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.