Top Five Players to Watch at American Athletic Conference Semifinals
Fernando Laverde – Freshman midfielder – University of Central Florida
A long-time member of the FC Dallas Academy, Laverde was a key contributor to the 2012 under-18 US Soccer Development Academy National Championship team before starting nearly every game for the under-18s as a senior last year.
Laverde has hit the ground running with UCF in 2013 playing in a two-way midfield role. Laverde is tied for the lead on UCF with four assists while his three goals are third-most on the team. He’s not a midfielder that overpowers you with athleticism but rather a smaller pitbull type that always finds himself in the right positions, winning the ball quickly and getting it to the dangermen up top. Could a Homegrown contract be in Laverde’s future down the road? Only time will tell, but Friday’s match vs. UCONN back at Toyota Stadium will certainly be special for the academy graduate.
Andre Blake – Junior goalkeeper – University of Connecticut
UCONN went undefeated through American Athletic Conference play with a 4-0-4 record and junior goalkeeper Andre Blake was a big reason why. A two-time defending conference goalkeeper of the year, Blake was named an NSCAA First Team All-American last year and when you get a look at the towering 6-4 ‘keeper you’ll understand why.
A player who has already joined the full Jamaican National Team, Blake could very well be a Generation adidas member who is drafted in the top ten picks of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, he’s that good. While his distribution and the little nuances of the game that goalkeepers can only refine with experience still need some work, Blake’s shot stopping abilities are already likely at an MLS level and UCONN currently sits third in the nation with a .50 goals against average.
The Huskies take a four-game defensive goalless streak into Friday’s showdown with UCF and watching Blake in action is worth the price of admission alone.
Kene Eze – Senior forward – Rutgers University
When the Scarlet Knights need a goal, they typically call on senior forward Kene Eze. Having joined Rutgers for his sophomore year, Eze has scored 22 goals in his three years on campus. Eze scored four goals in Rutgers’ 5-1 play-in round win over Cincinnati and apart from Mamadou Diouf at UCONN could be the most MLS-ready senior forward in this weekend’s games.
Ben Sweat – Senior defender – University of South Florida
Perhaps as MLS-Ready as anyone you’ll see over this weekend, Ben Sweat is a strong and quick left back who fits the MLS mold. It’s tough to find a player who is a natural outside back rather than a center back converted to play outside so you could see Sweat in an MLS jersey sooner rather than later. The four year starter will have a tough matchup against Rutgers on Friday so be sure to watch out for Sweat on the left side of defense.
Cyle Larin – Freshman forward – University of Connecticut
With star senior forward Mamadou Diouf hobbled by injury this season, Canadian freshman Cyle Larin has stepped into the role fantastically well. An unknown before he came to the Huskies, Larin has burst onto the college scene with ten goals this season, third-most among all freshman in the country.
Larin has scored three goals in his last two games and while he’s not someone that overpowers you, he always seems to find the right spots at the right times as evidenced by his ten goals scored. While he’s not likely to go to MLS after this season, Larin’s name is one you’ll certainly be hearing in soccer circles for years to come.