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Penn State Men’s Soccer Will Rely On Returning Stars In 2020

Penn State men’s soccer will return to Jeffrey Field with heightened expectations in 2020. The Nittany Lions had a breakthrough campaign last fall and finished second in the Big Ten and qualified for the NCAA Tournament after a half-decade hiatus.

Now that the team is officially headed back to State College, let’s take a look at how Penn State’s roster might shake out this fall.

Overview

Despite losing a few key players, the experience on Penn State’s current roster will be enough to be a top contender again. While there’s no way to replace current Portland Timbers midfielder Aaron Molloy, the Irishman leaves behind one of the most talented groups of No. 8s in years.

Other notable departures include Christian Sload and Will Campbell, both of whom ran out of eligibility, and goalie Josh Levine left Penn State to join Fordham for his final season.

Head coach Jeff Cook will have many difficult decisions throughout the field when it comes to matchday selection. The third-year manager has a wealth of returning talent along with a strong recruiting class.

Penn State could line up with 11 returners and be a bona fide Big Ten contender.

Goalkeepers

With Levine headed to the Bronx, Kris Shakes will be the No. 1 goalie for the Nittany Lions in 2020. The sophomore shared the net with Levine last season and played in 10 matches.

The Florida native is the presumptive starter for the next three years, however Penn State will have three youthful options waiting in the wings should Shakes be unavailable.

Owen Elliot will enter his first year of eligibility after taking a redshirt season in 2019. Incoming freshmen Alex Morgret and David Adelsberg will most likely opt for redshirt seasons, allowing them to learn from Shakes and Elliot.

Defenders

If everyone is healthy, the 2020 defense will be a juggernaut. Captain Brandon Hackenberg is the only clear-cut starter, while the main question is who will slot in with the redshirt senior.

If healthy, Georgetown transfer Mason Deeds could make up for lost time after injuries kept him out for the majority of the past two campaigns. Other options include unproven players such as Michael Gaines and Nicholas Reiple, or freshmen Tyger Evans, Edward Mensah, and Femi Awodesu.

Cook employs a modern, attacking wingback system to his 4-4-2, which will give ample opportunity for rotation at left back and right back. Jalen Watson and Alex Stevenson topped the depth chart at the end of last season, while Adam Laundree will be a good option off the bench.

Midfielders

The biggest question in the middle of the park is how to fill an Aaron Molloy-sized hole. The MLS rookie did everything for the Nittany Lions, giving the returning midfield core a large burden.

Kyle May, Callum Pritchatt, and Dax Hoffman all had experience playing alongside Molloy. Pritchatt can also play on the wing, but the Englishman may not be needed out wide due to personnel.

Captain Pierre Reedy and Seth Kuhn are penciled-in starters for Penn State in 2020. If Cook employs the 4-4-2, Reedy and Kuhn could be the best winger pairing in all of the Big Ten. Experienced super subs Andrew Privett and Daniel Gonzalez will also provide enough depth to keep Pritchatt in the middle of the field.

Forwards

Penn State was a prolific goalscoring team in 2019 due to the partnership Sload forged with All-Big Ten First Team selection Liam Butts.

Butts, who is entering his second season with the Nittany Lions, will need a Sload-like partner in order tone successful. Redshirt sophomore Josh Dabora is currently the front runner, earning 15 substitute appearances last fall.

Old Dominion transfer Daniel Bloyou will compete with Dabora for the starting spot up front. Freshman Jace Orvos rounds out the depth chart up top.

Season Prediction

Penn State will once again be a competitor for the Big Ten title. Along with typical powers like Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan, the Nittany Lions will return to the semifinals of the conference tournament.

If the right players remain healthy and a striker partnership is forged, Penn State will make its second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a freshman majoring in print journalism. He lives just outside of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Unfortunately, that means a lot of sadness. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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