It's late August once again and the 198 Division I men's soccer teams are set to do battle for 48 available spots in the 2005 NCAA tournament, culminating in 47th edition of the College Cup in North Carolina beginning December 9th. But before they get started, we had to select our preseason Top-20 and an All-America team. Here are our picks.
The nation's most successful program is looking for its first three-peat as national champs. Last year, rookie coach Mike Freitag hoisted the hardware, not missing a beat after taking the Hoosier reigns from the legendary Jerry Yeagley. Despite the loss of D Drew Moor, M Danny O'Rourke and GK Jay Nolly to the pros, the eight other starters return. Prep POY Lee Nyguen joins juniors Jed Zayner and U.S. U-20 national teamer Jacob Peterson and seniors Brian Plotkin and Mike Ambersley. No question, the boys from Bloomington are again the team to beat.
Losing former walk-on-turned-star midfielder Benny Feilhaber to Hamburg of the German Bundesliga hurts the Bruins, but fellow U-20 starlet Marvell Wynne returns to Westwood after his breakthrough displays at June's FIFA World Youth Championship. Wynne's national team teammate Patrick Ianni also returns, giving coach Jorge Salcedo a formidable D to surround with another strong group of newcomers.
Senior forward Jason Garey is a Herman Trophy frontrunner, six other starters return and coach Sasho Cirovski brings in highly-touted cast of recruits including local high school all-Americans A.J. Delagarza and Michael Marchiano. Plus, motivation won't be a problem for the College Park crew after three straight final four flops. Yes, losing midfielder Domenic Mediate and goal-getter Abe Thompson hurts, but expect to see the Terps in N.C. in December.
Senior Ms Blake Camp and Michael Videira (last season's top ACC frosh) lead a John Rennie squad that returns all but one starter from 2004. Plus, the Blue Devils blue-chip recruiting class is among the nation's best. Rennie's team is nearly unbeatable in Durham (15-1 in ´04) and the Devs have a real shot at taking home the title this year after being knocked out in the semis last time around.
5. New Mexico
Could be this year's version of UC Santa Barbara. The Lobos lost just one game in 2004, finishing 17-1-2, good for the best record in school history. Seven starters from last year's squad remain in Albuquerque, but coach Jeremy Fishbein is looking to senior standouts Jeff Rowland (F) and Lance Watson (M) to set the pace early and peak when it matters most: at tourney time. The Lobos can do better than last year when they were bounced in the third round.
The Huskies 2004 record (12-8-3) was mediocre by the lofty standards set by coach Ray Reid, but they still brought home the program's fifth BIG EAST Tournament championship. Reid, the winningest active coach in the NCAA, adds a small but solid crop of newbies to UConn's talented, deep, experienced roster. Nine starters return and the stingy D that kept opponents scoreless throughout the conference tourney remains intact.
7. St. John's
Coach Dave Masur lost key players like Bill Gaudette (now with MLS' Columbus Crew) and Andrei Gotsmanov (who transferred to Creighton) among others, but teams still will not look forward to visiting Belson Stadium. The Red Storm have midfielders Matt Groenwald and Andre Schmid back for another year as well as junior juggernaut Jeff Carroll on D. Plus, the new two-division BIG EAST format means an easier in-conference schedule for the New York City side, and that might help (or backfire, perhaps?) come playoff time.
Last year's shock finalists won't sneak up on opponents as easily in '05 after their Cinderella run last year. Gauchos coach Tim Von Steeg lost key players all over the field but the College Cup exposure paid off when it came time to replace departed vets like Fs Drew McAthy and Neil Jones. Youth national team standout Eric Avila leads a large, talented recruiting class but a young Santa Barbara team in the title game would really be a shock this time around.
Southern Methodist University went 16-4-1 under longtime leader Schellas Hyndman in 2004. Four starters graduated, but local club soccer power Dallas Texans continues to funnel a pipeline of talent into the Mustangs' cupboard. D Kevin Mackey and forward Paulo da Silva highlight the newcomers while midfielder David Chun and forward Duke Hashimoto (who's healthy again after ACL surgery) lead the returnees. And, although they are the new kids on the block in Conference USA after ditching the Mountain West, SMU was picked to win the league crown by the C-USA's coaches.
10. UNC Greensboro
UNC-G lost only three games in '04, and All-Americans Randi Patterson and Scott Jones are back and poised to once again light up saucer-eyed defenders for the Spartans. Don't rule out a UCSB-like run for this lot either.
The Cavaliers captured their 14th ACC Championship and won the ACC Tournament title for the second consecutive season. Virginia also made the NCAA Tournament for a mind-boggling 24th consecutive year and finished 18-5-1. As Bruce Arena's successor, coach George Gelnovatch has won three ACC Championships (1997, 2003 and 2004), but Virginia is a definite long shot to return to the NCAA Championship game for the first time since 1997. Returning starting forward Adam Cristman is the Cavs' main offensive threat.
Herman candidate Dominic Oduro leads the Rams charge up top under coach Tim O'Sullivan. VCU has seven starters and 14 letter-winners returning from a squad that went 12-6-3 in 2004. They eliminated top-seeded Wake Forest in the third round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual finalist UC Santa Barbara in the quarters, the farthest they had ever advanced in tourney play.
13. Creighton The Blue Jays return eight starters, including three-year captain Matt Wieland who leads the Jays from the back. Offensively, Michael Kraus, Tim Bohnenkamp and senior Brian Biggerstaff will try to fill the nets and the seats at beautiful Morrison Stadium, which holds up to 6,000 fans.
14. San Francisco
Brandon McDonald and Aaron Chandler are the danger men for the Dons. Last year, USF was one of the nation's big surprises, finishing 15-5-1. Coach Erik Visser was named West Coast Conference COY and forward Chandler was named league MVP. San Fran returns all but one starter from last season and adds a competent recruiting class.
15. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons finished last season 14-5-2, but the always-strong Deacons are rebuilding this year after several key departures. Deacs coach Jay Vidovich brings in a pair of high school All-American forwards in Jaime Franks and Marcus Tracy. Justin Moose is an all-out attacker and All-Everything contender in 2005.
16. Santa Clara
Morocco native Mehdi Ballouchy is a bona fide Herman dark horse. Fourth-year Broncos coach Cameron Rast will try to lead SCU back to the College Cup after missing out in 2004, adding to the perennial power's ten appearances in the final four. Eight starters are back including soph defender Jamil Roberts, who just helped the U.S. Under-18 men's national team beat Brazil on the way to winning the elite group of the prestigious 2005 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Coach Tom McIntosh's Golden Hurricanes have more going for them than their name. Sure, they lost Ryan Pore to the Kansas City Wizards of MLS but McIntosh adds 13 recruits to the senior duo of Kyle Brown and Daniel Wasson. In fact, Brown's two goals led Tulsa past Pore and Kansas City's other reserves earlier this year. Closed out 2004 with a 12-7-4 record and a quarterfinal tourney run.
18. North Carolina
Returnees Ford Williams, Corey Ashe and Michael Harrington will try to make up for the loss of four of the Tar Heels top five scorers. Chapel Hill's side went 10-9-2 last year and made a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Head coach Elmar Bolowich has added an impressive bunch of recruits and the Heels will surely contend for the ACC title.
The toughest team in purple made its first NCAA tourney appearance last season, but the Big Ten runner up (to Michigan) wont be underestimated in 2005. A scoring machine a year ago, NW beat the Hoosiers in Indiana, breaking the Champions 31-game home unbeaten run (as well as their 50 game streak in conference play). David Roth and Geraldo Alvarez are among the Wildcats top vets.
20. Notre Dame
After winning the 2004 BIG EAST regular-season championship, people are now aware that real football is also played in South Bend. Scotsman Bobby Clark has some talented strikers and U-20 national team captain Greg Dalby on board. But, key losses means a repeat is unlikely in the newly expanded conference.
GK Justin Hughes Jr. UNC
D Marvell Wynne So. UCLA
D Patrick Ianni Jr. UCLA
D Greg Dalby Jr. Notre Dame
M Dayton O´Brien Sr. Memphis
M Sacha Kljestan Jr. Seton Hall
M Blake Camp Sr. Duke
M Mehdi Ballouchy Sr. Santa Clara
F Justin Moose Sr. Wake Forest
F Jeff Rowland Sr. New Mexico
F Jason Garey Sr. Maryland
F Dominic Oduro Sr. Virginia Commonwealth
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.