College soccer in the D.C. region enjoyed its most successful season last fall with two men’s and two women’s teams advancing to the respective College Cup semifinals and 10 others earning NCAA Division I tournament berths.
Is a repeat in order?
With the women’s season underway and the men’s campaign starting Friday, here’s a look at the top teams, players and story lines.
RANK AND SMILE: With many returning starters from 2013 final four squads, both the Virginia men and women entered the Soccer America preseason rankings at No. 3. The Maryland men, who lost to Notre Dame in the national final, and the Virginia Tech women, who fell in the semifinals, started at No. 5. Georgetown teams face high expectations, with the men at No. 6 and the women at No. 15. UMBC’s men, who lost just once in the regular season last year, are the region’s other ranked team, beginning at No. 21.
REVOLUTIONARY LOSSES: Maryland’s Patrick Mullins and Georgetown’s Steve Neumann have taken their skills to MLS, both drafted in the first round by the New England Revolution. Mullins won the Hermann Trophy as a junior and senior, the first back-to-back men’s winner in 17 years. With nine returning starters, the Terrapins will open Friday at No. 9 Louisville (8 p.m. on ESPN3.com) before hosting Coastal Carolina on Monday. The Hoyas, who return eight starters, face Indiana on Friday and No. 2 Notre Dame on Sunday, both at IU.
TOGETHER AGAIN: The frosty relationship between the Maryland and Georgetown athletic directors, stemming from basketball issues, prevented almost all teams from scheduling one another in recent years. It was particularly disappointing for men’s soccer: The sides had collided in the national semifinals in 2012. This spring, with Maryland allowing individual teams to resume the local rivalry, the respective men’s coaches arranged a Sept. 30 match in College Park. The women’s teams will meet in a preseason scrimmage next year.
CONFERENCE CALL: After 23 ACC men’s championships, including the last two years, Maryland has relocated to the Big Ten – a conference with several strong programs but without the ACC’s depth and soccer history. The Terps are preseason favorites, followed by 2013 quarterfinalist Michigan State. The sides will meet Sept. 19 in College Park. Michigan, Penn State and Indiana round out the top five. The Maryland women, picked third behind Penn State and Wisconsin, will also step down in overall league quality.
FOR COLLEGE AND COUNTRY: Virginia midfielder Morgan Brian returns for her senior season after winning the Hermann Trophy last year, but a higher calling will limit her availability to the Cavaliers. For the past year, Brian has received regular assignments with the U.S. national team, which is building toward next summer’s World Cup in Canada. With the squad set to play two friendlies in September and World Cup qualifiers in October, the Georgia native is expected to miss several college matches. The U-Va. roster also includes junior forward Makenzy Doniak, who scored for the United States at the U-20 World Cup this month.
GOALKEEPERS GALORE: Three of the nation’s top male netminders play in the area: Maryland sophomore Zach Steffen, aligned with the Philadelphia Union’s homegrown program, was in camp this month with the U.S. under-23 squad, the core of the 2016 Olympic qualifying effort. Georgetown senior Tomas Gomez, who has served in the youth national system, is the Big East’s top-rated keeper. George Mason’s Steffen Kraus, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany, was a third-team all-American as a freshman last year for the Patriots, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament and are picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 this fall.
SISTERHOOD: Midfielder Daphne Corboz enters her senior year at Georgetown first in the women’s program in goals and second in points. She is a two-time all-American who has captured multiple Big East awards and trained with the U.S. under-23 national team. This year, she will have her sister, Rachel, by her side. The younger sibling, also a midfielder, was part of the under-18 national program. Rachel has one advantage on her sister: she is three inches taller than the 5-foot-2 star.
TAKING FLIGHT: The Navy women have overshadowed the men for years, but under Coach Dave Brandt, the Midshipmen are on the rise. Last year they won the Patriot League tournament for the first time, ran off 15 consecutive victories and ended a 25-year lapse between NCAA tournament appearances. This season, anchored by 6-6 senior defender Joseph Greenspan, Navy is the league’s preseason favorite. The women were selected second behind Boston University.
REBUILDING THE BISON: Phillip Gyau, a former U.S. national team player and longtime area youth coach, begins reviving the men’s program at Howard, his alma mater. A national power in the 1970s and ’80s, the Bison went 1-17-0 last year and were last among 203 teams in the NCAA’s ratings index. Howard has joined the Sun Belt Conference in soccer. Gyau’s father, Nana, was a Ghanaian national team player and NASL forward. His son, Joe, plays for Borussia Dortmund’s under-23 squad in the German third division.
The Women’s College Cup will be held Dec. 5-7 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. The men’s College Cup will be one week later at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.