Wake Forest learns life lessons
A chance meeting in Santa Filomena, Brazil, located one hour outside of Sao Paulo, underscored the huge difference between American and Brazilian soccer.
NCAA Division I champion Wake Forest was in Brazil for a spring tour, and Marcus Tracy, the Demon Deacons' star at the Men's College Cup, befriended a young Brazilian by the name of Iuri.
Tracy could have turned pro after his junior year, but he chose to return for his final season at Wake Forest, where he is majoring in economics. A perk was the trip to Brazil, where the Deacons went 1-2-1 and played Brazil's U-20 national team close, falling, 4-3, in an exciting game.
Like Tracy, Iuri had pro aspirations. He was in Santa Filomena for a tryout with famed club Palmeiras, but unlike Tracy didn't have anything to fall back on. It was soccer or an uncertain future in the favelas of Sao Paulo.
"[Iuri] wasn't in school or anything, and if he didn't make the team, he would just have to go home and figure out how to make it in life," Tracy said. "It's just weird to see someone [in Brazil] making millions and see another person on the side of the road with no house. It was surprising and I think that's what made the trip special for us. We just thought we were going down there to play soccer."
Tracy's return is a big reason Wake Forest was the No. 1 team in the Soccer American preseason rankings.
All-ACC forward Cody Arnoux and Tracy give Wake coach Jay Vidovich the best 1-2 punch of any attack in the country.
Sam Cronin leads the midfield, while the emergence of Ike Opara should make up for the loss of Julian Valentin and Pat Phelan, two of college soccer's best defensive specialists.
The player with the toughest job will be goalie Akira Fitzgerald, who must replace Brian Edwards, who finished his Wake career with 44 shutouts.
ACC powers slump
In the last quarter century, they won nine national championships between them, but 2007 was not a good year for perennial ACC powers Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson.
Duke never quite recovered from three ACC losses in mid-season and went one and out in both the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. Virginia was 7-7-2 over its last 16 games and finished with a 1-5-2 record in the ACC. North Carolina had its first losing season in 50 years. Clemson's 11 losses were the most in the history of the Tiger program started by the late I.M. Ibrahim in 1967.
Going into 2008, North Carolina probably is in the best shape. It returns eight starters and welcomes an incoming class that features U.S. U-20 Sheanon Williams. Duke returns only six players who started as many as six games, but the Blue Devils can count on the leadership of senior Mike Grella. Virginia's losses included its top two scorers, German Yannick Reyering, whose eligibility expired, and Chris Tierney, who is playing for MLS's New England Revolution. Cav Jonathan Villanueva will need to put aside a disappointing sophomore season. Clemson lost five starters and 10 lettermen.
Many of the top rising seniors had already made their college plans when the U.S. Soccer Development Academy launched last fall, but the 10-month league showcased some of the U.S. youth game's top young players who might otherwise not have burst on the national scene. Here's a look at four U-17/18 players who could have a big impact on their programs as freshmen.
ANDREW BULLS (UMBC). Bulls isn't as well-known as Baltimore Bays teammate Chris Agorsor, who committed to Virginia, but he came up big for the U-17/18 champions, scoring the last-second equalizer and then an overtime bomb from 35 yards that gave the Bays the title.
RICHARD MENJIVAR (Evansville). Aces coach Mike Jacobs says Menjivar, one of the attacking stars of the LAFC team that finished second to the Bays, could be a "difference maker."
MICHAEL GREEN (New Mexico). The midfielder joined the U.S. U-20 team for the Milk Cup, his first international call-up, after he was spotted by Thomas Rongen at Finals Week, where he was playing with the Columbus Crew, which finished in third place.
CESAR BLACIDO (Monmouth). The midfielder was named to the Academy Starting XI along with New York Red Bulls teammate Matt Kassel, who's headed to Maryland. Blacido joins brother Jorge on the Hawks, winners of the last three Northeast regular-season titles.
Summer departures hurt
Besides the usual graduation losses, top men's programs were hit hard by offseason defections. The losses extended into the summer when Boston College's All-American midfielder, Reuben Ayarna, gave up his last year of college eligibility to sign with Swedish First Division club GAIS Gothenburg. Brazilian Bruno Guarda left SMU to join his former SMU coach, Schellas Hyndman, at FC Dallas.
Ayarna's departure dropped the Eagles from on a par with pacesetters Wake Forest and Connecticut back into the pack with other 2008 contenders.
Wake Forest and Maryland should be the class of the ACC. For once, the Terrapins didn't have any underclassmen turn pro, and Sasho Cirovski returns nine starters — led by juniors Omar Gonzalez and Jeremy Hall and sophomore Rodney Wallace — and could start as many as four freshmen, notably former U.S. goalie Zac MacMath,
In the Big East, UConn and South Florida should take their respective divisions. The Huskies not only return Hermann Trophy winner O'Brian White but also three of his set-up men, Mike Pezza, Akeem Priestley and Toni Stahl. White should get support from Andrew McKie, a freshman from Australia. On paper, South Florida, picked to win the Big East's Blue Division, could be one of the deepest teams in the country with Yohance Marshall, Kevon Neaves and Jordan Seabrook all returning.
Indiana got a break when U.S. U-17 and U-20 defender Ofori Sarkodie tested the waters abroad but did not sign a pro contract. Also back are goalie Chay Cain and midfielders Brad Ring and Eric Alexander. Up front, the Hoosiers should get a boost from Will Bruin, one of the most highly touted forwards to come out of St. Louis in the last decade.
Led by a pair of Englishmen, Calm Angus and Kyle Patterson, Saint Louis could have its best team in years, though it will get competition in the Atlantic-10 from Massachusetts, last year's surprise semifinalist at the Men's College Cup, which returns Soccer America MVP first-team goalie Zack Simmons. The two other Men's College Cup teams were hit hard by losses. Ohio State is counting on a healthy Tim Gabel to solidify the back. After the loss of Patrick Nyarko to MLS's Chicago Fire and four one-year exchange students from Europe, this should be down year for Virginia Tech, but Coach Oliver Weiss has recruited two German defenders and three Ghanaians to rebuild his attack.
Brown, which won its 19th Ivy League title in 2008, returns everyone but Ivy League Player of the Year Matt Britner. Goalie Paul Grandstrand and Rhett Bernstein anchor a solid Bears' defense.
On the West Coast, Santa Clara is again the pick in the WCC. The Broncos will be led by Jalil Anibaba and Jide Ogunbiyi, a pair of Nigerian-Americans. UCLA (No. 1 and 3 picks Chance Myers and Anthony Beltran) and UC Santa Barbara (three players taken in the first 19 picks) both suffered major losses in the MLS Super Draft. UCLA comes off its first losing season in 41 years as an NCAA varsity sport, but it has strong returnees:
Brian Perk in goal and Jason Leopoldo, David Estrada and Kyle Nakazawa leading the attack. UCSB is counting heavily on freshman Bryan Dominguez and Danny Barrera to take over in its depleted midfield.
Many of this year's challengers should come from second-tier conferences.
Former MLS assistant John Trask was awarded a long-term contract for his work at the Horizon League's UIC, which will be led by goalie Serbian Jovan Bubonja, a second-team Soccer America MVP selection as a sophomore. With his freshman and sophomore classes and '09 commitments, Caleb Porter may be the nation's top recruiter, helping propel the Mid-American's Akron into a national contender. Steve Zakuani and Anthony Ampaipitakwong head the sophomore class. Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut State made it all the way to the round of 16 with a team loaded with Englishmen. An incoming group dominated by transfers should keep the Blue Devils in the national hunt. Led by Player of the Year Chris Wright, New Mexico should again be the class of the MPSF.
(This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)