When I posted the look at the returning players on the roster on Saturday morning, I felt like we were close to a decision about who Marquette's starting netminder was going to be this season. Saturday evening brought MU's final exhibition match, a neutral site game against #14 Indiana. The Golden Eagles ended up losing 2-0, but that's not the point. Freshman keeper Luis Barraza got the start in net after being the first guy off the bench in both of the first two exhibition matches. So now I have no idea who Louis Bennett is leaning towards to be just the second starting keeper for Marquette since the start of the 2012 season. I mean, I'm guessing it's either going to be Barraza or Mac Wheeler, the guy that replaced Barraza at halftime, but I have no idea how to discern which way it will eventually go.
If it is Barraza, I'm not going to be surprised. At the time when he signed with Marquette back in February, his Real Salt Lake development academy team was 16-1-3, and he had posted one shutout. This was merely an encore to his squad winning the U15/16 Development Academy championship back in 2013. It seems like Barraza is a more heralded keeper than any of the other three guys on the roster, so I could see him beating the other guys out for the starting job come Friday in Corvallis, Oregon.
Marquette adds just one defender to the roster in 2015. Given the overall depth there, that's probably not that big of a problem. Luckily, Kees Westra is pretty good. He's ranked in the top 75 by the IMG Academy top 150, and he's won two Generation Adidas Cups with his Sounders development academy team, as well as coming out ahead in the US Soccer Winter Showcase. For what it's worth to you: Westra played in the first two exhibition matches as a reserve, but did not get on the pitch against Indiana on Saturday.
One of Marquette's newest midfielders almost qualifies as a returning player. Jesper Larsson has been in Milwaukee since the start of the the 2015 spring semester, so he's got a leg up on the other freshmen as far as understanding MU's style. In case you were wondering: Yes, he's from Sweden, so even though Axel Sjoberg and Sebastian Jansson are gone, the Swedish flags in The Birdcage are still useful.
Joining Larsson in the midfield are two players with American backgrounds: Ruben Sanchez and Ben Tweedie. Sanchez is the highest ranked recruit of the incoming class, coming in at #59 in the IMG Academy Top 150. He hails from Frankfort, IL, where he was a four year starter on his high school team and led the team in scoring during his senior year. Tweedie is from Naples, FL, but originally hails from England, and in fact had a fairly recent tryout with Championship side Charlton Athletic FC. He was captain of the soccer, golf, and tennis teams at Naples HS, and was named soccer team MVP three times. All three freshmen midfielders saw action in all three exhibition matches, so I expect we'll see a lot of them as the season rolls on.
Toby Howell is the only freshman forward on this year's squad. Another Florida native, Howell actually played five years of varsity soccer in high school, because he was a part of the team as an eighth grader. I'm not entirely sure how that works as far as eligibility concerns go, but St. Stephen's Episcopal School made it to the state semifinals that season, so I'm pretty sure Howell wasn't just carrying gear for the seniors.
Howell isn't a shy player. He registered one shot on goal during relief assignments in each of the first two exhibition matches, and something about the way he operated in those two games got him a starting spot in Saturday's game against the Hoosiers. Howell recorded two of Marquette's nine shots in that game as the Golden Eagles outshot Indiana even though they ended up taking the 2-0 loss.