CAMBRIDGE, Mass. ó For the second-straight season, the men’s soccer preseason poll was one of the most highly-contested in the conference’s history. Defending-champion Binghamton earns the top preseason billing narrowly edging out Boston University and the University of Vermont, according to a vote of the head coaches. The Bearcats received three first-place votes (coaches were not permitted to vote for their own team) and 54 points overall to edge Boston U., who had two first-place votes and 53 points and Vermont, who had three first-place votes and 52 points. Complete Poll...

University of  New Hampshire (38 points) and Stony Brook University (33) round out the top five. Hartford (30) placed sixth, while UMBC (29) garnered the ninth and final first-place vote and is slated seventh. Albany (23) and Maine (11) round out the nine-team poll field.

The top six teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA College Cup.
                                                      
Returning three all-conference players helped Binghamton (9-7-5 overall record, 6-1-1 America East record) secure the top spot this preseason. The Bearcats captured their second America East title and have advanced to the conference championship in each of the past four seasons. Anchoring the Binghamton defense will be first-team defender Adam Chavez and second-team goalkeeper Jason Stenta. Last season, the Bearcats went on a memorable seven-game unbeaten streak that included the entire month of October.

For the second-straight year, Boston University (10-4-5, 4-3-1) has come up just a point shy of the top preseason billing. Despite the loss of the 2006 America East Defender of the Year Zach Kirby, the Terriers return a wealth of young talent including first-team all-conference midfielder Neil Hlavaty and second team forward Petur Siguardsson. Last season, Boston U. had marquee non-conference wins over Boston College, Rhode Island and Ohio State.

The Catamounts (9-7-4, 5-1-2) came up just a goal shy of winning it all a year ago, after being tabbed the preseason favorite. Vermont lost to Binghamton 1-0 in overtime in last year’s title game. The Catamounts return nine starters and seven of its top eight scorers. Anchoring this year’s squad will be four returning all-conference selections, midfielder Jordan Crasilneck, forward T.J. Gore and backs, Panos Georgiadis and Connor Tobin.

Led by 2006 America East Coaching Staff of the Year and 2006 America East Striker/Rookie of the Year Chris Banks, New Hampshire will be vying for its first-ever America East Championship. The Wildcats advanced to the semifinals last year, falling to second-seeded Vermont 1-0. While Banks, the league’s top scorer a year ago, will pace the offense, second-team all-conference defender John Bergqvist will anchor the New Hampshire defense.

Stony Brook (6-12-1, 3-4-1) looks to bounce back after a sub-par year in 2006. The Seawolves earned both the America East regular season and tournament championships in 2005. In their NCAA College Cup first-round game, Stony Brook earned the first NCAA Division I win in any sport in the school’s history with a 2-1 overtime victory over Yale. Stony Brook will look to America East Midfielder of the Year Michael Palacio and first-team defender Yahaya Musa to help the team get back to the top.

Hartford (4-8-5, 2-6-0), which was in the playoff hunt for most of the season a year ago, looks to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003.  The Hawks return all-rookie team midfield Kevin O’Donnell Shaw.

UMBC (5-9-3, 2-4-2) looks to rebound coming off its first losing season in the past nine years. After opening 2006 with good performances against St. Joseph’s (5-1 win), Virginia Tech (3-2 loss), and Gonzaga (2-2 draw), things started to slide after a tilt against No. 4 Massachusetts. While the Retrievers say farewell to first-team all-conference forward Kevin Mezzadra, they welcome back all-rookie team honoree Andrew Gillis.

Albany (7-10-2, 5-3-0) hopes to qualify for its fourth-straight trip to the postseason. Head coach Johan Aarnio begins his eighth season at the helm in the Capital City. Brian Gordon, a member of the America East All-Rookie Team, and goalkeeper Steward Ceus, who posted a 1.34 goals against average, are also among the top returnees.

Maine (0-18-2, 0-8-0) will try to rebuild under first-year head coach Pat Laughlin, a 1992 graduate of Maine. Laughlin was very busy during this first off-season in Orono adding 13 recruits for this fall.