The first round of NCAA action gets underway on Thursday and for Toronto FC and Canadian soccer fans there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to the action. The crop of Canadians in the tournament field is impressive this year with several of the top programs having Canadians in key roles.
There is also the small fact that Toronto FC will be a major player in the first round of the SuperDraft next year and plenty of the top talent will be on display in the coming weeks. We will look at that talent as we move closer to the draft but for now we run down some of the top Canadians to keep an eye on in the tournament. The tournament will not feature the top Canadian in college soccer as Cyle Larin and UCONN did not do enough to secure a spot in the dance but that does not mean there is no one left to be excited about.
Sergio Camargo - Costal Carolina: Camargo may not have been born in Canada, he is originally from Colombia, but he counts as a Canadian having pulled on the red and white at the youth level on several occasions. The former Toronto FC academy player is now a sophomore at Coastal Carolina and was a key part in their Big South title winning season. The forward was third on the team in scoring with 9 goals and could be a difference maker for his team if they are going to make a run deep in to the tournament. They kick off play in the first round against Florida Gulf Coast University on the 20th.
Callum Irving - University of Kentucky: There may not be a single Canadian in NCAA Division 1 that had a better season that the Vancouver Whitecaps academy product. The BC native was solid in goal giving up just 12 goals in his 18 appearances. He amassed a 10-4-4 record with 10 clean sheets in an impressive junior season that saw him claim a trio of Conference USA awards including MVP. His Wildcats open their tournament against Oakland on the 20th in a game that will feature a number of Canadians as Oakland have five on their roster.
Jay Chapman - Michigan State: The Spartans had a strong season in 2014 and earned themselves the number 3 seed for the tournament. Chapman was a big part of that success as he contributed four goals and four assists to their balanced attack and as a result was named to the All-Big 10 team and was named the conference's Midfielder oF the Year. Chapman is another GTA native who spent time training with TFC's academy and has even drawn some interest from TFC in potentially bringing him back to the club after his time with Michigan State comes to an end. There is also some other Canadian content on the Spartans' roster as freshman midfielder Michael Marcantognini made 10 appearances this year and could play some role in tournament play. Champman's Spartans won't take to the field until the 23rd when they take on the winner of Oakland-Kentucky.
Richie Laryea - Akron University: This year's Akron team may not be the force that they have been in recent years but they still managed to win the Mid Atlantic Championship and claim the number 22 seed in the tournament. A big part of their success this year came thanks to key contributions from freshman including Laryea. The Sigma product is not going to fill up the score sheet but he is a very solid number 6 and will be key to any chances that Akron have of finding success in the tournament. He is capable of anchoring their midfield and plays like someone with a lot more experience than his status as a freshman would suggest. Laryea was named to the All-MAC second-team for his performance this year and is just one of a number of Sigma products to keep an eye on. Akron open their tournament against Ohio State on the 20th.
Mark Wadid - Penn State: 2014 was probably not as good of a season for Wadid as he would have been hoping for as his numbers took a step back from where they were in his freshman year. Wadid failed to find the back of the net this season but did pick up three assists. He may not be a starter for Penn State this year but he could prove to be an impact sub for a team that often relies on really strong goal keeping to get results. Penn State open up against Hartwick on the 20th with a potential date with Syracuse looming in the second round.
Alex Halis - Syracuse: The first of the four Syracuse players to make this list might just be the most exciting of the bunch. The Sigma product had a strong Sophomore season picking up 3 goals and 2 assists while being a real spark plug for the attack. His scoring is down from his freshman year but the winger is the kind of player who can get hot and start filling the back of the net. Halis finished strong with a goal in Syracuse's last game, a 2-1 loss to Louisville, so hopefully that form carries over to tournament play. Syracuse will play the winner of Penn State-Hartwick on the 23rd in the second round.
Chris Nanco - Syracuse: Another Syracuse player who was developed by Sigma and could be the spark that the Orangemen need to make a deep run in the tournament. As the number 9 seed they have a real chance of going deep and if they are going to do that Nanco could have a big part to play. On the opposite wing from Halis the Canadian sophomore notched 5 goals and added 2 assists. Nanco got on a role in October scoring 3 goals in 4 games as he is the kind of player, like Halis, who can heat up quickly and fill the back of the net. With Nanco and Halis both on the wing the Syracuse attack is an exciting one to watch for Canadian fans.
Skylar Thomas - Syracuse: Not only do the Orangemen use two sophomore Canadians on the wing but they also have a pair of Canadian seniors playing major minutes in the defence. The first is Pickering native, Skylar Thomas who is enjoying his best year at Syracuse starting a career high 17 games thus far and scoring a career high 3 goals. The 6-3 defender has been a big presence on the back line helping the team to keep 12 clean sheets already this season. He may not draw the attention of his defensive partner but Thomas is the kind of player who can chip in on both ends of the field as he uses his height to cause issues on set pieces.
Jordan Murrell - Syracuse: The other half of the Canadian defensive duo at Syracuse is another former Toronto FC academy player and one who could draw some interest from MLS sides upon the conclusion of his senior season. He may not have the size of Thomas at 5-10 but he has still but a huge part of the Orangemen's defensive success this season starting all 19 of his team's games. He has been a four year starter for Syracuse and had one of his best years in 2014 picking up 2 goals 6 assists while doing his part to help the team to that solid defensive record. Murrell could very well wind up being the highest Canadian selected in the draft among those not named Larin.