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Marquette Men’s Soccer Preview: vs Kentucky

The Golden Eagles kick off the season by hosting the favorites to win Conference USA. Yes, you read that right.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Notre Dame vs Kentucky Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

From a certain point of view, a new era of Marquette men’s soccer begins tonight at Valley Fields. With 13 newcomers on the roster and even more guys who have never played a minute of collegiate soccer scattered amongst the returning players, it’s safe to say that the future begins now for Louis Bennett’s squad.

The hope is that players like Jan Maertins and Luka Prpa are up to the challenge of being relied on as scorers at the collegiate level. MU returns absolutely no goal scorers from last year’s team, and it’s a scary thing to realize that John Pothast and Jack Alberts, both defensive stalwarts, are the current active goals leaders on the roster with three each.

There’s not a lot of experience on the defensive end, either. Yes, Pothast was named to the preseason all-Big East squad. Yes, Ruben Sanchez was named to the Big East’s all-freshman team last season. Marquette is still going to be relying on big minutes from redshirt sophomore Danny Jarosz, who played just 66 minutes in the 2015 opener before being lost for the season, as well as freshmen like Anton von Hofacker and Patrick Seagrist, both of whom got extensive playing time during the exhibition schedule.

This season might be a rough go of it, especially with a defending conference champion coming to the Valley to open the season. If the new guys can jump in feet first and perform from the get-go, maybe it won’t be so bad. If nothing else, the major minutes logged by the newcomers should provide Bennett with a veteran squad for the next several years as the Golden Eagles look to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last two seasons.

Match #1: vs Kentucky (0-0-0)

When: Friday, August 26, 2016, at 7pm
Where: Valley Fields
Audio/Visual: GoMarquette.com will be streaming the match for free, plus there’s live stats.
Special Promotions: The first 250 students at the Valley get a free MU soccer shirt.
Twitter Updates: @marquettesoccer & @UKMensSoccer

This will be the first meeting between the two squads, although in fairness, the Wildcats have only had a team since 1991.

They might be a somewhat new program, relative to Marquette’s 50+ year history, but that doesn’t mean that Kentucky’s a pushover. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament seven times, including each of the past two seasons and three of the last four. Head coach Johan Cedergren returns nine of 11 starters from a year ago when they won the Conference USA regular season, and as you can imagine, they’re the favorite to do so again this season.

There’s good news and bad news in that nine of 11 number for Marquette. The good news is that one of the starters that they lost was All-American goalkeeper Callum Irving, who was named the 2015 Conference USA Player of the Year. The bad news is that Kentucky returns both of their top two scorers from a year ago, as well as a MAC Hermann watch list defender.

Senior midfielder Napo Matoso was named the C-USA Preseason Offensive Player of the Year after recording four goals and six assists a year ago for Kentucky. He finished with the most points on the team (14), but was beaten out for the lead in goals by fellow preseason all-CUSA forward Stefan Stojkovic. Jordan Wilson, that aforementioned defender, rounds out the trio of Wildcats on the all-CUSA squad, and I’m shocked to find out that Wilson is somehow not the best defensive player in Conference USA.

As far as goalkeeping goes, Stuart Ford and Braeden Luna, both juniors, each played a bit in their exhibition match against SIU-Edwardsville, at least according to this photo gallery. That match was a 0-0 draw, and Kentucky lost their other listed exhibition, falling 3-0 to Northern Kentucky. Ford got the start in that one, and was relieved by Luna at halftime. If you’re wondering how they got shutout by NKU, I have nothing for you, other than Stojkovic didn’t play.