2013 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview - By Ben Roth

Arguably the best soccer conference in the country, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), becomes even more competitive this year with the addition of three new programs (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame).  The “new” ACC includes seven teams who made the NCAA tournament, five of which ended the year ranked in the top 25.  This twelve-team conference combines for a staggering 196 NCAA tournament berths and a 15 national titles amongst them.  The conference improves this year while eight or so teams look to be competitive enough to vie for a national championship.

Maryland (Favorite): The Terps come into the 2013 campaign just like any other under the realm of Sasho Cirovski, a national championship contender.  After last year’s disappointing, but electric college cup semi final loss to Georgetown, Cirovski was adamant that the team would be back.  They come into the season with eight returning starters including Hermann Trophy winning forward Patrick Mullins (17g, 10a).  Ranked #3 in the country by College Soccer News, the 2012 regular season and ACC tournament champs look to be favorites in the competitive ACC.  Cirovski brings in another great recruiting class to build on their already deep roster.

 Maryland brings in a five star caliber recruiting class led by three top fifty College Soccer News recruits including U-20 national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen (10).  Although a freshman, Steffen’s ability should allow him to compete with Cardona for minutes immediately.  Very athletic DC United Academy product Suliaman Dainkeh (38) should be one to watch coming into the season as well. Another highly regarded recruit is towering center back Alex Crognale who has been compared to former Terrapin greats Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson by coach Cirovski himself.  Cirovski, coming into his 21st season at Maryland, brings in three other talented recruits to finish off this year’s recruiting class.  With the amount of subbing Maryland has been known to do, many of these men could see significant playing time come September.

 Maryland loses three important starters to the MLS in John Sterzer (7g, 7a), London Woodberry (3g, 22 starts), and Taylor Kemp (6 assists), but still retain the crux of the team.  The backline keeps two of their starters in center back Dakota Edwards (23 starts) and outside back, Mikey Ambrose (22 starts).  Both men should become leaders of the backline that had a +38 goal differential on the year.  Joining them in the back should be redshirt senior Jordan Cyrus and either Kyle Roach or freshman Alex Crognale.  Cyrus, who filled in for defender Taylor Kemp while injured last year, could also return to duty up-top. Net minder Keith Cardona had a solid campaign maintaining a 1.14 goal against average (GAA), but will need to improve if he wants to get the starting nod over junior Jordan Tatum and freshman Zack Steffen.  The midfield remains one of the best in the country although they lose captain Sterzer in the center of the park.  The midfield will now be centered around senior Sunny Jane (2g, 4a) and junior Dan Metzger (3g, 1a).  Redshirt junior Jereme Raley (1g, 1a), who appeared in all twenty-four games last year should continue to be an impact player whether in the starting eleven or off the bench.  This could be a breakout year for junior Alex Shinsky (2 assists) as well.  The once very highly regarded recruit has been injury plagued during his collegiate career, but if he can stay healthy, then expect Shinsky to be a difference maker in the squad.  The forward line remains unmatched by any other in the country, retaining 54 out of their 64 goals from last year.  The offense which averaged 2.67 goal per game (1st in country) is led by Hermann Trophy award winner and College Soccer News preseason 1st team All-American Patrick Mullins.  Mullins will be paired with loads of talent including College Soccer News preseason 2nd team All-American Schillo Tshuma (10g, 2a) and Haitian speedster Christiano Francois (5g, 4a).  Redshirt senior Jake Pace (5g, 3a) is a great leader and super sub, who does the little things the Terps need to succeed.  By Maryland standards, they are in a drought not winning a national championship since 2008, but coming into this year, they are the proverbial favorites to be lifting the trophy at PPL Park come December.

North Carolina (Top Contender): The Tar heels are coming off an impressive year as ACC Tournament finalists and NCAA tournament quarterfinalists.  The team loses three players to the pro ranks in star U-20 World Cup performers Mikey Lopez and recent FC Dallas signing Danny Garcia along with midfielder Jordan Gafa to the NASL.  The squad ranked #5 by College Soccer News in the preseason ranking returns seven starters and looks to continue their winning tradition by making a fourth consecutive ACC tournament finals while challenging for even more silverware.

Coach Somoano brings in another strong recruiting class led by two top twenty College Soccer News incoming freshmen, Colton Storm (4) and Jalen Markey (20).  Despite the very talented backline, Storm could be set for a starting role at outside back and is definitely a star for the future.  Markey is an athletic hard-nosed center back who will look to improve this already star-studded backline.  The U-18 national team defender may allow one of the current center backs to move up as a defensive midfielder.  Another freshman to watch is composed midfielder Omar Holness.  The Jamaican U-17 captain could fill in a hole at center mid where the Tar Heels have a spot open.  SMU transfer Tyler Engel should gain a starting spot in the midfield as well after two solid years starring at the CUSA powerhouse as the team points-leader.  Somoano also brings in three instate players to round out his 2013 class.

While UNC has lost some talented players, they keep some influential players such as College Soccer News preseason All-American defender Boyd Okwuonu and Rob Lovejoy (5g, 2a).  The back line stays in tact and looks to be the backbone to this teams success led by center backs Boyd Okwuonu and Jordan McCrary, whom together only missed two games.  The only major loss in the back would be net minder and 2012 College Soccer News 2nd team All- American Scott Goodwin.  The graduation of Goodwin allows one of the three inexperienced keepers to prove themselves.  The midfield leaves some holes open with the loss of midfield maestros Mikey Lopez, Danny Garcia, and Jordan Gafa.  Players that could fill in their roles are Raby George (22 starts) and Valeri Valimaa (15 starts) along with any freshman able to step up.  Up top the Tar Heels are set with 2nd team All-ACC forward, Andy Craven (6g, 5a) and Rob Lovejoy (5g, 2a).  These two are both expected to have breakout senior years, especially Lovejoy who missed half of last year due to injury.  Expect both men to have standout years and be in the conversation come MLS Draft day.  The Tar Heels have a stellar defense and a couple special offensive players that if all goes their way, they could very well be in contention for a second national championship in three years.

Virginia (Top Contender): One of the most storied franchises in college soccer history has high expectations coming into the 2013 season.  The young squad is still maturing, but this is a year for them to really strut their stuff.  The Cavs only lose one starter, forward Will Bates, now in the MLS.  This squad ranked #14 by College Soccer News is looking to be the caliber of one of the classic Bruce Arena Cavalier teams.  Current head coach, George Gelnovatch entering his 18th season at the helm of the Cavs has done a great job in bringing in a recruiting class with the same quality of last year’s which should only improve the up and coming squad.

What can you say about this year’s freshman class other than that they are full of stars for the future?  Coach Gelnovatch brings in two of the top three recruits in the country in Nicko Correiveau (2) and Jordan Allen (3), both of whom have the opportunity to start in the already loaded Cavs lineup.  Correiveau, sporting the #10 for Virginia this year should replace former star forward Will Bates in the lineup.  US youth national team star, Jordan Allen is capable of playing anywhere in the midfield and was even used at outside back with the US U-18s so expect Gelnovatch to find a spot for the superstar.  Another forward with a phenomenal goal scoring record is Riggs Lennon, the 14th ranked freshman coming into the country.  The Arizona Gatorade state player of the year has excelled up front for Sereno SC, but like Allen, Lennon has seen minutes as a defender with the youth national team.  Another intriguing prospect is midfielder Patrick Foss, ranked 31st among the 2013 class according to College Soccer News.  Foss has been a consistent member for the U-17 national team and should battle for playing time despite the abundance of midfielders.  Gelnovatch also brings in six other stellar recruits, all of whom have the capability of making a direct impact in this underclassmen laden squad.

The squad only has two seniors coming into the season, which has many advantages and disadvantages.  They are a talented team for the future, but may lack the experience and leadership to take them to the next level.  One of the more experienced players in the squad will be junior goalkeeper entering his third year as a starter, Spencer LaCivita.  Gelnovatch puts a lot of faith into LaCivita who has posted a superb 144 career saves thus far in his career.  The Cavalier backline who allowed 25 goals against them all year remains the same.  The defense will be held down in the middle by sophomore sensation Zach Carroll (4g, 2a) and junior Matt Brown (15 starts, 1 goal).  Junior Kyler Sullivan should hold down the right back position unless a freshman wins his spot over him.  Expect the remaining outside back position to be taken by versatile freshman phenom Riggs Lennon.  The midfield remains consistent with sophomore playmaker Scotty Thomsen (21 starts, 8 assists).  Thomsen, the team’s leader in minutes played and assists does the little things that allow players like Darius Madison (2 goals) and Marcus Salandy-Defour (2g, 3a) to succeed.  Gelnovatch will have plenty of options in the midfield with 2012 All-ACC freshman members Todd Wharton (18 starts), Marcus Salandy-Defour, junior Eric Bird (21 starts), and sophomore Brian James (1g, 2a) all competing for playing time in the loaded midfield.  Those are the options, not to mention the incoming freshman class bringing in midfield talents such as Jordan Allen, Patrick Foss, and Pablo Aguilar.  Replacing two-time 1st team All-ACC team member Will Bates (12g, 1a) up top will be the biggest issue in the squad.  Bates was involved in nearly half of the team’s offensive production last year, so this year the goals will have to come from multiple weapons.  These weapons include 2012 All-ACC freshman team and speedy forward Darius Madison (15 starts, 2 goals).  The stats don’t tell the full story for Madison who played tremendous in his first year and will only look to build on that first season.  Madison’s partner up top will most likely be highly touted freshman Nicko Correivaeu.  Youth is the movement in Virginia and it seems to be working.  The Cavaliers come into the season with some of the biggest talent in the country, but they need that talent to translate to the field.  If the George Gelnovatch led squad can hit their stride by the end of the season, then Virginia will be a force to be reckoned with come tournament time.

Wake Forest (Young and Exciting): The Demon Deacons are coming off a solid 11-4-5 record last season and should only improve with experience.  The young squad finally began to hit their stride and had some impressive victories including a 4-2 win over conference foe Maryland.  Wake Forest had a disappointing second round exit in the NCAA Tournament, but they should come back flying.  Ranked #18 by College Soccer News, the Demon Deacons have an abundance of young talent who with another year under them should thoroughly improve this already exciting team.  Coach Jay Vidovich brings in another freshman class loaded with talent, looking to build on this fairly young squad.

Vidovich brings in an impressive nine-man freshman class, led by five members of the College Soccer News top 150.  The star of Vidovich’s recruiting class is without a doubt Baltimore Bays academy midfielder, Jacori Hayes, ranked 30 by College Soccer News among incoming freshman.  Hayes, the US youth national teamer may be undersized, but he makes up for his lack of size with his technical ability and athleticism.  Expect Hayes to find minutes on the field immediately.  Another interesting prospect is DC United academy defender, Rafael Fagundo.  Fagundo, an athletic specimen has the ability to compete for minutes in the back starting opening day.  A good prospect Vidovich has picked up is Florida native Hunter Bandy, ranked 88 by College Soccer News.  The technical midfielder has led his club team Boca FC to the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Kansas.  Vidovich also picked up two Plano, Texas midfielders, Brody Hickey and Hayden Partain ranked 92 and 94 respectively.  This class loaded with midfielders become even more stacked with the addition of incoming freshman Ian Harkes.  Ian Harkes, the son of American national team great John Harkes, won DC Gatorade player of the year and is a clever midfielder who should battle for time along with the rest of the talented youngsters.  Vidovich hopes these players can play as well as last year’s freshman class and help the team battle for a conference title.

Wake Forest has some gaps to fill in their lineup, but there seems to be players with the ability to step up.  The goalkeeping position is up for grabs after the graduation of stellar shot stopper Michael Lisch, but net minder Andrew Harris seems to be the front-runner heading into the season.  The back line that only allowed 19 goals last year needs revamping as three starters graduated.  The team will rely on College Soccer News preseason All-American 3rd team member, Jalen Robinson (2g, 1a).  Robinson, the US youth national teamer lived up to his hype and performed extraordinarily last year.  Robinson can be used in defense or the midfield, wherever Vidovich feels he fits best.  The rest of the defense will be comprised of three-year starter and senior Chris Duvall (18 starts, 1g, 3a) along with junior center back Sam Fink (1g, 1a).   The fourth member of the defense is anyone’s spot, but incoming freshman Rafael Fagundo has the pedigree to earn his spot there.  With leading assister and freshman sensation Colin Martin opting for the professional option after one year, the midfield will rely heavily on College Soccer News preseason first team All-American Jared Watts.  Watts, the two time All-ACC nominee will be the key to the Demon Deacons fortunes this year and will need to boss the midfield for the forwards to be allowed to do their job.  Joining Watts in the midfield should be winger Luca Gimenez (7g, 3a).  Gimenez, the second team All-ACC selection should drop into the midfield and help the attack from the flanks.  Incoming freshman Jacori Hayes should help the midfield to give the team more options going forward while senior Ross Tomaselli (3g, 3a) should provide stability.  The forward line should remain deep with junior forward Sean Okoli (11g, 3a) leading the charge.  Helping Okoli up front should be a variety of options including senior Kyle Emerson and 2012 College Soccer News 2nd team All-freshman selection Michael Gamble (8g, 4a).  Gamble is poised for another breakout year after a brilliant beginning to his Demon Deacon career.  There’s no doubt Wake Forest has the talent to compete amongst the best teams in the country, but whether they have enough leadership and experience is the question.  Coach Vidovich has prepared the squad very well and with their talent levels, don’t be surprised if the Demon Deacons compete for a national title.

Notre Dame (Dark horse): Coming off the possibly greatest season in school history, the Fighting Irish are looking to repeat production and fight for a national championship.  Notre Dame loses their two best players, forward poacher Ryan Finley (21g, 4a) and box-to-box midfielder Dillon Powers (5g, 9a), both now playing in the MLS.  The 2012 Big East Tournament Champs ranked #11 by College Soccer News, still have high hopes coming into the season as they have a good mixture of experienced players and young talent.  Head coach Bobby Clark per usual has given his team a great challenge as thirteen of this year’s twenty opponents were in the NCAA tournament last year.   Clark also brings in a solid group of freshman that will look to contribute to the Fighting Irish right away.

Clark brings in five freshmen this year, three of which are ranked in the College Soccer News top 150.  The star of this group looks to be Brandon Aubrey, ranked 24th.  The versatile player has the size and skills to play anywhere on the field for the Fighting Irish immediately.  Oliver Harris ranked 71 is a workhorse and very technical, a quality that many Notre Dame midfielders possess.  The third highest ranked player coming to South Bend is defender Matt Habrowski (104).  Habrowski as a lefty has the ability to play center back or left back for the Irish.  Bobby Clark brings in two more recruits to close out his gifted 2013 freshman class.

The team is experienced and it starts in the back with senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall.  Wall posted a 0.98 GAA last year and will need to stay sharp if the Fighting Irish want to repeat their success.  Senior defenders Grant Van de Casteele (22 starts) and Luke Mishu (21 starts) anchor the back line, which had a +32 goal differential last year. Junior defender Max Lachowecki (22 starts, 2g, 2a) will run the left flank from the left back position for the Irish heading into his third season.  Versatile player Nick Besler could play in the back or in the midfield depending on where Clark feels he needs him.  The midfield loses many of their talents, but still has enough resources to maintain their effectiveness.  Besler will most likely be sitting in front of the backline along with freshman Brandon Aubrey.  Sophomore Patrick Hodan (6g, 5a) will be on the wing strutting his stuff, looking to improve on his spectacular freshman year.  Despite the loss of nearly half of the goal production from last year, the Fighting Irish seem to have everything covered.  Forwards Harrison Shipp (6g, 6a), Alex Priede (4g, 1a), and Leon Brown (21 starts, 1g, 3a) will look to better the input they provided last year and make up for Finley’s loss.  Senior Shipp will be the playmaker for the squad, sitting underneath the striker and will try to provide the spark they need up top.  Despite the loss of some major players, the Fighting Irish, as the rookies of the conference will look to contend for a second conference title in as many years.  Expect this Notre Dame squad to rebound from last year’s early tourney exit and to compete for every piece of silverware in 2013.

Duke (Experienced):  The Blue Devils are coming off a disappointing season, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament, but have promise coming into the 2013 year.  The .500 record team of last year has much to look forward to, as they virtually lose none of their field players who gained significant minutes last year.  On top of that head coach John Kerr brings in a couple special players that could help Duke get over the hump and win their first ACC tournament title since 2006.

Coach Kerr’s incoming four man freshman class is a small one in amount, but large in quality.  The best player coming in and an instant game changer is Vancouver Whitecaps academy forward, Brody Huitema, ranked seven by College Soccer News.  Huitema, tore apart the USSDA field this year scoring an unmatched 28 regular season goals en route to leading his team to a finals week appearance.  Huitema’s game should translate well to the collegiate level, so expect the natural goal scorer to gain considerable minutes this year.  Another top prospect looks to be Sporting KC academy midfielder Seo-In Kim, ranked 137.  The technical midfielder, Kim has the ability to push for time in this Blue Devils squad.  Kerr brings in two more USSDA recruits in DC United academy midfielder Jimmy Doll and NJSA 04 forward Jared Golestani.  Kerr also has a half dozen recruits for the following year locked up.  Expect these young men to make a direct impact on the Blue Devil’s program.

Duke brings back almost all of their starters and will look to improve on last year’s 8-8-2 mark as the team gains valuable experience.  The only major loss is in goal, where the team loses two-time 1st team All-ACC selection James Belshaw.  The four-year starter and two year captain is irreplaceable, but five goalkeepers in the squad will do their best to earn the starting role.  The back line remains consistent with 2012 ACC defensive player of the year and senior center back Sebastien Ibeagha (5g, 2a) leading the way.  Paired with Ibeagha at center back should be Nat Eggleston (1g, 1a) while junior defenders Chase Keesling (12 starts, 1 assist) and Jack Coleman (13 starts, 1 assist) will run the flanks.  Coach Kerr may decide to play senior Rob Dolot in the back like he did in 2012 or slide him into his more natural center mid role.  The midfield stays the same with junior Riley Wolfe (3g, 3a) and 2nd Team All-ACC center midfielder Sean Davis (18 starts, 3 assists) leading the charge.  Sophomore defensive midfielder Zach Mathers (2g, 4a) looks to improve on his stellar rookie campaign while junior midfielder Nick Palodichuk will look to come back good as new after an injury, which sidelined him for the second half of 2012.  Sophomore midfielder Ryan Thompson (14 starts, 4 assists) and senior Jonathan Aguirre may be benched due to the flux of midfielders, but expect them to play an important role in the Blue Devil’s success.  The goal scoring this year will come from offensive trio Luis Rendon (2g, 1a), Brody Huitema, and Will Donovan (11 starts, 2 goals).  Expect Rendon, the 2011 National Gatorade player of the year to have a superb sophomore year.  With the mixture of talent and experience, this Coach Kerr led Duke squad is a sure fire team for the NCAA tournament and maybe even further.

Boston College:  The Eagles are coming off an 8-6-5 season where they made the NCAA Tournament and will look to make it even further despite the loss of some key players.  Boston College graduates seven seniors including MLS players, Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker (1g, 4a) and LA Galaxy forward Charlie Rugg (5g, 4a), but they still remain one of the most consistent teams in the conference.  Ranked just outside of College Soccer News’ Top 30 preseason ranking, the Eagles look promising heading into their 2013 campaign.  Coach Ed Kelly entering his 26th season with BC brings in a very talented nine man recruiting class that should collectively help improve this experienced squad.

Coach Kelly’s nine man class includes five incoming freshman and four transfers.  Maybe the biggest addition to the Eagles is Cincinnati University transfer Cole DeNormandie (2g, 4a).  The athletic forward, DeNormandie, adds another dimension up top and replaces former Eagle star Charlie Rugg.  University of Richmond transfer Nick Butler (18 starts, 3g) should add depth at the center back position.  The top true freshman joining the squad is forward Isaac Normesinu.  Normesinu, ranked 55 by College Soccer News is a very dynamic player who should be a threat immediately for the Eagles.  Another pair of talented players joining the team are US youth international defender Danny Zaid and Bermuda full team international Zeiko Lewis.  Coach Kelly brings in five more players all of whom will try to crack the starting lineup entering the 2013 season.

The team loses three of their four highest point’s leaders and seven seniors who all played substantial time, but Boston College is by no means going down hill.  With the graduation of goalkeeper Justin Luthy, the team will rely on sophomore Alex Kapp in the net.  The defensive line will be made up of seniors, captain Chris Ager (19 starts, 1 assist) and Ryan Dunn (19 starts, 1 goal).  Expect junior Matt Wendelken to slide into the center back position, leaving sophomore Dylan Pritchard at outside back.  The loss of senior Kyle Bekker leaves a spot in the midfield open, which should be vacated by one of the many talented sophomores in the squad.  The remaining leading points leaders on the teams are 2012 All-ACC Freshman member Derrick Boateng (3g, 3a) and fellow sophomore Jason Abbott (1g, 3a) who will look to improve on their impressive rookie campaigns.  Junior Diego Medina-Mendez is poised for a breakout season after a solid first two years in the program.  The forward position is going to be made up of primarily newcomers with transfer Cole DeNormandie the leading candidate for the starting nod at striker.  Athletic freshman Isaac Normesinu should gain minutes early on as well and will challenge for a starting position as well.  Don’t be surprised if these two link up well over the course of the year.  Boston College loses a great senior class, but still has plenty of talent specifically in the younger age groups.  The team has a core group of current guys plus a new group of incoming players that are capable of making another run into the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse (Underdog): The Orangemen are coming off their greatest season in school history ending the year ranked 16th by College Soccer News while going an impressive 14-6-1 a year after finishing a mediocre 3-12-1 in 2011.  The squad reached the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament until finally losing to eventual runners up Georgetown in a wild finish.  The squad will look to replicate their historic season, but it will be tough due to the losses of four of the team’s five leading point scorers.  The 2012 Big East Coaching Staff of the Year brings in a seven man recruiting class looking to replace the holes they will be missing in 2013 heading into a new conference.

The recruiting class may not have the same big name prospects as their past couple classes, but expect these players to make an impact day one.  U-18 national team midfielder Benjamin Lopez originally committed to Syracuse for this year, but has since signed a professional contract with Real Salt Lake of the MLS.  The attacking based recruiting class has some special player’s that could truly help the Orangemen such as 2012 NJCAA player of the year and national champion, Korab Syla (5g, 17a) as well as Canadian youth national teamer Chris Nanco.  Assistant Coach Jukka Masalin has used his Scandinavian influence to bring in two outstanding Norweigan talents with loads of experience.  Oyvind Alseth, a defender and one of the two Norwegians, played for Rosenborg BK over the past three years and won player of the year in their league.  Emil Ekblom, another Norweigan prospect was his team’s leading scorer in 2012 and could compete for minutes for the Orangemen come this fall.  Head Coach Ian McIntyre brings in three more recruits to round out his seven-man freshman class for 2013.

Syracuse prides themselves on defense, only allowing seventeen goals all year, one of the best in the country.  The key to organizing their back line will be sophomore goalkeeper and College Soccer News freshman All- American, Alex Bono.  The Big East All-Rookie teamer posted a marginal 0.85 GAA and recorded ten shutouts.  The Orangemen keep three of their four defenders including Canadian youth national teamer and All Big East Third team member Jordan Murrell (2g, 7a).  Last year’s team MVP; Chris Makowski (21 starts) will be joined in the back line by Canadian center back Skylar Thomas (2 goals).  Thomas missed half of the season due to injury, but will now be back at full strength and will be an essential part of the team’s success.  Although the Orange loses College Soccer News third team All-Freshman member, Jordan Vale (9g, 3a) to UCLA, they still have two of their best midfielders returning in Sophomore Stefanos Stamoulacatos (3g, 4a) and defensive midfielder Nick Perea (21 starts, 1 g, 1a).  Expect Stamoulacatos to really come into his own this year as one of the conference’s best after a fantastic first year with the Orangemen.  The forward line will have to rely on senior playmaker Tony Asante (5g, 4a).  Asante endured great success with his PDL team this offseason and will look to carry on his momentum into the season opener.  Asante will most likely be paired with a freshman come opening day and thus far Emil Ekblom and Emmanuel Kollie look to be the favorites.  The Orangemen come into the year with high expectations and rightfully so, but it will be tough for them to compete for an ACC championship without some of their key players from 2012.  With that said, defense wins championships and Syracuse has a great defensive line heading into their first season in the ACC.

NC State (Rebuilding): The Wolfpack finished last year with a 1-7 intra-conference record and an overall record of 10-10 but those numbers don’t tell the full story.  Seven of those ten loses came by one goal, two of which were in overtime and half of the losses were to NCAA tournament teams.  Despite these numbers, NC State is only getting better.  Coach Kelly Findley only entering his second season with the Wolfpack has done a tremendous job improving the team’s win total by three in just his first year and has brought in some incredible players.  Last year’s freshman class was ranked 12th by College Soccer News and this years is just as good bringing in three players in the top 150, while he already has the #7, #16, and #26 recruits for the 2014 locked up.  Kelly Findley has this team pointed in the right direction.

This year’s recruiting class has the type of players NC State needs to compete with the likes of North Carolina and Maryland.  The top player Findley is bringing in is Travis Wannemuehler, ranked 33 by College Soccer News.  Wannemuehler, a forward for the US U-18 national team has all the necessary tools to succeed at the college level.  Roland Minogue ranked 79 by College Soccer News is a hardworking central midfielder who should see time during his freshman year.  Ranked 101, Michael Bazja is a special player.  Bazja impressed at academy finals week and was the leading goal scorer for his Shattuck St. Mary’s USSDA team that made the national final.  Transferring into Raleigh is UCLA sophomore midfielder Holden Fender.  Fender, a talented midfielder was ranked 29 by College Soccer News and should play an important role in NC State’s success this year.  Findley brings in a large class of eleven players, many of who are capable of thriving in their first season.

The Wolfpack have a seasoned back line and goalkeeper that will only improve this year.  German goalkeeper, Fabian Otte will need to have a great year to bring NC State back into a national ranking.  Seniors Gbenga Makinde (17 starts, 1 assist) and Ryan Metts (20 starts, 2 assists) will look to close out their careers on top.  They are joined by juniors Matt Ingram (20 starts, 2 assists) and Moss Jackson-Atogi (20 starts, 1 g, 1a) who will round out the experienced back line.  The midfield remains the strong suit of Wolfpack with the team’s attack centered around First Team All ACC playmaker, Alex Martinez (11g, 10a).  Alex Martinez, brother of MLS midfielder Enzo Martinez will once again be the core of the team’s offense and if the Wolfpack have any NCAA tournament ambitions, they will run through Martinez.  Holding behind Martinez will be defensive midfielder Danny DiPrima (2g, 3a). DiPrima has an engine and allows the Wolfpack’s attack to do their thing.  Holden Fender and either senior Jorge Risquez or an incoming freshman should round out the midfield.  Up top the Wolfpack will rely on senior Nazmi Albadawi (3g, 5a) and promising freshman Travis Wannemuehler to score.  The Wolfpack are definitely and up and coming team.  It’s not a matter of IF the team will succeed, but more of when.  If these parts work together then, expect NC State to be back in the national rankings sooner than later.

Clemson (Gaining momentum)Turn around is the motto for this Tigers squad coming off their greatest season since 2005.  Coach Mike Noonan, entering his fourth season with Clemson, has begun to turn around the former runt of the ACC.  This program at one time flourished making seven final fours while going on to win two national championships in the process.  As of late the team hasn’t endured their best stretch, but coach Noonan has the squad pointed in the right direction.  Clemson, the ACC tournament semi-finalists return nine starters and bring in a nine-man class that will look to keep the program going in the right direction.

Although none of Noonan’s nine men class are ranked by College Soccer News, two of the men coming in are highly touted transfers.  Both transfers are attacking minded players out of Brown University.  One of the transfers, Thomas McNamara (4g, 4a) is a first team All-Ivy midfielder who should immediately slide into the starting lineup.  The other transfer, playmaker Bobby Belair (4g, 3a) should instantly help the Tiger’s attack.  Noonan brings in seven true freshmen, two of which are foreign prospects.  The top domestic recruit is Florida Gatorade player of the year, Thales Moreno.  Moreno, the true #10 is a complete player and should find playing time despite the talent in the midfield.  All of the incoming players will look to find a role in the experienced lineup.

The Tigers have never had the talent level of some of the fellow ACC teams, but this year provides them with the most depth to be able to compete in this loaded conference.  One of the two big holes missing in the starting lineup will be three-year captain and current professional goalkeeper Cody Mizell.  There will be big shoes to fill for the 2nd team All-ACC selection, but redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Chris Glodack seems primed to do so.  Glodack did well in his six appearances last year only giving up three goals in over 400 minutes of play.  The back line protecting Glodack remains strong led by tough center backs, junior Phanuel Kativa (20 starts) and sophomore Kyle Fisher (20 starts, 2 assists) manning the defense.  Outside backs senior Jack Metcalf  (15 starts) and Amadou Dia (15 starts, 3a) should run the flank and provide even more stability to this rugged back line.  The midfield looks to be very capable and deep with a plethora of playmakers.  Noonan will have a tough call to make in the middle of the park with returning starters Alex Stockinger (16 starts, 3g, 1a) and Paul Clowes (19 starts, 3a) to compete with transfer Thomas McNamara and incoming freshman Thales Moreno.  The outside midfield positions will be covered with returning starters redshirt junior Manolo Sanchez (19 starts, 2g, 6a) and junior Ara Amirkhanian (5g, 2a) attacking from the wings and providing service.  The team loses a natural striker and leading goal scorer Austin Savage due to graduation and therefore the goals will need to come by everyone.  One solution to the problem could be transfer Bobby Belair.  Belair if pushed high enough up the field has the ability to score along with sophomore TJ Casner who will now earn his chance to shine up front.  The Tigers are a tricky team to figure out as they are capable of performing at the highest level, but they need to bring it every game.  It’s now or never for the Tigers who have all the pieces together to make another deep run in the ACC tournament and maybe even into the NCAA tournament.      

Virginia Tech (Rebuilding):  Despite not winning an intra-conference game in 2012, the Hokies are looking forward to changing the program around.  The young squad only loses one player due to graduation and brings in a well-rounded 11-person class to add depth to the team.  The Hokies are by no means ready to compete for an ACC title, but they may be the most improved team and aren’t looking back.  The program captured seven wins on the season, their most since 2007.  Coach Mike Brizendine, entering his fourth year with Virginia Tech has the team pointed in the right direction and his incoming freshman class proves this.

Brizendine’s freshman class includes four youth national players from four different countries including Swiss youth international Marc Dinkel.  Maybe the best incoming player is a sophomore transfer, Alessando Mion.  Mion, ranked 30 by College Soccer News for incoming freshman in 2012 has the potential to start in the back for this young Hokie side.  The team also picks up a NSCAA all American in creative midfielder Ian Grubb.  Brizendine brings in three players out of Germany and one out of Israel, all attacking minded players who could add some international flair to the roster.  The team only gets better with the addition of these high level players so expect the team to gradually improve.

The starting eleven remains relatively the same and starts in the back with senior goalkeeper, Kyle Renfro.  Renfro isn’t to blame for any of the team’s losses in 2012 and actually saved the team frequently having a career best 98 saves.  The backline remains strong with center back Devante Debose (16 starts) and Drew Ranahan (20 starts) still commanding the defense.  Redshirt junior Austin Stewart and Hunter Byrnes should earn their starting spots full time as they enter their second year in the Hokie system.  The midfield retains their talent with captain Jed Praiter (20 starts, 2g, 1a) leading the way, but loses center midfielder David Fiorello due to graduation.  Expect junior Mike Wilkie to earn a starting role while some of the exciting incoming freshman battle for their spot.  The forward line is more than covered with senior David Clemens (10g, 2a).  Clemens will need to continue his great run of play for the Hokies to continue to improve.  Sophomores Kai Marshall (2g, 1a) and Connor Pompilio (2g, 2a) are ready to improve upon last year’s numbers.  Expect the freshman forwards to impose their creativity immediately up top if not as starters than as subs.  The Hokies aren’t contenders as of now, but they are definitely heading the right away.  They are coming off their best year in the last decade and have brought in some exciting prospects that should help this young squad build for the future.

 Pittsburgh: The Panthers will look to turn around their recent Big East fortunes by coming into a new conference with a new look.  Coming off a 6-9-2 season, Pittsburgh wants to start this year much like they started 2012.  They began off the year right with a remarkable 6-0-2 record, but once conference play began, the team lost eight straight contests.  Two-time Big East coach of the year, Joe Luxbacher, entering his 30th season at Pittsburgh brings in a stellar 13 man recruiting class looking to improve upon the team’s recent struggles. 

Ten true freshman and three transfers lead the 13 man recruiting class.  The top recruit may be Swiss international Romeo Charron.  The attacking minded player has played at the top level in Switzerland and has the capability to make an impact in the squad.  Senior transfer Chris Davis out of Gardner-Webb University is a solid playmaker who will try to find his way into the squad.  Coach Luxbacher is trying to revamp this roster and bringing in all these players is his best way of doing so.

Although the team loses some solid players, they return a number of starters who along with the new players should make this team a tough competitor.  The team loses goalkeeper Lee Johnson and will have net minders Dan Lynd and Braden Horton battling for the starting job.  The struggling backline keeps two of their best defenders in senior captain John Cordier (2g, 1a) and Kevin Fielden, but will have to build around these guys with other players who didn’t gain significant playing time last year.  The midfield will include 2012 freshman sensation Nick Wysong (5g, 3a) who will once again be the focal point of the attack.  Wysong will be helped by fellow midfielder Michael Tuohy (2g, 1a) and co-assist leader Ryan Myers (2g, 3a).  Expect technically gifted sophomore Graham Smith to earn a starting spot in the Panthers lineup.  The strike force trio of Ryan McKenzie, Chu Chu Onyeukwu, and Julian Dickenson will look to threaten opposing teams and get on the score sheet, something they failed to do in 2012.  The bottom line is that this team isn’t ready to compete at the ACC level yet, but they are not a bad team.  They always display their talent against the out of conference opponents, but when it comes to competing with the country’s best they are a step behind.  Bringing in this large class is the first step to turning the program’s latest results around.  Expect Pittsburgh to struggle this year, but they are going to continuously get better until they reach prominence once again.

 

Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News.  He can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.