MLS (Semi-)Daily Sweeper, 12.18: The REAL Dull-Drums, A World Cup Qualifying Must-Read

With the FIFA Club World Cup and the NCAA Championships done and dusted and half of Europe taking a winter siesta, things look to have really wound down for 2007. Speaking specifically about the U.S., a look at Fox Soccer Channel’s 15-day domestic forecast says it all: the only thing more pointless than an international club friendly is a days-old, tape-delayed international club friendly…that it stars the Major League Soccer (MLS) dog-n-pony show only makes it that much worse.

Given that, I’ll be going into a winter break of my own till the New Year, but won’t start that till the end of this week. I’ve got Christmas BS throughout, in any case, and will thus be too busy with food, euchre, presents, running my kids around, and having drunkenly aimless, yet unbelievably passionate arguments about everything under the sun to get to much for posting.

But there’s always today and the rest of the week – and, as Steve Goff points out on Soccer Insider, today is positively stuffed with activities. The time being what it is, I’ll get to those tomorrow…it’s not like the story is going to change on me. So, on with the show, this is it….literally…

– On ESPN’s site, Steve Davis posted the quintessential hubris-checker regarding the United States’ road through World Cup qualifying; those wanting a clearer explanation of what the hell he’s talking about can get that through My Soccer Blog’s road map for the first part of the journey. The latter is useful for Davis’ column, but by no means necessary. Speaking for myself, I’m most worried about the one I’m assuming worries everyone else least: the play-in home-and home versus either Dominica or Barbados. Yes, either team is miles below us, both in the FIFA Con-jo…er, World Rankings, and quality of play, but it’s the lower margin of error that brings the anxiety, not to mention the potential for MASSIVE, unbearable humiliation. The thing is, if the U.S. finds themselves in a funk, or if Barbados (to pick one at random) somehow steals a goal and plays killer, athletic defense…well, that’s it. Unlike in the round-robin stages, both games against whichever Caribbean minnow we face matter, at least so long as we don’t carry a butt-stomping lead into the second leg; anything less than a 3-0 lead going into the second leg and I’ll be more nervous than I ought to be given the opposition. This is the point of Davis’ column: weirder things have happened in World Cup qualifying. So, stay frosty, people. Continue reading

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CHI’s NCAA DI 2007 Men’s Soccer Season Preview

CHI’s NCAA Men’s Preseason Division I Top 25

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(in all honesty it’s an aggregate of Top Drawer Soccer’s and the NSCAA’s)

Updated Aug. 14, 2007
CHI Rank) Average-NSCAA Rank-TDS Rank School [2006 Record]

1) 2.5-1-4 UCSB [17-7-0]

The Gauchos – as returning NCAA champions – take the honor of pre-season #1 knowing full well that a hard season lies ahead. After starting the 2006 season only 7-6, someone – most notably head coach Tim Vom Steeg – delivered a firm kick in the ass to the Gaucho squad and worked them into winning 11 out of the next 12 games and the NCAA Tourney. They lose 5 of their starting 11, but reinforcements have been called in. Transfer Ciaran O’Brien will shore up the midfield which lost a talented member in Tyler Rosenlund. Bryan Byrne (graduation/Revs) and Kyle Reynish (RSL) have moved on but a capable keeper in Bryant Reuckner – who is capped at the U-17 level – and forwards Tino Nunez and Andrew Proctor will certainly suffice. The key to the Gauchos is their quality of depth and it will be vital in their bid to repeat.

2) 2.5-3-2 UCLA [14-6-4]

Another extremely deep and talented squad returns a hungry bunch looking to overthrow the Gauchos at the top. Yes, wide man Sal Zizzo has gone to Hannover 96 in Germany and Kiel McClung graduated to the California Victory, but UCLA still has a wealth of options at their disposal. At forward, with 25 goals between them, David Estrada, Jason Leopoldo, and Maxwell Griffin look to produce even more this year. U20 WC defender Tony Beltran earned vital experience and will look to translate to the collegiate playing field, while Brian Perk – the Pan-Am games starter – will man the nets nobly. Who will serve them though? No problem – Kyle Nakazawa returns with 8 assists last year while defenders (though they sometimes move up) Brandon Owens and Greg Folk help the cause. The Bruins are my pre-season pick for NCAA Champions of 2007.

3) 2.5-1-4 Duke [18-4-1]

Though picked as the ACC favorite to win and returning ACC champs, the Blue Devils were shunned by the NSCAA falling a place under fellow-ACCers Wake Forest. The talent-rich Duke squad is led by pre-season All-Americans Michael Videira and Mike Grella. Ranked as high as 2nd in other pre-season polls, the Devils dropped a preseason result to Coastal Carolina while beating #25 UConn 1-0 on Aug 25th. They’ll have to deal with the loss of Chris Loftus to the New England Revolution and Kyle Helton to the pro ranks as well. Their goal: to improve upon last year’s Final Four appearance where they lost in overtime, 3-2 to the eventual runner-ups – UCLA.

4) 3.5-2-5 Virginia [17-4-1]

The third of six ACC reps in the Preseason Top 20. The Cavs have lost a lot, almost to the point that it makes this 5th place ranking a bit wondrous. Their most important losses were to MLS clubs – Bakary Soumare (Chicago), Nico Colaluca (Colorado), and Adam Cristman (Revs). All are performing well for their respective pro clubs, while the only silver lining seems to be the return of German import Yannick Reyering who was the team scoring leader last season with 12 goals. Not to mention, the #1 recruit of last year’s freshman class – Jonathan Villanueva who has starred at the U-17 and U-15 levels for US Soccer. Only time will tell for the Cavs, but on paper more is lost then coming in. The progress of Reyering and Villanueva is crucial, while the midfield will be captained by junior midfielder Jeremy Barlow who recently scored the lone goal in an exhibition win over South Florida. Amidst all my skepticism about UVA’s prospects, one can never bet against the true star of the team – coach George Gelnovatch. Is another Final Four appearance feasible though? Sure.

5) 5-7-3 Wake Forest [18-3-4]

The Demon Deacons lost a good crop of talent to the pro ranks this off-season as Ryan Solle (Revs), Wells Thompson (Revs), and Stephen Curfman (Revs) all left to try their hand at the bigs. The progress of midfielder and South Jersey native Jamie Franks and U-20 wingback Julian Valentin are a virtual must in order for the Deacons to move forward this year. Their defense and striker corps ranks among the nation’s best (even with the losses), but the midfield needs to improve readily to warrant a 3rd place ranking.

6) 5.5-5-6 Santa Clara [13-5-5]A total of three Broncos took part in the Pan-American games this past July, which sizes up their squad’s youth nicely. That crew is led by the immensely talented incoming freshman duo of Janil Anibaba and GK Kevin Klasila. The team is led, however, by Hermann Trophy watch list senior midfielder Peter Lowry. The losses are felt though as Amaechi Igwe went pro to D.C. United, Erick Ustruck graduated to Houston, and forward Keith DeVey graduated as well. Defender Matt Hatzke (younger brother of Nick, Houston Dynamo player) and soph midfielder Stephen McCarthy look not let it effect the Broncos too much as they try and re-spark the dominance Santa Clara once had.

7) 7-6-8 SMU [17-2-4]

Poised to do great things last year, but a little bad luck and a lack of results led the once top-ranked team in the nation to fizzle out in the NCAA Tourney. The Mustangs did win Conference-USA somewhat easily and look to do it again this year with the help of junior midfielder and C-USA Player of the Year Bruno Guarda. Anyone would also feel safe with U-20 WC back up Steve Sandbo in net and even more so with All C-USA defender Adrian Chevannes there to protect him. Unfortunately – Sandbo was a back-up to a great goalkeeper in Matt Wideman and Guarda’s production can’t beat that of striker/attacking mid Chase Wileman who moved into the pro ranks after scoring 8 goals and notching 13 assists last year. Chevannes also partners with Jay Needham, now in the USL after refusing to sign with MLS powerhouse D.C. United. The Mustangs, regardless, should rise again and some stars will definitely inch out of the woodwork with the upcoming season.

8] 9.5-12-7 Indiana [15-5-2]

U-20 WC standout Ofori Sarkodie headlines a healthy Hoosier squad which also includes two potent forwards in the form of soph Darren Yeagle and jr. Brian Ackley who both had 7 goals last season. Add a good recruiting class and you have yourself a team that can challenge yet again for the Big-10 title. The loss of John Michael Hayden to Houston and Josh Tudela to Los Angeles will sting, but a core defensive unit led by second team All-Big 10 selection Greg Stevning will certainly soften the blow. Look for a Big-10 repeat and a better showing at the NCAA’s – a Final Four finish perhaps?

9) 10-11-9 Maryland [16-5-1]

Like Virginia, the Terrapins are going to have a real hard time filling the shoes of the likes of Maurice Edu (picked #1 in the MLS Superdraft) and goalkeeper Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake, US U-20 WC Standout). Add that to the graduation of midfielder A.J. Godbolt (who was with the Kansas City Wizards for a whil, could still be) and you’ve got a lot of quality gone. Maryland – over the years – has created a program that attracts quality though and the Terps could come back strong. Though Maurice Edu was the heartbeat, it was the duo of Graham Zusi (11 goals) and Pan-Am participant Jeremy Hall (7 goals) who provided the finishing touch. Shawnee (NJ) product Stephen King (no relation) will be the motor and try and provide Zusi and Hall with their chances, with support from Drew Yates who should see more time this year and incoming freshman Yannick Salmon – a member of the Jamaican U-17 National Team. The defense includes the dependable A.J. Delagarza and Spencer Allen who between them missed one game. Though Seitz was seen as the best Terp goalkeeper ever, it will be a race between three to get 2007’s job done. If the new pieces fit together, the ACC is wide open but don’t expect Maryland to push far in the tourney.

10) 10-10-10 Notre Dame [15-6-2]

A promising 3-0 win over New Mexico in the preseason has the Fightin’ Irish confident of big things this year. None of those goals were scored by last year’s Hermann Trophy winner and Irish international Joseph Lapira (22 goals, 6 assists). If he can perform as well as he did last year and senior Ryan Miller can quarterback a serviceable defense, the Irish will be dangerous. Most of their losses last year were mental letdowns – losing to teams of lesser quality – and that seemed to be remedied early on in the NCAA Tourney. That is…until they met the University of Virginia in the quarters and lost 3-2. They need more weapons to be a significant threat as now-Chicago reserve Nate Norman and powerful defender Greg Dalby have moved into the pro ranks and Lapira can’t do all the offensive work. If Lapira finds support, watch the Irish soar.

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