A look at the upcoming season in boys' and girls' soccer.
1 Where have they all gone? Some of the Twin Cities' elite boys' players will be missing this season from the high school game. The traditional varsity experience is being replaced by year-round developmental academies geared toward a higher level of play. The source of this new direction is the sport's governing body, U.S. Soccer. The developmental academies offer full-time training, with the goal of producing the next generation of national team players who can better compete on the world stage. Forty-five of the state's best have passed up their high school career and committed to the local chapter, Minnesota Thunder Academy.
2 In need of a win: Three seasons of soccer have yet to yield a victory for the New Prague boys' team. Unlike fellow young program Prairie Seeds Academy, this newbie is still early in its development. The team scored only two goals in an 0-16 season in 2011. Coach Jonathan Hopke is confident 2012 will be different. "We will change that this year," Hopke said. "This year we will win our first game in school history and we have on our objectives to win more than that." The girls' program is in a similar boat; it won one match in 2011.
3 Built for another run: Wayzata girls' soccer is comfortable in the state championship game. The past three Class 2A finals featured the Trojans and the odds are good that it could happen again this year. Coach Tony Peszneker believes team depth will provide a big advantage. Thirteen players return who saw considerable playing time last season at multiple positions. They include state all-tournament mentions Kylie Schwarz, Kiana Nickel, Katie Schulz and Mara Dougherty. Outside of two losses and two ties in Lake Conference play last year, Wayzata was perfect, finishing the season 18-2-2.
4Better impression: Prairie Seeds Academy's boys' soccer team endured eligibility accusations last season, only to fall short in the 1A championship game. Coach Youssef Darbaki said he was thankful for the loss, with the hope that it would finally quiet the skeptics. The team was unbeaten until the state final, something Darbaki believes they can do again and end the year with success, not accusations.
5 Underclassmen rising up: Younger varsity lineups could be the trend this season, not only because of graduation but also because many top upperclassmen are playing with developmental programs. Coaches have been forced to look deeper on their depth charts, giving younger athletes a chance to rise more quickly. "There is a decent chance we'll have a younger team this year," said Southwest boys' soccer coach Jamie Plaisance, who graduated 10 of 11 starters. "We have so many question marks."