The NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 22. Here are some tidbits to get fans prepped and ready for 2014:
READY TO DEFEND: A season after winning the program’s first NCAA Championship, UCLA is primed to start its quest for a second trophy. The Bruins return 10 starters from last year’s squad, including a national-best four MAC Hermann Watch List honorees – senior defender Abby Dahlkemper, sophomore forward Darian Jenkins, senior midfielder Sarah Killion and senior goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland. The preseason No. 1 Bruins, who are the favorites to win the Pac-12 Conference crown, welcome back their entire backline that led the nation with a 0.30 goals against average. UCLA hosts Maryland on Friday.
ACC-STRONG: The Atlantic Coast Conference is arguably the nation’s top league on an annual basis and this season is no different as it boasts eight programs ranked among the NSCAA Division I Preseason Top 25, including four teams appearing in the top five. NCAA runner-up and defending ACC champion Florida State ranks No. 2, followed by No. 3 Virginia, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 5 Virginia Tech.
The Seminoles, who joined fellow league members Virginia and Virginia Tech at last year’s Women’s College Cup, were picked to repeat as ACC champions by a narrow six-point margin over the Cavaliers. Florida State returns nine starters, including senior midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who led the Seminoles with 14 goals and seven game-winning goals last season. FSU hosts No. 11 Portland to open the season Friday. The teams will meet for the third time in the last four years.
REPEAT OFFENDER: Virginia senior midfielder Morgan Brian, the reigning MAC Herman Trophy winner, will have a busy week leading up to the Cavaliers’ season opener against Marshall on Friday. Brian, who tied for the ACC lead with 46 points on 16 goals and a league-best 14 assists, is the lone collegiate player on the 19-person roster for the U.S. Women’s National Team’s Aug. 20 friendly match against Switzerland in Cary, N.C. But Brian earning her 12th cap for the U.S. WNT won’t delay her return to Charlottesville for the start of her senior campaign. With one MAC Hermann Trophy to her name, Brian will look to become the first woman to earn the award in consecutive years since Portland’s Christine Sinclair accomplished the feat in 2004 and 2005.
MOUNTAINEER CLIMBING: No. 12 West Virginia, the two-time defending Big 12 Conference regular-season champion and reigning conference tournament champion, is coming off a stellar 2013 season, but that doesn’t make the 2014 schedule any easier for the Mountaineers. They open the season at No. 24 Penn State on Friday and have five more 2013 NCAA Tournament foes on the slate: Duke, Georgetown, La Salle, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
“The goal is always to improve every game in preparation for conference play and to be competing for as long as we can at the end of the season,” said head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “To be the best, you must play the best – that’s always been my philosophy.”
WVU returns nine starters, including senior forward Kate Schwindel, who missed the Mountaineers’ final five matches due to injury. Schwindel, a 2013 All-Big 12 First Team selection, tallied 11 goals in 18 games played and is the team’s top returning point scorer.
`CATS LOOKING TO POUNCE: With a group of nine returning starters highlighted by two-time All-America selection Arin Gilliland, Kentucky will look to break into the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference. After advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season last year, the Wildcats topped No. 11 Portland in an impressive preseason exhibition victory and will open the regular season at Washington State, which finished second in the Pac-12 in 2013. The Wildcats were voted to finish fourth in the SEC preseason coaches’ poll, but will be challenged by No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 14 South Carolina in the league title race.
BIG TEN BEGINNERS: After decades as a member of the ACC, Maryland will now be one of the many Big Ten teams challenging perennial title contender Penn State on annual basis. While the Nittany Lions – winners of 15 of the last 16 Big Ten crowns – are the favorite to claim a another trophy, the Terps are picked to finish third in their inaugural campaign in the conference. Maryland opens the regular season on Friday against defending NCAA champion UCLA in Los Angeles.
COUGAR `KEEPER QUESTIONS: While No. 22 BYU are the narrow favorite to win the West Coast Conference title (BYU, No. 10 Santa Clara and No. 11 Portland– the 2013 tri-champions -- were separated by a total of just four votes in the coaches’ preseason poll), the Cougars will be breaking in a new goalkeeper, which has not been easy. Last year, Erica Owens played every minute in goal, but she finished with her collegiate career and, then, projected starter Hilary Kaufusi suffered a season-ending knee injury during off-season workouts in July. Both redshirt freshman Hannah Clark and senior Katherine Snyder have competed during the Cougars’ exhibitions and the coaching staff said both keepers will play in early games before a starter is named. The Cougars start the year Friday on the road at Cal State Fullerton.
SIDEKICKS: No. 15 Marquette is the unanimous pick to win the BIG EAST by the league’s coaches after posting a 20-1-1 record in conference play over the last three seasons. The Golden Eagles enter 2014 on a 28-game unbeaten streak … No. 18 Duke will field a youthful team when it opens the season against Ohio State in the UNC Nike Classic on Friday. The Blue Devils return just three players who scored a goal last season for a team that advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals … St. John’s junior forward Rachel Daly -- last year’s national leader in goals scored with 23 – is the BIG EAST’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year ... No. 4 North Carolina and No. 6 Stanford will clash in a top 10 match-up to open the season Friday at the UNC Nike Classic. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. ET.
The soccer landscape in the U.S. is slowly progressing and with this, every tier in the American soccer pyramid (MLS, NASL, USL, NCAA, Development Academy, etc), must adapt to stay relevant. In Europe many players turn professional by the age of 16 or 17, but in America there’s limited options for high quality players. Besides the small percentage of American players who become pros early, the primary option is playing collegiate soccer. While college soccer is at a relatively high level, these players are only playing competitively for 3-4 months out of the year. If you compare that to the same aged players (18-22) in Europe or the MLS; they’re playing 10-11 months of the year. The disadvantage for these college players is vast and the college coaches are seeking to close the gap.
There’s been a proposed schedule change made by the likes of some of the nation’s top coaches including Sasho Cirovski, Marlon LeBlanc, Dave Masur, and Bobby Clark, amongst others. This revision of the current schedule is being made with the purpose of improving:
- The overall academic, athletic, & social quality of the student-athlete collegiate experience;
- Positively impacting the recruitment, & retention of prospective, & current student-athletes, respectively, by
offering them a model which meets their expectations for both academic & sport development;
- Modernizing the collegiate paradigm from its’ current state, to better parallel the administration of the sport
of soccer, both domestically, and internationally;
- Growing the sport of soccer domestically at the collegiate level, and in particular growing the NCAA College Cup to a level in which many believe can become can become an NCAA revenue sport;
- Reforming an archaic collegiate soccer model for the good of the student-athletes, the fans, the institutions, & the NCAA.
The committee has the beginning date for this new schedule starting for the 2016-17 season, which would see drastic changes across the board. One of the biggest being the 20+ games a team plays in a short 3 month fall season being spread out across two sports seasons (Fall & Spring). The current schedule is overcrowded and unfortunately sees players getting fatigued and injured more frequently than they should be. These injuries also force players to miss the entire season, while this new schedule would allow more time for players to recover.
This prolonged model would see each team play 15 competitions in the fall (2 exhibitions) and 10 (1 exhibition) in the spring with some regulations. Among these regulations would be allowing a maximum of three midweek games per semester and more importantly forcing teams to have a minimum of three nights between games. The latter regulation is essential to recovery and allows players to be playing at 100% all the time. Currently, a team could travel on a Thursday, play a game on a Friday, travel Saturday and then play another game on Sunday. It wears the athletes down and doesn’t allow them to compete at the high level every time they step on the field. This isn’t U-12 soccer; where kids can play four games in a weekend. The point is these student-athletes need a proper restoration period.
Another major component to the model is having the College Cup being moved from December to June. This would make the final weekend a sought-after event at a warm climate enabling college soccer to become a profit sport. The current format where the College Cup is played in December doesn’t provide the athletes or the fans with the best quality of soccer on display. This past College Cup, located in Philadelphia’s PPL Park was played in below freezing conditions, not ideal soccer weather.
Maybe the most crucial factor to the model is the educational benefits. The reduced mid week games and more balanced schedule allow students to minimize their missed class time, therefore positively affecting their grades.
The proposed change has some adversaries of course, citing the sharing of fields in the spring and other details as reasons they are opposed to the model. In general the proposal has received positive feedback from both fans and the student athletes themselves. In fact, 86% of current men’s soccer players from ten different institutions approved of the schedule change.
Regardless, I feel the schedule would be a great step forward for the NCAA and American soccer in general. Share your thoughts.
For more information on the proposed model visit, http://www.wvusports.com/content/files/General/Mens-Soccer-Presentation.pdf
As the World Cup comes around every four years, there are always questions about U.S. Soccer in terms of development. Are we on par with the rest of the world? Is our current youth development system progressing our country's players? And in recent years we've heard, is college soccer still an adequate form of finding and developing taltent? For the last question, many see college soccer as a dying form of development, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
As the top-level youth players from America grow up, there are more and more options every year for these players to choose from. Ever since the Development Academy was introduced to U.S. youth soccer in 2007, all of the current MLS teams have created their own academy side to compete in the league which features 79 of the top clubs in the country. This allows youth players to skip the college route and go straight to the pros. Many of the players (i.e. Junior Flores, Rubio Rubin, Paul Arriola, etc.) test the international waters, latching on to a foreigh club attempting to make it through their academies.
But for a majority of our countries top players they side with the collegiate route. Some players need the four years in college to fully develop into a professional prospect (i.e. Matt Besler). Many tend to believe college soccer is a secondary path to the national team, but statistics show otherwise. Out of the over 6,000 division one and over 23,000 NCAA men's soccer student athletes in total, 1.9% end up playing professional, thus proving college soccer is more than a stepping stone for the next level.
The past U.S. World Cup squads further prove that college soccer is still a tool in developing young players. The 2006 USA squad had 17 players that at some point played college soccer for an NCAA program, including nine out of the eleven starters. Only four years ago, the 23-man roster of our 2010 squad in South Africa included 15 players who played college soccer. Eight years after the creation of the development academy, college soccer is still going strong as 14 players from our 30 man preliminary roster played for a collegiate side. Of the 23 to make the trip to Brazil, 10 are NCAA alumnus, eight of which have seen minutes, only three games into the World Cup. The two which haven't, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando, are both back up goalkeepers.
College Soccer News now takes a look at the ten players from this year's USA World Cup roster who have played for an NCAA side prior to their professional careers.
DeAndre Yedlin (Akron) - Yedlin, the most recent college player on the roster, was playing college ball just two years ago. The midfielder, turned outside back by Caleb Porter was a revelation at Akron. An AK-Rowdies fan favorite he was ranked by College Soccer News as the number 12 recruit in the country back in 2011. Yedlin, a two-time First Team All-MAC member would've been a top five pick in the MLS SuperDraft if not for signing a homegrown contract with the Seattle Sounders. The speedster was a surprise call-up into the preliminary World Cup camp, but thus far has impressed making a positive impact in his two substitution appearances.
Graham Zusi (Maryland) - Zusi, the former Terps captain has been a key part of the national team during this World Cup cycle. A box-to-box midfielder by trade, the Sporting KC captain has played an outside midfield role under Klinsmann. At College Park, Zusi was the playmaker in the legendary 2008 Maryland National Championship team. So far in Brazil, Zusi has started two games for the Yanks and has contributed two impressive assists for the team.
Omar Gonzalez (Maryland) - Gonzalez, a 6' 5" center back has continued his rise to stardom since leaving Maryland. The former U.S. youth international excelled under Coach Cirovski at Maryland winning nearly ever award possible including being named a First Team All-American. After three stellar years at Ludwig Field, the towering defender was selected 3rd in the MLS SuperDraft by the LA Galaxy. Since then, Gonzalez has been a consistent starter. This World Cup, Gonzalez has made two appearances, one as sub against Portugal and the other a very solid 90-minute performance against Germany.
Alejandro Bedoya (Fairleigh Dickinson/Boston College) - Bedoya, a quick winger is one of the four-year college players on the squad. He recorded 34 points in two years at Fairleigh Dickinson before transferring to Boston College. As a Golden Eagle, Bedoya was a two-time College Soccer News All-American and a Hermann Trophy semifinalist. The New Jersey native took the international route attempting to make it overseas. After a successful club season in Sweden, Bedoya was called into the 2010 World Cup camp before being one of the seven cut prior to South Africa. Bedoya has since become a regular starter with United States appearing in all three games in Brazil, starting two.
Nick Rimando (UCLA) - Rimando, an unbelievable shot stopper, is one of the many top goalkeepers to play for the Bruins. The 5' 11" netminder played three years in college, including being on the 1997 National Championship team under Sigi Schmid, before signing a Project 40 contract. Rimando earned his first cap in 2002 but didn't regain major time until 2009. Under Klinsmann, Rimando has regained significant playing time as the third string goalkeeper. As the second oldest player on the roster, Rimando, yet to play, is likely participating in his lone World Cup.
Matt Besler (Notre Dame) - Besler, a four-year player for the Irish is a perfect example of the rise from College Soccer to the professional ranks. The left footed center back was never part of a youth national team setup and was one that needed the four years in South Bend to become the outstanding player he is today. The Scholar All-American Player of the Year made 90 appearances in college before being drafted eighth overall by the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting KC). Since winning 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, Besler has arguably been the best defender in the national team pool. So far in Brazil, the former Irish defender has started in all three group stage games performing well.
Clint Dempsey (Furman) - Arguably the best player on this year's U.S. World Cup roster, Dempsey was another three year player in college. The Texas born native recorded 53 points as a Paladin while earning Second Team All-America honors. In 2004 "Deuce" was drafted eighth overall by the New England Revolution where he would stay for three seasons. Since 2004, Dempsey has been one of the key players for the national team. This is Dempsey's third World Cup, and against Ghana he became the first American to score in three consecutive World Cups. As captain, Dempsey has been playing lone forward and is without a doubt one of the most crucial players in continuing our run.
Chris Wondolowski (Chico State) - "Wondo" defines the cliche' of climbing the ladder. Wondolowski was a track star in high school and received many offers for track, but only one for soccer, a small Division II school named, Chico State. As a Wildcat, the forward notched 39 goals in his four years. He went on to be drafted 41st overall by the San Jose Earthquakes. Nearly ten years later, the "track star" has 84 MLS goals to his name and has a share of the record for most goals scored in a season (27). Klinsmann gave Wondolowski a chance in the Gold Cup, where he stood out scoring five goals in the tournament. Ever since, Wondolowski has been pushing for 1st team minutes and after a surprise World Cup call-up, the player that nearly nobody wanted made an appearnace on the world's biggest stage.
Geoff Cameron (West Virginia/Rhode Island) - Cameron, a defensive midfielder converted to defender is yet another four year player on the team. After earning nine points in 38 appearances at West Virginia, he transferred to the University of Rhode Island for his last two years of eligibility. After two impressive seasons with the Rams, including being named the the Atlantic-10 Midfielder of the Year in his senior campaign, Cameron was drafted by the Houston Dynamo, 42nd overall. Two seasons into his MLS career, the versatile Cameron earned his first national team cap. Four years later after a move to the EPL, Cameron has become a consistent starter for his club and country. This World Cup, Cameron has started in two of the games with mixed performances.
Brad Guzan (South Carolina) - Guzan, a 6' 4" animal between the pipes was exceptional at South Carolina. The U.S. youth national teamer was a starter as a freshman for the Gamecocks and was a College Soccer News All-Freshman Team selection. As a sophomore Guzan was named team captain and at the conclusion of the season was honored as a Second Team All-American. Guzan signed a generation adidas contract with the league in 2005 and was picked 2nd overall in the draft by Chivas USA. Only a year later, Guzan cemented his spot as Tim Howard's backup, a position he's kept ever since. Guzan is the backup netminder at this World Cup, but don't be surprised if he's the starter in 2018.