2013 Preview: Men's soccer ready for challenging season
The 2013 men's soccer season launches this upcoming weekend for six Pac-12 teams. With a wealth of returning talent and a crop of the finest recruits in the nation, the Conference teams will hit the ground running in a challenging non-conference season.
Pac-12 teams will play seven matches against a total of five ranked opponents to kick off the year, including four that are in the top 10. STANFORD and CALIFORNIA both face No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 Maryland over the course of the weekend, with both of California's matches being broadcast on Pac-12 Networks. UCLA travels to Bloomington, Ind. to face No. 7 Notre Dame and reigning NCAA Champion No. 1 Indiana. SAN DIEGO STATE faces crosstown rival No. 16 San Diego on their home turf. OREGON STATE will host Horizon League champion Cleveland State in their season opener, while WASHINGTON travels across the Pacific Northwest to take on Gonzaga.
In a league touted for not only its champions but also its professional prowess, all six Conference teams face the annual challenge of replacing departing players, as a total of 45 letterwinners have left. This year's recruiting classes are prepared to get their feet wet with the high demand to contribute immediately stemming from national recognition. With four classes ranked in CSN's top-40 list, the Pac-12 has plenty of newcomer talent. They will be led by an experienced upperclass roster, with 33 seniors gracing Conference rosters alongside 35 juniors and 33 sophomores.
The Bears are chasing down the postseason with renewed vigor this year after missing the NCAA Tournament for three out of the past four seasons. Spearheading the efforts will be senior defender Steven Birnbaum, who sat out last season due to injury after being tabbed preseason all-American. Birnbaum will be complemented on defense by fellow senior Ryan Neil, a second-team All-Pac-12 honoree, and the Bears’ offense will be led by junior forward Stefano Bonomo, who led the team in goals per game last year.
Key Matches: Cal opens the season with contests against two of the top-three teams in the nation, hosting No. 3 Georgetown on Aug. 30 and No. 2 Maryland on Sept. 1. Cal also faces San Diego on Oct. 25, who upset the Bears last season in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Oregon State’s roster boasts an experienced eight-member junior class, headlined by honorable mention All-Pac-12 forward Khiry Shelton who was third on last year’s squad in scoring with 10 points. Helping Shelton on the front lines will be sophomore forward Mikhail Doholis, who led all freshmen in shots on goal last year. Sophomore Matt Bersano will guard the net after starting all 18 matches for the Beavers and recording four solo shutouts in his redshirt freshman campaign.
Key Matches: The season opener features the Beavers against Cleveland State, the reigning Horizon League Champion. OSU will take on another conference champion when they travel to play Michigan State, who won the Big Ten Championship last year.
The Aztecs have a wealth of experience on their squad with 10 seniors, anchored by midfielder Blake Wise, who was tabbed as the No. 44 player in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer in the preseason. Wise tied for the second leading scorer last year, recording 13 points on his way to earning first team All-Pac-12 honors. Six of SDSU’s top seven scoring leaders return for the fall. Guarding the net will be starting goalkeeper Blake Hylen, who tied for fifth in the Conference in saves with 50 after starting twelve games for San Diego State. The seniors will provide extensive leadership to an 11-member freshman class.
Key Matches: San Diego State kicks off their season with a crosstown rivalry match against San Diego. The Aztecs also take on No. 8 Akron on Sept. 15, the 2010 national champions and the highest-ranked team that SDSU will face outside of Pac-12 play.
The Cardinal returns four All-Pac-12 honorees from last season, including Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Aaron Kovar, who was selected as a preseason all-American by College Soccer News. While Stanford will certainly miss standout Adam Jahn, it has more than enough talent at the forward position in juniors Zach Batteer and Bobby Edwards. The duo combined for 13 points and 64 shots on goal last season. Remaining in the net for another season will be senior goalkeeper Drew Hutchins, who started all 18 matches last season and posted five shutouts in his junior campaign.
Key Matches: Stanford’s opening weekend mirrors Cal’s, hosting No. 2 Maryland on Aug. 30 and No. 3 Georgetown on Sept. 1. The Cardinal then travels to UC Santa Barbara on Sept. 27; last year, Stanford upset then-ranked No. 25 UCSB 1-0 in a tough overtime match.
In addition to returning six starters, the Bruins brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation as ranked by College Soccer News. UCLA enters the season ranked seventh by CSN and ninth by NSCAA, and aim to repeat last year’s dominant display in Pac-12 competition. The defending Pac-12 Champion will look to senior forward Reed Williams to lead after he started 17 of 19 games last season and finished fourth in the Conference in total points with 18 en route to picking up first team All-Pac-12 honors. Senior Joe Sofia will lead UCLA’s defense; he started all 19 games and led the team in total minutes played in 2012.
Key Matches: UCLA takes on defending national champion No. 1 Indiana on their home turf in the opening weekend, two days after facing Notre Dame. The Bruins will host San Diego, who ousted UCLA from the NCAA Tournament last year in the second round, on Sept. 15.
Washington is the only other Pac-12 team ranked in the top 25, earning the No. 23 spot by both College Soccer News and NSCAA. The Huskies look to live up to the hype on the heels of senior goalkeeper Spencer Richey, a CSN preseason all-American and two-time All-Pac-12 selection. Offensively, despite losing last year’s scoring leader, sophomore James Moberg was second in scoring and recorded 14 points over 21 games. Washington’s recruiting class, which is ranked 15th in the nation by CSN, will contribute as soon as possible with a depth of offensive talent, including the Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year Cristian Roldan.
Key Matches: The Huskies have a difficult road trip on the East Coast, playing at UConn on Sept. 10 and Brown on Sept. 13. Both teams participated in the NCAA Tournament last season, with UConn advancing to the Elite Eight and Brown to the second round. Crosstown rival Seattle will come to UW for a non-conference matchup Oct. 8.