Question #1 - Who the hell is going to score for this team?
Marquette’s goal scorers in 2015: Kelmend Islami (graduated), C. Nortey (graduated), David Selvaggi (graduated), Louis Bennett II (pro contract), Alex McBride (left team), Jake Taylor (left team), and Jesper Larsson (transferred).
This isn’t a “hey, y’know this team doesn’t have a proven goal scorer” issue. This is a “this team doesn’t have a player that scored a goal at all last year” issue. Nick Parianos, who missed all of 2015 due to injury, is the only guy on the team that’s scored a collegiate goal before, and his lone career goal came on November 17, 2013. Not to knock a guy who’s only played eight games since then for reasons that aren’t his fault here, but Parianos’ goal is older than some of his teammates’ driver’s licenses.
Someone’s going to have to score goals for Marquette, and, after getting outscored by 11 goals a year ago, the preference is that it’s multiple someones. Freshman Jan Maertins scored four times in the first 40 minutes of the exhibition match against Detroit, and I will give the Wisconsin athletic department $25 if he does that again in a regular season match during his Marquette career. There’s no reason to expect that kind of insanity. You don’t score like that on accident, though, so it’s clear that Maertins has a certain knack for finding the back of the net.
Redshirt junior Daniel Szczepanek netted MU’s only goal against Wright State, and it was Maertins who set him up for it. Against Nebraska-Omaha, it was freshman midfielder Luka Prpa shaking the twine for the Golden Eagles off an assist from Szczepanek. That’s a nice little triumvirate of offense, and you can look at guys like Toby Howell, Connor Alba, and Ben Tweedie to provide some life as well. Those are the three lads that provided the helpers on Maertins’ four-pack, with Howell finding him twice. Prpa also had an assist in the exhibition season, after sophomore newcomer Diego Núñez knocked in a rebound of his free kick.
Question #2 - Who the hell is going to play keeper for this team?
The answer is probably sophomore Luis Barraza. He beat out Mac Wheeler a year ago for the starting spot at the beginning of the season, and while last season was a struggle for Wicho statistically, that could be said about the whole team as well. Part of Barraza’s struggles might be attributed to the injuries to Danny Jarosz and Martin Alba, which did a number on Marquette’s defensive form by the midway point of the season. Operating under the assumption that things will be better with the players head coach Louis Bennett wants in particular spots actually playing in those spots this year, then you’d have to figure that Barraza would be better.
With that said, Wheeler, now a redshirt senior, started both of the last two exhibition games. He came off after 56 minutes against Detroit and gave way to Barraza at halftime of the UNO match. Both were planned substitutions to get both men some time in action, which begs the question: Did Bennett see something from one of them that will help him make up his mind on his starting netminder?
Question #3 - How optimistic should we be about this team?
To put it bluntly, you should probably hold off on scheduling an NCAA tournament watch party at this point.
In the three exhibition matches, Louis Bennett rolled out starting lineups that consisted of five, four, and five players who have never played a minute of an official college soccer game. All three of those starting elevens included Danny Jarosz, who’s only played 66 minutes, and that was nearly a full year ago. By and large, it’s a team that’s still figuring out the right way to pack to go on a road trip, much less play coherent, winning soccer.
This isn’t to say that it can’t happen. If Jan Maertins and Luka Prpa become consistent threats to score goals, then things tilt in favor of this very, very young team jelling together pretty quickly. There’s a reason that the Big East coaches voted Marquette to finish seventh in the league this year after ending 2015 in ninth place with a 1-9-1 conference record.
There’s a lot of talent floating around on this team. It’s just never played together on a regular basis before, and that could end up being the downfall for the 2016 season. The silver lining to that would be that this season could end up being a springboard for the future of Marquette men’s soccer. With 12 freshmen on the roster, you can see how tomorrow could be a better day even if today is pretty cloudy.