When the 2016 NCAA Tournament kicks off today with 16 first round matches, there will be plenty of players with ties to the Philadelphia Union Academy and the greater Philadelphia region to keep an eye out for.
Rosters for the 48 teams in the Big Dance include 19 players who played in the Philadelphia Union Academy from 2013-2015 and nearly 50 players with ties to southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and South Jersey.
Here’s a list of key players to watch:
F: Sebastian Elney, So., Maryland*
Elney’s numbers have dropped this season (3 goals, 4 assists) with the addition of Gordon Wild, but he scored the game-winning goal in the Big 10 Championship over the weekend and his holdup play will be key for top-seeded Maryland to pull off an unbeaten national championship season.
D: Colton Storm, Sr., North Carolina (Mechanicsburg, Pa.)**
Storm was second this season in minutes, only one behind fellow defender Walker Hume, and plays a key role at right back on both the offensive and defensive sides of the field for the No. 9 seed Tar Heels. He has three assists on the season.
D: Brian Nana-Sinkam, Sr., Stanford (Lititz, Pa.)**
Stanford lost Brandon Vincent from the back line that won the national championship, but Nana-Sinkam is back for one more tournament run as Stanford will look to win a title without Jordan Morris.
MF: Drew Skundrich, Jr., Stanford (Lancaster, Pa.)**
Skundrich switched to his more natural midfield position after playing on the back line last year and finished second on the team in goals with four and third in assists with three.
GK: Kevin Silva, Fr., UCLA (Bethlehem, Pa.)
It didn’t happen right away, but Silva took over the starting job midway through the season and will look to help lead a talented UCLA team on a deep run.
F: Michael Swift, Fr., Clemson*
The former Academy forward hasn’t gotten on the score sheet this season, but is a regular sub off the bench for the No. 3 seeded Tigers.
F: Kenny Lassiter, R-Jr., Syracuse (Narberth, Pa.)**
Lassiter has been a force up top for the Orange this season as a regular substitute that his stats (3 goals) don’t really do justice. He’ll need to continue his fine form for Syracuse to make another deep run in the tournament.
F: Raheem Taylor-Parkes, Fr., Virginia*
Raheem hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes in his first season in Charlottesville, but he doesn’t need a lot of minutes to make an impact with his pace.
D: Shane Bradley, Fr., Villanova (Havertown, Pa.)*
Bradley made second team all-Big East in his first year and has looked like a seasoned veteran on the back line for the Wildcats, which are in the tournament for the first time in program history.
MF: Zach Zandi, So., Villanova (West Chester, Pa.)*
Zandi and midfielder Miguel Polley make up one of the most dynamic midfield duos in all of college soccer. Though he’s missed a couple games and been limited in other because of injury, he has three goals and four assists on the season.
MF: Jack Skahan, Fr., North Carolina*
The former Union U16 midfielder has been a regular off the bench for the Tar Heels with an assist in five starts and 13 appearances.
D: Billy McConnell, Sr., Indiana (Richboro, Pa.)*
McConnell has had a productive year from the right back spot for the Hoosiers with two goals and two assists and will look to finish his career in Bloomington with a deep tournament run.
GK: Todd Morton, So., Delaware (West Chester, Pa.)
Delaware will have a tough task with Providence and an even tougher ask if they win against top-seeded Maryland so they’ll rely on Morton to keep it close.
MF: Robert Gillin, So. (Marlton, N.J.)
Gillin has only shown up in the score sheet once this season with an assist but he’s been a key player in the midfielder for the Blue Hens all season long.
MF: Matt Greer, Jr., Dartmouth (Chadds Ford, Pa.)*
Greer had two goals and four assists for the Big Green this season, which made benefited from the scandal that ended Harvard’s season to earn their third straight NCAA appearance.
GK: Seth Erdman, Sr., St. Francis Brooklyn (Hummelstown, Pa.)
Erdman had the bulk of the starts for the Terriers this season so he could be in line to try and shut down Dartmouth’s attack on Thursday.
MF: Andrew Herr, Sr., Michigan State (Millersville, Pa.)**
Herr is tied for second on the Spartans with four assists to go along with one goal this season.
MF: Colin O’Neill, Sr., Colgate (Yardley, Pa.)**
O’Neill has a goal and an assist on the season and is fourth on the team in minutes.
* Member of the Philadelphia Union Academy in 2013-15
** Participated in the Union Academy as a member of a youth club affiliate