th-year senior has already scored three goals in the first four game this season helping California regain national attention after struggling the last two years. Birnbaum would be classified as a typical centre back, but the showcasing of additional skills and success on the field should raise Birnbaum’s draft profile.
Omar and Cristian Mata, Tulsa
The Mata brothers might be one of the most interesting stories developing this 2013 NCAA season. Omar, the older brother, is a 5'9 senior midfielder playing a very active central midfield role that has seen him score both goals and set up plays. However, the last year and this season he has been in the shadow of his younger brother Cristian, a 5'9 sophomore forward who has so far scored 19 goals in 26 games, including five goals in six games this season. The question now isn't if Omar is going to get drafted but instead is Cristian going to get a GA contract and if both are available will the same MLS club choose to draft them as a partnership?
The CIS (Canadian University) is also in full flight with some teams playing close to half of their 2013 regular season schedule. The polls expect teams who were successful last season to do well this season, including UBC, who won the championship as part of an undefeated season. They lost a few players including CIS MVP Gagandeep Dosanjh, but still have some interesting players including Navid Mashinchi, who has already played professionally with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2009.
The player who I'm most interested in is Robert Murphy of Guelph who has scored 34 goals in 46 games going into this season, and according OUA statistics is averaging 4 shots a game. Murphy is an Ottawa native in his last season of eligibility, so expect him to get a tryout with the Fury but he might also be worth a look from a MLS club.
The top player in Quebec is probably France native Maxime Laurey, who plays for the University of Montreal and might be worth a look from the Impact.
Finally, out East it is pretty open with Cape Breton not expecting to repeat as AUS Champions. Early favorites seem to be St Mary's and I think their British born keeper Adam Miller might be one to watch as he has proven to be a team leader with the Huskies over the past three seasons.