It's that time of year. Players around the nation start ditching short sleeves for long sleeves, the sun starts setting earlier and the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament looms in the middle of the month for college soccer's best programs.
The Portland Timbers have had several recent connections to the tournament, with rookie forward Darlington Nagbe leading Akron to the 2010 National Championship last season and rookie Freddie Braun helping lead Louisville to three consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2007-2009.
Defender Rodney Wallace also won the National Championship in 2008 with the University of Maryland.
This year's batch of Timbers U-23s players feature several that have put together impressive college seasons and see their programs on the cusp of qualifying for this year's tournament.
Timbers U-23s Player of the Year Brent Richards has continued his sterling senior season for the No. 20-ranked University of Washington. Richards, who registered a team-high 22 points (8 goals, 6 assists) for the U-23s, has recorded four goals and four assists as the Huskies have won six of their last seven matches in the run-up to the final regular-season match of the season; UW hosts Oregon State University on Nov. 11.
Because of his contributions during the run, the Huskies’ captain earned GoHuskies.com Student-Athlete of the Week honors on Oct. 24 for the week of Oct. 17-23.
Richards, who ranks No. 11 in TopDrawerSoccer.com’s weekly update of the Top 100 upperclassmen, leads the team with 25 points (10 goals, 5 assists) and has a team-high five game-winning goals.
U-23s teammate Dylan Tucker, a midfielder, has also helped the Huskies climb the national rankings ahead of the NCAA Tournament which begins with first- and second-round games Nov. 17 and Nov. 20.
Tucker has appeared in all 17 games (17 starts) for the Huskies and has recorded two goals and one assist.
Carrying over from a U-23s season that saw him score six goals and add one assist, San Diego State University sophomore forward Miles Byass has helped lead the Aztecs to a 10-4-3 overall record with three matches remaining in the regular season.
Byass was named the Bank of the West Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week on Oct. 25 after scoring the opening goal of a 2-1 win over 2010 NCAA semifinalist Michigan on Oct. 22. The Highland, Calif., native, leads SDSU in points (15), assists (5) and is tied for the team lead in goals (5).
Byass has played in all 16 games (13 starts) for the Aztecs this season as the team has seen time in several Top 25 polls, but currently find themselves out of the rankings.
In the West Coast Conference, just one point separates the top four teams with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
The University of Portland enters the final stretch four points out of the conference’s top spot with an 8-6-2 overall record (3-4-1, 10 points in the WCC). The Pilots play a pair of weekend road matches this week at Loyola Marymount and the University of San Diego, both teams are currently ahead of UP in the standings.
A trio of Timbers U-23s players have impacted the Pilots during their current three-game winning streak.
Junior forward Ricardo Carrillo has scored two goals during the stretch while sophomore midfielder Steven Evans has added two assists and senior defender Ryan Kawulok recorded one goal.
Kawulok earned a late game-winner against the Gaels on Oct. 16.
Also in the WCC, the Santa Clara Broncos face must-win matches on Nov. 2 (at San Francisco) and Nov. 6 against Saint Mary’s.
Timbers U-23s forward Erik Hurtado, who tied with Richards for the U-23s team lead in goals with eight, leads the Broncos with 16 points (5 goals, 6 assists). Hurtado had two assists in a 4-1 win over San Diego on Oct. 30.
Elsewhere, Timbers U-23s defender Reed Matte has helped guide the University of Alabama-Birmingham to the No. 21 spot in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings, one spot behind Brent Richards and the University of Washington.
Matte, who has started all 17 games for the Blazers this season and scored twice, has played both defender and forward as the Blazers rattled off unbeaten streaks of nine and, currently, seven games this season.
UAB closes out the regular season at Tulsa on Nov. 4.
Duke freshman Nick Palodichuk has had an impressive opening campaign, racking up 17 points (6 goals, 5 assists) for the Blue Devils. Palodichuk, from Battle Ground, Wash., has earned one assist (Oct. 25 vs. UNC Asheville) in Duke’s current three-game unbeaten run.
Back on the West Coast, U-23s midfielder Roberto Farfan, an Oregon State University junior, ranks second on the Beavers with 10 points (4 goals, 2 assists). The Beavers travel to Seattle to face UW on Nov. 11 in the final regular-season contest.
Between the posts, goalkeeper Jason Dodson, a redshirt sophomore at Stanford, has made 12 appearances for the Cardinal this season. Dodson has made 43 saves, earning a 1.51 goals-against-average and a 3-7-1 record with one shutout.
Up the coast, fellow keeper Keegan Rogers has made 14 appearances for Western Washington University in his freshman season. Rogers, with 49 saves and a 1.50 goals-against-average, has a 4-7-0 record.