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Marquette Men’s Soccer Preview: vs Villanova

The Golden Eagles bring the Wildcats to the Valley as both teams search for their first league win.

NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal - Villanova v Oklahoma Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Hey, remember when Luka Prpa Fever was gripping the Menomonee River Valley? Well, it’s been three matches since the freshman phenom has recorded a point.

To be clear, it was going to be nearly impossible for Prpa to maintain what was at the time a better than one point per match pace. A cold stretch was inevitable for him, and Prpa is still second in the Big East in points and goals. He still leads the Big East in assists, as he took such a monumental lead in that category that no one has been able to catch him yet.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Marquette has gone 0-0-3 in the three contests since Prpa registered either a goal or an assist, dropping their record on the season to 3-1-3. The hope would have been that defenses started keying deeply on Prpa, allowing Marquette’s other players - Jan Maertins, Daniel Szczepanek, and Connor Alba, for example - to start popping free for goals. It’s kind of happened, and for about 30 minutes against UWM, Marquette looked like an unstoppable dynamo on offense. They also gave that lead back to the Panthers, and then followed that up with a scoreless draw for the second straight year against St. John’s.

Here we are now, though, with Marquette looking at a prime opportunity to show that they are improved over last year when they went 1-7-1 in Big East matches. The Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in the league, while Marquette ended up tied for seventh in the preseason coaches poll. If the Golden Eagles want to be back in the six team conference tournament after missing it last year, they’re going to need a positive result against a Villanova squad that’s considered to be the edge of that cutoff.

We don’t know who will be in net for Marquette on Saturday night, though. Head coach Louis Bennett went with sophomore Luis Barraza in the league opener, but after the match, he said we haven’t seen the last of redshirt senior Mac Wheeler. The pair had been alternating matches, but it’s yet to be seen whether that will continue here or if Bennett will be picking and choosing where to deploy each keeper as the season progresses.

Big East Match #2: vs Villanova (3-3-1, 0-1-0 Big East)

When: Saturday, September 24, 2016, at 7pm CT
Where: Valley Fields
Audio/Visual: has a free video stream for you, plus there’s live stats.
Special Promotion: Double Fanatics points and free camo hats for students.
Twitter Updates: @marquettesoccer & @novamsoccer

The opening match of league play for Villanova did not end up as a high point in their season. The Wildcats were tasked with presenting a challenge to a Butler squad that had launched themselves into the upper tier of the national rankings heading into the match, and they got themselves into a shootout with the most prolific shooting offense in the Big East. VU got outshot 27-15, but still Villanova managed to equalize the match twice, both in the second half, but the Bulldogs mustered up one final goal with five minutes gone in the first overtime session to take the three points.

The loss to the Bulldogs snapped a three match winning streak for Villanova. However, after a scoreless draw with St. Joseph’s back on Tuesday, the Wildcats are evenly balanced on the season and winless in their last two. It’s not a terribly surprising place to be for a squad that was picked to finish sixth in the Big East this season.

Lucas Hodges has been the most accurate shooter on the VU roster this season, recording a team best three goals on a team best 14 shots. He shares that shots lead with Padraic McCullaugh (2 goals), and Miguel Polley and Zach Zandi (one goal each) are right behind them with 13 shots. Will Steiner has earned two Big East Keeper of the Week awards, but that’s for big performances in big moments more than exceptional goalkeeping. He’s allowing 1.36 goals per 90 minutes, but stopping 75% of shots on goal. His defense really needs to start cutting him a break, though, as Steiner is third in the league in saves and fourth in saves per game.