Most of the talk this year in area college soccer circles might pertain to the schools' new coaches, only because the quality of the teams already is old news.
At George Mason University, Gordon Bradley, who coached Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johann Cruyff in the North America Soccer League, has replaced Dick Broad, whose contract was not renewed.
At Maryland, Alden Shattuck, who coached at Syracuse for six years and prior to that won a Division I title at Hartwick College, has taken over for Joe Grimaldi, who resigned and has assumed an administrative post within the university athletic department.
The region's top three teams -- Virginia (19-3-1), George Mason (15-4-3) and American University (13-4-3) -- return most of their players that took them to last fall's 23-team NCAA tournament.
Virginia and George Mason open their seasons today. The Cavaliers play Notre Dame at Scott Stadium and George Mason hosts Tennessee.
Mike Brady, the all-America from Coventry, England, who scored 22 goals last year and 42 in the past three years, returns for AU. The Eagles open Saturday at home against Indiana State of Pennsylvania.
"He's the key to our goal production," Coach Pete Mehlert said of Brady. "Not that he's a one-man show. Anytime you have a player who scored more than 20 goals against our kind of schedule, you have one of the top scorers in the country . . . Mike Brady can play anywhere he wants.
"Overall, the entire region has improved tremendously," Mehlert said. "There's no longer a win you can count on, with the exception of two or three schools trying to catch up. Every team is vastly improved."
Virginia, a team that couldn't improve much, found a way to do so by recruiting seven freshmen, including four Parade magazine all-Americas, one of whom is John Harkes from Kearny, N.J., its high school player of the year.
The Cavaliers are ranked second in the nation in the Soccer America poll and third in the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America poll. First-team all-America forward Jeff Gaffney (16 goals, seven assists) from Walt Whitman High in Bethesda and junior forward George Gelnovatch (16 goals, five assists) are among nine starters returning.
The Cavaliers, however, will find competition right in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We anticipate Maryland to be improved," Virginia Coach Bruce Arena said. "We expect Clemson (ranked No. 1 in the ISAA poll, ahead of UCLA), N.C. State (No. 4 in the Soccer America) and Duke (No. 13 in the Soccer America) to contend for the national championship. On the regional level, we play George Washington down here next week and George Mason up there."
Like the Cavaliers, George Mason retains its nucleus, with eight starters returning, including Mike Reynolds, a second-team all-America at defender, and Fred Thompson, the leading scorer with 15 goals and five assists.
While Bradley is in his first year at the collegiate level. AU's Mehlert is in his 14th. "We have the potential to go far again and be just as competitive as some of our best years ever," said Mehlert, whose team last year beat George Mason, 2-1, but lost to Virginia, 2-1, in a shootout in the NCAA tournament.
Aside from Brady, players who could help the Eagles are junior Keith Trehy, who will play either center midfielder or sweeper, and Glen Buchanan, a senior stopper from Jefferson High in Annandale.
George Mason defeated Maryland, 5-1, in a preseason scrimmage. But Desmond Armstrong, Khuluma Zulu from Bethesda and Peter Dugan from Hyattsville will make the Terrapins' offense formidable.
"The biggest thing is that the university has made the commitment," Shattuck said. "(Athletic Director) Dick Dull has done everything a soccer coach could ask. And he's made it clear that he's not looking for an overnight miracle. He wants a solid team that will be in a position to win the ACC."
George Washington and Howard narrowly missed representing the South Atlantic Region in the postseason tournament. The Colonials finished 10-4-5 and have junior Joe Fimiani and sophomore Orville Reynolds coming back. Coach Tony Vecchione believes two of the late-season losses may have cost them. "This year we're going to have to beat American and George Mason," Vecchione said. "We're going to have to finish in the top three in the region."
The Bison, who were once regular participants in the NCAA, were 9-4-3 and have eight returning players. Senior forward Philip Gyau had nine goals and one assist and fullback Ronald Simmons had five goals.
Navy, too, is strong. Junior goalkeeper Dave Postoll had six shutouts and an 0.86 goals against average. Forward Mike Donigan had five goals and two assists and Mike Walls, a midfielder, scored two goals and had three assists.
Georgetown had its best year since 1968 at 6-10-2. Coach Keith Tabatznik is hoping for a bid to play for the Big East title and a ranking of 10th or better in the region. Last year's leading scorer, midfielder Andy Logan (four goals, two assists), and stopper Dan Janney return.
Catholic, which opens at home against GW Tuesday, recorded its best record in four years (7-11-2) last year, but second-year Coach Paul Moyer knows it will be difficult to compete against area Division I opponents.
At District of Columbia, Coach Albert Patty replaced Juan Zenzano, who led the Firebirds to an 8-5 record.