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Division I College Soccer Preview: Rhode Island

Four colleges in the Ocean State will be vying for a return to postseason play.

Brown will be looking to bounce back from an off year.
Brown will be looking to bounce back from an off year.
Brown Athletic Communications

Rhode Island may be small in stature, but that in no way means it lacks bite when it comes to Division I men's soccer programs. Accomplished professionals such as Geoff Cameron, Thomas McNamara, Jeff Larentowicz, and Dylan Remick all have ties to the state, with several current players in contention for a professional contract in the near future.

With that in mind, let's break down all four squads, with a look at the past, forecast for the 2015 season, and one player who is likely to stand out from the rest.

★ ★ ★

Brown University

Last Year: The Bears are perennially wavering around the 20 to 25 spot in the national rankings, but had an off year in 2014. As led by head coach Patrick Laughlin, Brown finished the year with a 5-6-6 record and was a far cry from being the Ivy League's sole bid to the NCAA Tournament. The team, as tradition holds, only allowed 0.98 goals a game, but their offense did no favors in knocking home a measly 14 goals in 17 games.

2015 Outlook: While 2014 was a down year for Brown, they had a minimal senior presence and will be returning the majority of their starting lineup. Midfielder Jack Gorab, striker Nate Pomeroy, and defender Tim Whelan form a formidable core. With all three in tow, the Bears can easily return to the upper echelons of the Ivy League.

Player to Watch: Outside of the aforementioned trio, Laughlin's main man is undoubtedly senior midfielder Tariq Akeel. He earned First Team All-Ivy honors as a sophomore, Honorable Mention All-Ivy honors as a junior, and has scored eight goals over the last three years. He mans the center of the park, sprays the ball around in attacking positions, and is adept at making late runs into the box.

★ ★ ★

Bryant University

Last Year: The Bulldogs ultimately fell in the semifinals of the Northeast Conference, but posted a 9-5-3 record along the way. Through a balance of youth and experience, head coach Seamus Purcell further established Bryant in the collegiate soccer scene.

2015 Outlook: Bryant's biggest obstacle will be replacing their second and third leading goal-scorers from last year in Connor Norat and Lucas Guerriero. The former contributed four goals and two assists, while the latter contributed three goals and assists of his own. If Purcell can find a way to replace their tangible impact and leadership, a run in the NEC is entirely within the realm of possibilities.

Player to Watch: Leading the front line yet again will be forward Brett Larocque, who banged home six goals and dished out four assists in 2014. The Ottawa, Canada native is arguably faster on the ball than he is off it, and has a striker's nose for goal.

★ ★ ★

Providence College

Last Year: If anyone tells you they predicted the Friar's 2014 campaign, they're lying to you. After hovering around postseason contention in years past, PC made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament's semi-final round, where they ultimately fell to UCLA.

2015 Outlook: The NSCAA has named Craig Stewart's team as the seventh best in the nation, so the expectations will be high for PC. With lofty predictions and the loss of several key seniors, PC's disciplined team will try to prove their 2014 season wasn't a flash in the pan - and it shouldn't be.

Player to Watch: While New England Revolution fans will justifiably have their eyes set on academy prospect Dominik Machado, Mac Steeves is arguably the Friars' most important player. At six-foot-three and 200 pounds, Steeves' frame resembles that of a linebacker, but he is no slouch in front of goal. He tallied 11 times last year and was even recently called up to a U-23 U.S. National Team camp.

★ ★ ★

University of Rhode Island

Last Year: After admittedly wilting in recent years, 2014 was nothing short of stellar for the Rams. They finished with a 13-5-3 record and won nine of their last 11 games. Through a resolute defense and efficient offense, URI asserted themselves in every match and likely would have made the NCAA Tournament if it weren't for a stingy Atlantic-10 conference.

2015 Outlook: Navigating the A-10 will be no easy task, but head coach Gareth Elliot returns nearly his entire starting lineup. The fact that Mike Casey is coming back as a red-shirt senior is huge, as the R.I. native has been a captain the last two years. With his leadership in hand, the Rams can go far.

Player to Watch: Casey might bring leadership, but the glue to Elliot's side is sophomore goalkeeper Nils Leifhelm. He welcomed a laundry list of awards after an impressive 2014 season and posted an immaculate 0.84 goals against average. He is as good as collegiate goalkeepers come and keeps the Rams in every single game.