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Marquette Men’s Soccer Preview: at Illinois-Chicago

Maybe we can get a better feel for the Golden Eagles after another 90 minutes.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Marquette
UIC doesn’t have a mascot picture in the hopper, and their Facebook logos all stink.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2016 opener, Marquette lost 4-0 to Kentucky, the preseason favorite to win Conference USA.

In their second match of the season, the Golden Eagles ran wild all over a Northern Illinois squad, defeating the preseason pick to finish last in the MAC by a final of 4-0.

It’s safe to say that Marquette will finish the season roughly somewhere in the middle of those two teams, right?

It might be okay to even think that the Golden Eagles will be more towards the Kentucky end of the spectrum. After all, if you ignore the final three minutes of the first half and the last two minutes of the second half against the Wildcats, you get a 1-0 loss where MU actually outshot their opponent, 13-11. There’s the issue of giving up three goals in the waning moments of both halves, of course, but that’s a minor technical issue that can be tightened up with a little light prep work. “Ok, lads, now remember: DON’T GIVE UP LATE GOALS.” See? Fixed.

If you want to get overly excited about where this team is going, may I suggest looking at what Luka Prpa did against the Huskies on Monday night? The freshman from Wind Lake, WI, either scored or assisted on each of MU’s four goals. His six point outing jumped him to second in the Big East in both points and goals, and he’s the only player in the conference with two assists right now. Yeah, it’s still early, but it’s an impressive amount of goal construction for just one player. We’ll have to see how future opponents react to Prpa’s outburst and then, how that affects Marquette’s play in the future.

Head coach Louis Bennett seems set on using a goalkeeper rotation for the time being, which means that Luis Barraza should be back in net for this game. The sophomore played the entirety of the 4-0 loss to Kentucky, but was rotated out for redshirt senior Mac Wheeler in the match against Northern Illinois. I don’t think either result particularly tells us anything about how this competition is going, but maybe we’ll have a better idea after this weekend.

Match #3: at Illinois-Chicago (0-1-1)

When: Friday, September 2, 2016, at 7pm CT
Where: Flames Field in Chicago, IL
Audio/Visual: There’s live stats because UIC is in the 20th century, apparently.
Twitter Updates: @marquettesoccer & @UICmensSoccer

This will be the 11th all-time meeting between Marquette and UIC. Marquette currently holds a 5-4-1 advantage in the series after snapping a three match losing streak in the most recent encounter, which was back in 2012.

With that 0-1-1 start, you might think that UIC is the perfect opponent at the perfect time for the Golden Eagles. You’re right, but not for the reason that you’re thinking about right now. The Flames have won the Horizon League in two of the past three seasons, including last year. Now, they’re picked to finish third this season, but when you consider the fact that they’ve lost the 2015 HL Player of the Year and the 2015 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, finishing third sounds pretty good. It’s also a tightly contested third place. Four schools picked up a first place vote, with UIC getting one and the other three getting three each. Oakland and Wright State are the co-favorites with 73 points in the poll, while UIC got 63 points and Valparaiso snagged 60. Any of the four could win the Horizon and no one would be surprised.

What we have here is a UIC side that has a load of seniors who are used to competing for the top spot in the Horizon League and are coming off of a league title. In addition to their overall attitude about their squad, they’re probably not pleased about losing 4-1 to Gonzaga or drawing 1-1 with San Diego State in the opening weekend of the season. That’s a nice challenge for Marquette at this point in their development.

While the Flames are going to want to focus their defense on Luka Prpa, Marquette is going to have to do the same to Max Todd. The sophomore Scotsman has scored both of UIC’s goals this season, and both of them came in the first 13 minutes of their respective games. It’s possible that Todd may have maxed out his contributions to the Flames since he scored just one goal in 11 starts in the 2015 seasons, but for now, it’ll be important to take the guy with the team lead in shots seriously.

Marquette also has to take goalkeeper Andrew Putna seriously. The junior from Lemont, IL, has five career assists, with four of them coming last year. From going through the box score descriptions of these goals, it’s clear that Putna is intentionally launching goal kicks as hard as humanly possible to get the ball deep and behind the opponent’s defense. After managing this five times in his career (and twice against DePaul, both for game winning goals, one in overtime) there’s no reason that Marquette should be getting caught off guard by Putna’s leg. As far as his actual goalkeeping, Putna came into 2016 with a career goals-against average under 1.00 in over 5,000 minutes played, but his current mark of 2.25 is horribly tilted by that loss to Gonzaga.