Soccer season is almost upon us, so it’s time to start planning out which players will deserve special attention in 2016. Some junior standouts last season, such as Creighton’s Fabian Herbers, Stanford’s Jordan Morris and Georgetown’s Joshua Yaro chose to forego their final year of eligibility in order to turn pro, but several more stars opted to stick around.
Here are five seniors who should be pivotal pieces of their teams as they try to make their final collegiate seasons count.
Adam Najem, AkronIt was a dramatic offseason for Najem, as the Akron faithful had to hold their breath and wait to see if the New Jersey native would go pro or come back for his senior season. Najem ended up deciding to finish out his college career, noting that the penalty-kick finish in the College Cup against Stanford is not something he wants to end his time in Akron with. That’s great news for the Zips, as the 2015 second-team All-American oozes offense. He has eclipsed 30 points in each of his last two seasons, impressively ranking in the top 40 in both goals (10, 36th) and assists (11, eighth) a season ago.
Nick DePuy, UC Santa BarbaraDePuy was a goal machine last season, registering 15 scores in the regular season, the most in Division I. The native Californian was converted from center back to forward partway through the 2014 season and has been on a torrid pace since, scoring 25 goals in 36 games. His eight game-winning goals led the nation in 2015, and after finishing as a semi-finalist for the 2015 MAC Hermann trophy, he is a leading candidate in 2016.
Kyle Bjornethun, SeattleThe anchor of a staunch Seattle defense that pushed the Redhawks to the third round of the NCAA tournament a season ago, Bjornethun has earned plenty of recognition for his play. He was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year, a second-team All-American and now a member of the MAC Hermann watch list. He was named national player of the week last season for scoring two goals in final 1:36 to stun Oregon State, including the game-winner below.
Tanner Thompson, IndianaThompson, the 2015 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year and a third-team All-American, has been a steadying influence in the Hoosier midfield for the last two years after contributing as a reserve as a freshman. Thompson’s nine assists in 2015 led the conference, while all three of his goals proved to be game-winners. Indiana has high hopes for the 2016 season, and a lot of that revolves around the surefire strong performance of its star midfielder.
Nazeem Bartman, South FloridaBartman made quite a name for himself in his first year at South Florida after transferring from the JUCO ranks, scoring eight goals and landing on the All-American third team. It has been quite a journey for the man who arrived in Tampa by way of his native South Africa and Tyler Junior College, but he is poised to have a big senior year as the focal point of the No. 19 Bulls. He was placed on the MAC Hermann watch list, and with his breakaway speed and stellar footwork, it’s easy to see why.