New England Soccer Today

School’s in session

This weekend, the Division 1 NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament semi-finals and final will showcase some of the best collegiate talent in the country. With his DVR already set for tonight’s and Sunday’s matches, Brian O’Connell caught up with Revsnet founder and college soccer expert Mike Marshall to discuss this weekend’s slate of matches, as well as college soccer at large.

Brian: Death, taxes, and Wake Forest draft picks. These are three things all Revs fans know are certain. But with Wake’s lackluster year, are there any other players in this weekend’s NCAA semifinals and final that the Revs should pay particular attention to?

Mike: The first name that jumps to mind is Akron’s Scott Caldwell – not because he’s a star or he’s MLS-ready, because he’s not – but because he’s former member of the Revolution Youth Academy, and the Revs will have the right to sign him when he leaves school. He’s not a regular starter for the Zips, but he’s usually their first guy off the bench, and he plays a lot. He made huge strides this year, and I think he’ll be one of Akron’s better players his Junior and Senior years.

All four teams are littered with guys that I think will eventually play pro. But it’s tough to say which ones will turn pro this year, or which ones will sign with MLS. For instance, Akron’s Darlington Nagbe is a good bet to leave school, but he may not sign with MLS. And if he does, he almost assuredly will go before pick #6, which will put him out of New England’s reach.

But there are two players I’m going to be watching closely. The first is North Carolina’s senior midfielder Michael Farfan, who can play nearly any attacking midfield role. He’s predominantly left-footed, he’s got a little pace, and he loves to take players on. Should UNC play Akron in the finals, I’ll be very interested to see how he deals with attention he’s sure to receive from Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin.

The other player I’ll be watching is Akron’s Anthony Ampaipitakwong, who’s similar to Farfan with probably a touch more pace, and a touch less skill.

Traditionally, Steve Nicol has always had his eye on the ACC for MLS talent. But with only Maryland and UNC making an impact in this year’s tournament, does it signal that the rest of the country has caught up with the ACC, or was it simply just a bad year for them?

A little bit of both, perhaps? While I’m not ready to say any other conference has “caught up” to the ACC, I think it’s telling that over the past couple of years, we’ve started to see the emergence of some non-traditional soccer powers. And let’s not forget that the ACC kind of underachieved in the tournament this year. Until this becomes a prolonged pattern, I’m kind of inclined to write this year off as a fluke off year for the conference.

Boston College and Brown were two notable schools who qualified for this year’s tournament, before falling in the earlier rounds. Are there any players from either college that could be considered early-round SuperDraft selections?

Probably not. Jon Okafor’s been invited to the combine, so he’s probably the best bet to get drafted, but I don’t believe he’ll be taken in either of the first two rounds. There are some kids on both teams with pro potential, but I can’t see them leaving school early.

Talk to me a little bit about  Okafor. I caught a few Brown games and he seemed to be a player that really stood out. Which round do you see him being taken, and by whom?

As I said, I don’t believe he’ll be taken in the first two rounds in part because I’m anticipating a large Generation Adidas class that will push him down. He’s kind of intriguing in that he’s a big kid with decent athleticism and a decent amount of skill. And he comes from a program that’s had a bit of a history turning out solid pros. But whenever I watched him during his career, he struck me as kind of a jack of all trades, master of none. I don’t see any one quality to his game that convinces me he can be anything more than a role player at the next level.

Which New England schools, besides Brown and BC, do you see emerging to become legit NCAA powers in the future?

Well, I’d still classify UConn as the premier program in the region. I liked what Harvard was doing before John Kerr left, but they’ve really struggled to replace Andre Akpan and Michael Fucito. If UMass upgrades their football program to Division I and joins the MAC, that could have real benefits for their soccer program in the long run. The Minutemen have had some sporadic success in the past and Sam Koch is an outstanding coach, so they’d be my choice.

Looking at the larger picture, there’s a growing sentiment for the NCAA to incorporate a bifurcated soccer season (fall and spring season) in order to prepare collegiate prospects for professional leagues. Do you agree or disagree with this idea?

Strongly disagree. People need to remember that far less than 1% of NCAA players go on to play a single minute of professional soccer. I don’t think you mess with the academic careers of 99% NCAA soccer players to cater to the 1% of players who do go on to earn a living through soccer.

Do you think MLS Youth Academies will strengthen or weaken NCAA soccer in the long run?

I think they’ll harm college soccer more in the short term than in the long term. Sure, MLS teams will start to cherry pick a lot of the cream of the crop, but European teams were already doing that. In the long run, Youth Academies will send better prepared, more polished players on to the college game. And I think the successful college coaches are pretty resourceful. If they can’t get the quality of players they want from the U.S., they’ll start to scout foreign countries even more extensively than they do now.

Lastly, who do you think will win this year’s tournament?

I’ve got Akron beating North Carolina 2-0 in the final. I just think this is their year. Caleb Porter is probably the best young coach in the college game today, and he’s got a ridiculous amount of talent on that team. The Zips have five or six guys who could play in MLS next year, and another three or four who probably will at some point in their careers.

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