Monday, August 25, 2008

2008 NCAA Men's Soccer Preview

The 2008 NCAA men's soccer season is about to kick off next weekend, and the state of Maryland has some solid teams in the mix. Maryland and Loyola look to head back to the NCAA Tournament while a few others try get in after missing it last year. Let's preview the top-5 teams in the Old Line State.

Maryland Terrapins (#3 in College Soccer News)
-Last season: 10-6-5, fell in round of 16 to Bradley 3-2, 2OT
-Formation: 4-4-2, diamond midfield (Joe Mauceri, College Soccer News)
-Starters returning: 9
-Key loss: Stephen King (four-year starting midfield, 2 G, 13 A)
-Head Coach: Sasho Cirovski (15th season)

The 2005 national champion had yet another heartbreaking loss in the round of 16, losing to Bradley 3-2 in double overtime after being up 2-0 with less than three minutes to go. Now with the #1 recruiting class in the nation with only two starters lost, the ACC powerhouse looks to make a title run.

-Depth: Maryland lost only two starters and gains three of the top-10 recruits in the country. Add that redshirt sophomore Jason Herrick and sophomore Kevin Tangney are returning from injury, this Terps team is full of talent.
-The Back Line: Despite the loss of four-year starter Stephen King, Maryland brings back three back line two-year starters, pre-season All-American junior Omar Gonzalez (pictured), senior Rich Costanzo, and senior A.J. Delagarza. Sean Flatley has also shown promise as a defender.

-Goalie: Will Swaim was the reason Maryland lost to Bradley in the NCAAs last season, allowing two goals in the final three minutes of regulation. The top goalkeeping prospect in the country, Zac MacMath, is in Maryland, but a lot of questions come between the pipes for the Terps.
-Go-to scorer: The primary problem last season for the Terps. Senior attack Graham Zusi (6 G, 6 A) and sophomore midfielder Rodney Wallace (6, 1) will need to step up with Herrick to score goals. Depth isn't an issue, but Maryland needs a solid scorer for difficult matches.

Loyola Greyhounds (#28 in College Soccer News)
-Last season: 19-3-1, MAAC Champion, fell in round of 32 to Maryland, 0-0 (4-2 PK)
-Formation: 3-5-2
-Starters returning: 8
-Key loss: Julian Cantillo (two-year starting midfield, 9 assists)
-Head Coach: Mark Mettrick (8th season)

The Greyhounds had the advantage in penalty kicks vs. Maryland in the NCAAs, but couldn't seal the deal. This deadly defensive squad with solid international players may be ranked only #28, but they look to show the soccer world what a shut-down defense can do.

-Defense: Junior Milos Kocic (pictured) could be the best goalie in the country. With junior defender Tennent McVea, who with Kocic is on the Hermann Trophy Watch List, Loyola had 17 shutouts last season, including 14 of their final 15 contests. Kocic allowed only 0.47 goals per game last year.
-Shooting: The two English sophomores Phil Bannister and Eddie Dines combined for 22 goals last season. With Kocic's cannon leg and their speed, counters and fast breaks are a strong strategy for the Greyhounds.

-Strength of Schedule: Loyola isn't playing anyone in CSN's preseason top-30. While this could change depend on changes in that top-30, this isn't going to help the Greyhounds. They will need to be solid nearly every game and/or win the tournament to gain favor with the NCAA committee.
-Midfield play: Because Loyola plays quick strike offense, other midfielders can gain an advantage by slowing it down in the middle. With Cantillo graduated, Dines and company will need to step up play or allow other teams numerous shots from the midfield.

Towson Tigers
-Last season: 12-7-2
-Formation: likely 4-4-1-1 (Joe Mauceri, College Soccer News)
-Starters returning: 6 (only nine full-time starters last season)
-Key losses: Bill Chiles (goalie, 1.00 GAA), Pat Healey (midfield, 8 goals, 9 assists)
-Head Coach: Frank Olszewski (26th season)

Towson was very close to making the NCAA Tournament, losing in PKs to Old Dominion in the CAA Championship. The Tigers will have to deal with big losses, including their All-American goalie and leading scorer, but they have a number of players with experience. Maryland transfer Matt Beckman and senior Cesar Cisneros both scored five goals last season and upstart sophomore Scott Horta will lead the defense.

UMBC Retrievers
-Last season: 8-7-5
-Formation: 4-4-2
-Starters returning: 8
-Key losses: Bryan Moffa (defender, 5 assists), Philippe Bissohong (defender)
-Head Coach: Pete Caringi (18th season)

Despite a solid 8-4-3 start, UMBC couldn't win its last five contests, keeping them away from the NCAAs. Senior Steve King only allowed 0.72 per game, but UMBC will need to replace its two solid defenders they lost in graduation. All four players who scored at least three goals last season, including senior Kevin Gnatiko (4 goals, 4 assists) and junior Andrew Gillis (5,2) return.

Navy Midshipmen
-Last season: 7-8-2
-Formation: 4-4-2
-Starters returning: 3
-Key losses: two goalkeepers, Doug DeVueno (forward, 4 goals)
-Head Coach: Rich Miranda (4th season)

Despite a win against ranked-West Virginia, an 0-7 conference record kept Navy out of contention for the NCAAs. A major rebuilding effort will be needed with only three starting returning. But the Mids do return two of their offensive catalysts, senior forward Adam Pennington (4 goals) and junior midfield Mark Garcia (1 goal, 5 assists).

You can check out the College Soccer News preseason top-30 and mini-previews of those teams here.

(Photo credits: University of Maryland (Gonzalez), Loyola College (Kocic)

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