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NCAA D1 preseason team to watch – data analysis

Picking and detailing our 2023 NCAA D1 Preseason Team to Watch – data analysis

NCAA soccer teams are back on campus and preparing for their season.

As preseason is underway, we’ll shift our attention to the main actors in the show, the players.

Using data collected from Wyscout, this data analysis is the last of our trilogy on NCAA D1 men’s soccer. The first piece used statistics to formulate styles of play within the college game, and the second analysis was a “how to” on incorporating data in a college soccer program (or even a cash-strapped professional team that doesn’t have an analysis department).

The final article of the series digs into the data to build a preseason team to watch. One point for consideration is that Wyscout filters limited a direct comparison of the players to non-conference matches. The percentile ranks are calculated based on performances in non-conference play, but you’ll find that there was little differentiation between conference and non-conference play for the majority of these players.

In terms of the tactics, we selected the players based on a 1-4-3-3 system and stuck to a starting XI for the article.

Without further ado, here’s your NCAA D1 2023 Preseason Team to Watch.

Goalkeeper and defenders

We’ll start at the back with our player selections. First up is the goalkeeper, followed by his backline.

Overall, the backline featured many players who are either strong attackers or strong defensive players. That’s especially the case with the centre-backs. There were a lot of good players, but few with consistent marks across the board. Sorting through the data, we found those players.

Goalkeeper: Michael Statham, Sophomore, Old Dominion

This was perhaps the closest positional battle as Statham just edged out Henrik Weiper, the sophomore from Brown University and former Mainz 05 academy player. Ultimately, we just couldn’t overlook Statham’s involvement in Old Dominion’s tactics. Statham is a product of the Nottingham Forest youth academy.

He received some of the top marks in the goalkeepers’ action categories and was highly involved in Brown’s tactics. While his passing efficiency numbers aren’t as impressive as Weiper’s, there’s far more usage for Statham and the average pass length data does give an indication of stylistic differences in the game models employed with the two teams. Statham is one of the most complete goalkeepers in Division 1 and pivotal to Brown’s success this season.

Outside-back: Jahlane Forbes, Senior, Wake Forest

Forbes is a product of Orlando City’s academy. The Wake Forest left-back is perhaps the best attacking outside-back in the college game. His contributions in possession, especially in the final third, give him an edge on the competition. Relative to all other outside-backs, Forbes is one of the top players in the country in crosses P90, passes to the penalty area and touches in the box P90. Expect head coach Bobby Muuss to unleash his dynamic presence in the wings.

He’s no slacker on defence, either. Forbes is one of the best tacklers in the country and has a solid read of play that leads to an above-average number of possession-adjusted interceptions. Forbes has a unique combination of top-tier attacking productivity and above-average defensive quality. The Wake Forest system plays to his attacking strengths, but he’s excellent across the board.

Outside-back: Casper Svendby, Sophomore, Dayton

If Forbes is the best attacking outside-back in the division, Svendby is the most complete. While his attacking contributions fall just short of Forbes, the Norwegian has the defensive data that his Wake Forest counterpart doesn’t.

The Strømsgodset product made the All-Rookie team last year and started all 17 of Dayton’s matches. The left-back takes a more balanced approach to the position, not getting into the final third as routinely as Forbes does, but the result is positioning that allows him to fulfil his duties on both sides of the ball. Svendby is a playmaker in the wings but from a deeper position rather than an all-out attacking outside-back.

Centre-back: William Nilsson, Sophomore, South Carolina

With experience in the Swedish semi-pro ranks with Eskilsminne IF, Nilsson was a highly regarded freshman last season, starting 16 matches. South Carolina integrated his passing range from the half-space and interior part of the right wing while playing at right centre-back in a three-back system.

The 6’2″ Swede is a solid all-around defensive player as well, especially with regard to his tackling. He’s someone South Carolina relies on and trusts to lock down the right side of the pitch and give coverage to his right-winger.

Centre-back: Josh Jones, Junior, Louisville

A former standout for Pennsylvanian club Ukrainian Nationals and North Penn High School, Jones, like Nilsson, is one of the most complete centre-backs in Division 1. Standing at 6’5″, Jones is an imposing player who towers above the opposition. He’s one of the best setpiece targets in the nation, with an excellent strike rate. Given the number of aerial duels he contests P90, his win percentage is a good one.

Jones uses his length well in the tackle and scores exceptionally well in possession-adjusted interceptions. His read of the game has helped him emerge as one of the top centre-backs in the nation in arguably the toughest conference. Louisville conceded only 20 goals in 18 games last year. They’ll look for another big season from Jones to replicate that defensive mark.


Moving to our midfielders, we’ve selected three players in total. Assuming a traditional three-man midfield, we’ve chosen one defensive midfielder and two attackers to represent our preseason team to watch. We’ll start with our defensive midfielder.

Defensive midfielder: Kalani Kossa-Rienzi, Senior, Washington

Kossa-Rienzi has been a fixture in Washington’s starting lineup since 2020. In each of the past two seasons, the senior has started in all but one of the team’s games. He was a pivotal piece to the midfield that finished as national runners-up to Clemson in 2021. Washington often rolls with a double pivot in midfield, and Kossa-Rienzi is ever-present. Though he’s our defensive midfielder on the watch team, he’s a player who can play box-to-box and score.

The Berkeley, California native spent the summer leading Crossfire Red to the NPSL National semi-final. He’s especially active in the right half-space, but he’s a deep-lying creator regardless of where he is on the pitch. Kossa-Rienzi finds ways to get into the box as well, offering a dynamic element to the Washington midfield. Defensively, he’s one of the most complete and intelligent NCAA division one players.

Attacking midfielder: Laurence Wootton, Senior, Ohio State

Splitting his youth development between Stoke City (10 years) and Cardiff City (3 years), Wootton is one of the most polished midfielders in the NCAA ranks. The metronome in attack and one of the most skilled defenders at the position in the country, Wootton is a crucial piece to the Buckeye’s tactics.

A quality decision-maker and someone who can safeguard possession, Wootton brings maturity and intelligence to the Ohio State setup. The Stoke-on-Trent native is entering the final year of an impressive collegiate career. He’s remarkably efficient both in and out of possession. Look for him to play a crucial role in Ohio State’s season.

Attacking midfielder: Max Hamelink, Senior, San Francisco

It was a close call between Hamelink and Edrey Caceres, the junior from Marquette, but the San Francisco midfielder put together a more comprehensive performance in 2022. Hamelink spent his youth career with FC Groningen, winning a U21 title with the club and has brought his fantastic displays to the Dons.

Though he’s going into his senior year, last season was Hamelink’s first year with the NCAA setup. He managed seven goals in 17 games (all starts) and earned WCC Second Team honours. With a year to adapt to the style of play, look for Hamelink to improve upon an impressive first season.


Finally, we have our forwards. Our first two players are no-doubters; the third is a wildcard. The talent is there with all three, but two have more clarity on their roles for 2023 than the other. In a sense, that third spot is a two-in-one.

Here are the picks.

Center Forward: Taylor Calheira, Senior, UMBC

A high school All-American and standout for Christos FC in USL 2, Calheira scored a goal a game over the summer. Lucca Dourado of the University of Central Florida was another strong option for this spot, averaging 0.85 goals per game, but it’s Calheira who gets the nod. He’ll look to improve on his mark of 0.65 goals per game that he achieved last season.

The UMBC forward can do it all. He’s a significant presence in the box who shows up in the suitable spaces at the right moments. But he’s more than just a goal-scorer. Calheira pops into excellent pockets of space and can engage opponents on the dribble. Once he enters the box, he can be a finisher or playmaker. In addition to his 11 goals, he also chipped in with seven assists. Calheira can hurt opponents in a variety of ways. The forward helped UMBC to their first winning season since 2018. Expect UMBC to ride his performances to another strong finish this season.

Wide Forward: Eliot Goldthorp, Junior, Hofstra

Goldthorp spent time in EPL and EFL academies, briefly representing Manchester United and Leeds United. Last season, he was one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the nation, tallying 17 goals in 21 games (0.81 per game). His goal haul only trailed Creighton’s Duncan McGuire, who now plays for Orlando City and is a favourite for MLS Rookie of the Year.

Capable of the spectacular with either foot, Goldthorp is right-foot dominant when he dribbles yet has incredible shooting ability, whether on his left or right. When he receives the ball between the lines, Goldthorp loves to run at the backline and wreak havoc. If there’s a knock on him, it’s that he attempts the spectacular too often. The problem is that he pulls it off with incredible frequency. He’s a fantastic player and one of the most exciting prospects in the NCAA.

Wide Forward: Jackson Wrobel, Junior, Clemson

A transfer from Wofford University, Wrobel is a former Atlanta United academy product. The junior is the riskiest pick of the group, given that he’s a transfer and Clemson already has a solid option on the left in Ousmane Sylla. Quite frankly, both players are worth watching this season, as is how Mike Noonan decides to use these two talents. Sylla is the more dynamic dribbler, and Wrobel is the better passer. They could both see the pitch, with one of the two shifting away from the left wing.

When the big schools make a transfer offer, it’s typically for a first-team contributor. Let’s say Wrobel gets his playing time and has an impact at Clemson that rivals his Wofford production. He may not have the dynamic dribbling of Sylla, but he’s very clever in how he engages opponents and takes care of the ball. Wrobel is a player who’s used to being very involved in the run of play, so he’s someone Clemson can use in overload situations to break the press and get to the following line or the box.


There you have it. The Total Football Analysis NCAA D1 Preseason Team to Watch.

Our field players are an even split of top American talent and northern Europeans with excellent pedigrees.

The field is littered with players who can make the jump to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th division teams in most countries. Some will make the jump to MLS, but we’re finding the USL, both the Championship (2nd division) and League 1 (3rd division), is the likeliest landing spot for these talents.

Because of the opportunity to earn a university degree while playing football at a high level, NCAA schools have become a popular landing spot, especially given the facilities and support the athletes enjoy. Syracuse won the national title with a functional roster of mostly international student-athletes. Marshall did the same back in 2020/21. On the whole, roughly 30% of NCAA Division 1 players are internationals, often from top academies in their home countries.

The quality of the competition continues to improve as the recruitment model becomes more global. Some of the top universities even beat professional clubs during the non-traditional (think unofficial) spring season. The players on this list are the ones to watch in 2023 and beyond.

Preseason is in session. Add the NCAA, and these players in particular, to your watchlist.