Okugo headlines incoming players to watch in 2009
Fresh soccer season. Fresh start. Fresh faces.
The college soccer season is almost upon us, and although the members of the class of 2013 have yet to take the field in an official match, the buzz on this talented crop is already growing.
In a class loaded with potential, the questions surrounding many in this group wasn't just which school they would commit to, but whether they would even commit to a school at all. Fortunately for their chosen programs, these newcomers did -- here's who they are and where they're going:
1. Amobi Okugo, Midfielder/Defender, UCLA
Okugo comes to the Bruins with what have become standard accolades from UCLA recruits -- national recognition from Parade, NSCAA, ESPN Rise, etc., as well as youth national team experience. However, Okugo separated himself from all recruits (headed to UCLA and everywhere else) coming out of high school when he was the youngest player selected to take part in the U-20 CONCACAF qualifying this past spring. The 18-year-old was on the field for the Bruins in their friendly against Inter Milan (a 2-2 draw), but there's a possibility that he might not be when the season kicks off. Recent reports indicate that Okugo may still be weighing the idea of going pro.
2. Dillon Powers, Midfielder, Notre Dame
Momentum is on Powers' side as the Plano, Texas, native heads to South Bend. It's been a busy year for Powers, reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, as he was recently named the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Co-Player of the Year, won the Class 5A Texas state championship and traveled to Egypt with the U-20 national team. Powers has an ability to create opportunities for himself or teammates. The 5-foot-11 midfielder finished his senior season with 16 goals and 24 assists, amassing a career total of 39 goals and 57 assists.
3. Andrew Wenger, Midfielder, Duke
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America High School Player of the Year, Wenger looks to be a great fit for the Blue Devils' program. The midfielder concluded his high school career with 45 goals, 39 assists and a 3.65 GPA. Twenty of those goals and 17 assists came last season, earning Wenger not just accolades from the NSCAA, but recognition as the Pennsylvania Gatorade Boys' Soccer Player of the Year and Parade All-American selection. Wenger traveled to Egypt with the U-20 national team, getting the starting nod in the team's 1-1 draw against the host country.
4. Taylor Kemp, Midfielder/Defender, Maryland
Kemp's gotten plenty of ink heading into his freshman season, but what's a little more? Hailing from Highlands Ranch, Colo., the 5-11 defender joins the reigning national champs to help the team in their quest for a repeat. Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski has called his new player the best high-school aged left back in the country. Now it's up to Kemp to live up the expectations. However, performing under pressure is nothing new for a player with youth national team experience like Kemp.
5. Steve Birnbaum, Midfielder, Cal
A versatile offensive midfielder, Birnbaum has experience with both the U-18 and U-20 national teams. Playing at that level will serve him well as he joins a Bears squad poised and determined to make a run at the College Cup. The 6-2, Irvine, Calif., native is already a step ahead of the other players on this list having completed his senior year early, enrolling at the university last spring.
6. John Fitzpatrick, Forward, Cal
Bears teammate Fitzpatrick is another one to watch. The 6-1 forward was sidelined the first half of his senior season after undergoing surgery for a groin injury, but bounced back to help lead his team deep into the playoffs. Fitzpatrick brings a demonstrated scoring ability and experience as the San Diego-area native heads north. However, on a team that returns nine starters and brings in nine new players, Fitzpatrick will definitely have to earn his spot.
7. Adam Jahn, Forward, Stanford
It would be wrong to include two Cal players, but leave Jahn off the list. The two-time Gatorade Boys' Soccer Player of the Year for California graduated high school with 58 goals and 41 assists (17 goals, 15 assists in his senior season), maintaining a 4.0 in the classroom. At 6-2, Jahn displays an impressive amount of athleticism for a player his size and has seen significant time with the U-18 national team.
While this may be the first time you're hearing some of these names, you can all but guarantee it won't be the last.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.