1A run at the powerhouse? With the Apple Valley boys' squad losing a lot of its starters from last season, there will certainly be a target on the Eagles' back as some teams see this as the year to take down the giant. Watch out for Eagan, which returns 12 senior starters including forward A.J. Albers, who scored 14 goals and added seven assists last year. Also on the radar: Stillwater, which lost to Minneapolis Southwest in the state semifinals last year.
2Up-and-comers: Every year there are players who crash onto the scene and evoke phrases like "Where did he/she come from?" A couple of underclassmen who could take center stage: Lydia Sutton, Blake -- in case you weren't paying attention, this midfielder made All-State last year, and she's only a sophomore. Eden Prairie's April Bockin is only a freshman, but Eagles coach Tony Bidwell knew what was coming down the line for several years. "She'll definitely put the ball in the net," he said. ... With a number of Minnesota's top goalies from last year now in college or elsewhere, one force in the net could be Wayzata junior Grant Larson.
3Shrinking schedules: Starting this season, the Minnesota State High School League ruled that teams are allowed to schedule only 16 regular-season games instead of 18, in order to cut down on the number of games played per week. Coon Rapids boys' coach Jason Jacobs, who normally schedules 18, said the teams it will affect most are those in weaker conferences, who rely on getting a number of nonconference games for improved competition. "With 16 [games], there's a few more days of rest in there," Jacobs said.
4Lake is still great: What's new? Nothing in Lake Conference girls' soccer. With Eden Prairie, Wayzata, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Edina all looking strong, we could see a battle to the end. "I think you're talking about the powerhouse schools in the state," Bidwell said. "I think anybody can win on any given day."
5Last call for club players: Enjoy the best of the best while you can this year. Starting next season, the United States Soccer Federation is ruling that developmental players nationwide may no longer play in high schools as well. For some cities, that's harsher -- it will take about 250 kids out of the Dallas system alone -- but in Minnesota that essentially means 50 players who would not be eligible. "I think it will have a little bit of an impact for sure - you pull out the top 50 kids and it definitely lowers the standard a little bit," said Bloomington Jefferson boys' coach Danny Storlien, who also coaches a girls' team at Minnesota Thunder Academy. "I'm torn a little bit because I think for the development of our top soccer players it's probably a good thing ... but it hurts high school soccer."