Sounders on Campus

Promising college seasons for Washington, Seattle U open this week

It’s been quite the offseason for college soccer, which certainly seems to be hitting a crossroads in its next evolutionary phase.


Since signing day in February, eight of the top nine college-committed players expected to show up on campus in the fall spurned their pledges and jumped at pro contracts. And not just in MLS either. Top-ranked national team players like McKinze Gaines (Wolfsburg), Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United) and Emmanuel Sabbi (Las Palmas) set aside commits to top programs UCLA, Duke and Akron to try their hand at pro soccer.


That should throw some interesting light on the 2016 men’s season, which kicks off Friday in the midst of a coach-lead inquiry to possibly expand the season into the spring to better mirror the pro game. It’s an initiative coaches have been attempting to enact for years. Will they finally succeed?


In the meantime, the two biggest Division I men’s powers in Seattle are gearing up for what could be improved seasons across the board.


Washington hit its zenith under coach Jamie Clark in 2013, when the Huskies won their first Pac-12 title in a decade led by future Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. The window closed slightly after Roldan signed for the Sounders following a quality 2014 postseason run, and 2015 didn’t quite reach those highs. Still, Washington won eight games, finished behind only UCLA and Stanford in the Pac-12 and won an NCAA tourney game.



In many ways the Huskies are victims of their own success. A winning season not so long ago would’ve been the ultimate goal. These days, Washington is hunting for quite a bit more than that.


The Huskies have talent back, which is a fine place to start. The defense seems to be the high point, at least in returning talent, with Quentin Pearson, Justin Schmidt and Justin Fiddes all looking to build on quality years. Like his father’s stout Notre Dame teams, Clark builds from back to front, and this season looks like no exception.


That doesn’t exactly mean the cupboard’s bare, of course. Mason Robertson is back for his senior season, and there perhaps aren’t many better pure No. 9s in college soccer. Henry Wingo, Washington’s lone Sounders academy grad, is developing into a nightmare to guard off the wing. And the freshman class should add some robustness to the attack. Forward Elijah Rice was unstoppable for Real Salt Lake’s U18s last year, and he has plenty of U.S. youth national team experience to boot. When paired with mazy dribbler Jaret Townsend, Washington should be a tough out in the Pac-12, even if it isn’t favored to win the conference.


As for Seattle University, the Redhawks were the undisputed college kings of Seattle last season. They won the WAC, finished a stunning 18-4-1 and knocked off Washington 2-1 in a nonconference game to establish unquestioned dominance. The two teams renew that rivalry again this year on Sept. 25, which should be one of the year’s local soccer highlights on the calendar.


Seattle U, which knocked off UCLA in the NCAA tourney last year, should carry a few familiar names for anyone versed in the local soccer scene. For one, Alex Roldan is Cristian’s younger brother, and the junior midfielder has four goals and six assists over the past two seasons. Junior forward David Olsen, meanwhile, might be the single most productive Sounders academy grad in college right now. In his first season back in Seattle in 2015, he put in an incredible 16 goals and was named a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy. Not bad.


The Redhawks lost a couple quality seniors, but most all of the important pieces are back. Even if they don’t win 18 games again, they’re favored to win the WAC for a second consecutive year and get back to the NCAA tourney. As for what happens next, we’ll have to wait and see.


Washington


2015 Finish: 8-5-6 (3rd in Pac-12)


Head Coach: Jamie Clark (5th year, 53-13-12 record)


2016 Opener: Friday at Utah Valley


2016 Home Opener: Sept. 4 vs. Oral Roberts


Pac-12 Opener: Sept. 29 at UCLA


Must-See Game: Oct. 6 vs. Stanford


Big Man on Campus: If senior forward Mason Robertson is fully healed from a leg injury that forced him to miss most of 2015, he should get back to the form that led him to seven goals as a sophomore.


SFC Academy Ties: As for Henry Wingo, the lone Sounders Academy grad at UW, he’s displaying all the hallmarks of a future pro with his tricky dribbling, straight-line speed and soccer smarts.


Seattle U


2015 Finish: 18-4-1 (1st in the WAC, reached the third round of the NCAA tournament)


Head Coach: Pete Fewing (23rd year, 263-156-35 record)


2016 Opener: Friday vs. West Virginia (at Akron)


2016 Home Opener: Sept. 16 vs. College of Charleston


WAC Opener: Sept. 30 vs. Utah Valley


Must-See Game: Sept. 25 at Washington


Big Man on Campus: These are heady days for midfielder Alex Roldan, who enters his junior year while brother Cristian entertains interest from national team camps. Should he put together a big 2016, his name might not be far off from those lofty heights.


SFC Academy Ties: Junior forward David Olsen has been a terror since transferring from San Diego State, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him hoist the MAC Hermann Trophy at season’s end. Senior defender Kyle Bjornethun is coming off a massive 2015 and was named to the MAC Hermann Watch List this preseason. Fellow senior defender Sam Langston is coming off the best year of his career. 

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