Marquette men’s soccer kicks off the 2017 season on Friday against Kentucky. Before Louis Bennett’s men take to the field, here’s three questions that MU will need to answer at some point during the season.
1 - Which end of the field needs to improve the most to carry the Golden Eagles this season: offense or defense?
Marquette finished last season with a positive goal differential and a positive shot differential. That’s good! Being +3 in goals is pretty decent, and it’s borderline shocking when you take into account that Marquette was just +3 in shots as well. In the nine match league schedule, MU was -2 in goal differential, which is not great.
This is the point: We can’t say with conviction that Marquette needs to improve on one end or the other more headed into 2017. MU ranked seventh in the Big East in goals scored last season, but tied for sixth in goals allowed. At least relative to the rest of the conference, the defense was better than the offense. If you pushed me on the issue, I would have said that the defense needs the most improvement. This is soccer, though, and sometimes the best defense is merely maintaining possession of the ball on offense.
2 - How fast can Marquette successfully mix in their 10 newcomers?
With just 14 guys coming back from last season, Louis Bennett is going to need contributions from his 10 new players at some point in 2017. As we already talked about, three of the four transfers already earned heavy minutes in exhibition play, and two of the freshmen saw action in both exhibition matches. Two more of the freshmen played in the first exhibition match, but not the second one.
In other words, Bennett is already leaning on his new guys for minutes. The question then becomes if a roster that’s relying on five brand new players to carry them can become a coherent group quickly enough in college soccer to create a successful season. I don’t want to get too far over my skis here, but the fact of the matter is that Marquette went out last weekend and pulled out a 1-0 road win over Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers were 14-4-1 and undefeated at home last season, reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, and are the favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference in 2017. Was it an exhibition match? Yep. Is it unclear if Loyola was using their best possible lineup? Yep. Did MU grab a lead on the road and defend it against a high quality foe? Yep. We’ll have to see if that can translate into Ws when the regular season starts.
3 - Can Marquette get back to the Big East tournament this year?
Not the NCAA tournament, just the Big East conference tournament. The Golden Eagles have missed out on that event in each of the past two seasons, posting a combined record of 3 wins, 12 losses, and 3 draws.
The good news, such as it is, is that Marquette finished in a tie for eighth place last season and just four points short of the sixth and final Big East tournament berth. They weren’t that far away last season in a league where the top four teams in the standings all made the NCAA tournament. For what it’s worth, Marquette lost 2-1 to all four of those teams. The argument can be made that the Golden Eagles were a lucky bounce here or there away from a conference tourney spot in 2016.
If that’s the case, and if Marquette is improved from last season, then finishing in sixth place or better should be a goal that MU can achieve this season. It would certainly be a benefit for a Golden Eagles squad that is building its way up with a number of young players on the roster.