Commentary

Zips head to top of the class

Updated: January 28, 2009, 4:39 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

The hype around National Signing Day is no longer reserved for football.

One week from today (Feb. 4), fall-sport athletes in the Class of 2009 can sign national letters of intent, and this year's boys soccer class is creating quite a buzz, especially Akron's all-star cast.

ESPNRISE.com soccer editor Sheldon Shealer previews some of the more interesting recruiting developments that are expected to play out next Wednesday.

Top incoming class

It's almost unanimous among college coaches polled: Akron has the strongest incoming class. It should be noted that evaluations of incoming classes were limited to domestic players joining NCAA Division I programs for the first time and do not take into account transfers.

Akron's group includes under-20 national pool player Zarek Valentin, along with under-18 national pool players Chad Barson and Scott Caldwell. David Meves is among the nation's top goalkeeper prospects, and Ben Speas, although not in the national pool, is a highly coveted recruit. Akron wins the top-class argument on two levels: the quality of players and the fact that the Zips appear to have strength at every position on the field.

Beyond Meves in goal, Barson is a defender, and Valentin, Speas and Caldwell are midfielders. Akron also has a verbal commitment from forward Matt Mason.

Strongest class from a non-Top 25 team

UCLA was a fixture in the NCAA Top 25 until last year's 10-5-6, first-round NCAA playoff exit kept it out of the NSCAA/Adidas final rankings.

Bruins fans should be excited about UCLA's Class of 2009 haul. Defender Gale Agbossoumonde is part of the under-20 national pool. Midfielder Amobi Okugo is an under-18 national pool player. Evan Raynr, although not a national pool player, led his club team to a pair of national titles and knows how to win.

Moving up

When it comes to competing for players, Ivy League schools have a more difficult time because they are unable to offer athletic scholarships. However, Harvard appears to have a class that could have the Crimson climbing up the Top 25. (Last year's squad finished at No. 25.)

Harvard's recruiting class is highlighted by under-18 national pool defensive midfielder Scott Prozeller and sharpshooter Brian Rogers. Rogers turned down offers from ACC schools to attend Harvard, his parents' alma mater. In addition, Harvard landed 6-foot-7 keeper Brett Conrad.

Top high school class

While the focus next week is on the college recruiting class, how about a look at the top high school classes.

Downingtown West is sending six players to NCAA Division I programs. Brian Forgue, who committed to Penn State, leads the group. Ben Miller and Joe Sales are headed to Drexel. Ryan McNabb committed to New Hampshire, and Chris Harmon is going to Old Dominion.

The hook-up

Boston University's class features three players from the FC Blazers under-18 squad. As an interesting side note, the FC Blazers are coached by Francis Okaroh, a former BU standout.

Big numbers

Rider has the largest class among the ESPNRISE.com commitment list, with 10 projected incoming players. Look for other schools to push that number after signing day. Rider is coached by Russ Fager, who recently completed his 34th season as the program's coach.

Going abroad

While it is difficult to track foreign players' commitments, three East Coast universities have clearly made internationals a priority: Fairfield, Gardner-Webb and Winthrop.

Fairfield picked up four players from New Zealand's under-20 national team. G-W has two projected signees from England and one each from Canada and Norway. Winthrop tapped an African connection for three players off Uganda's under-20 national team.

Sheldon Shealer covers youth soccer for ESPNRISE.com