Let’s start with the basics. Marquette’s men soccer team has added an impressive THIRTEEN (13!) new faces to the roster for the rapidly upcoming 2018 season. That’s quite a bit of chemistry to develop.
In this article, we’re gonna take a peek at who they’ve added, what each new player brings to the team, and what the overall recruiting strategy indicates about head coach Louis Bennett’s tactics and gameplan going forward.
Jett, originally from Milwaukee, moved to the Virgin Islands when he was 9, where he played for the Virgin Islands national team (U-15 and U-17, including captaining the U-17 side as a 15 year old player) and attended the Country Day School before transferring to the Soccer Institute of Monteverde Academy in Florida, where he won 3 straight high school national championships. He now joins Marquette as a freshman.
Coach Louis Bennett believes in the versatility of Jett. Listed as a midfielder, Coach Bennett sees Jett as being able to play as a wide forward or an attacking fullback or wingback in addition to his midfield duties. With so much turnover on the roster, expect Jett to get runout at a few different wide positions during matches to compliment the side with his attacking skills.
⚽️ Introducing a new interview series leading up to our August 11 exhibition and Fan Fest. Conducted by our resident goalkeeper @LuisBarrazaa, let’s meet some of the freshmen... First up, Jett Blaschka! #MarquetteSoccer pic.twitter.com/h17VbX4N9u— Marquette Soccer (@marquettesoccer) August 4, 2018
Josh, a transfer from Pittsburgh, joined the Golden Eagles in January. A forward, Josh tallied 4 assists in 2 seasons at Pitt, although he was given starting nods in 25 games. Although he has yet to manage to score in college, he makes up for it with a high work rate, good field vision, and good technique. Watching the minimal film I could find, he seemed at home out wide, providing space and a good cross into the box. He also excels at creating openings for his teammates to exploit, either through deft short touches to a running teammate or by dribbling himself into advantageous positions. Look for him to reinforce the front line and add another creative dimension to the Golden Eagle attack.
Gabe is a freshman from Marshall, Illinois. He joins the Golden Eagles after a spell in Sporting Kansas City’s youth program. He has received call-ups to the U16 U.S. National Team and has been a part of many U.S. National Team Youth Training Camps. An outside back, he will add immediate depth and competitiveness to the back line. In the film I could find, he looked incredibly comfortable up and down the length of the pitch, but especially going forward in attack. He has a great burst of speed and good attacking instincts, which should help when Marquette pushes forward.
AJ is a freshman from Streamwood, Illinois, and he GETS BUCKETS (checks notes) I MEAN GOALS.
No, seriously, he scored seventy (70) (yes, you are reading that correctly) during his senior season ALONE. The left-footed forward is going to be lethal in front of goal. A taller forward, look for him to exploit his height and his goal-scoring instinct. I’d expect him to play in the central role, but watching the film I could find, he seems to have goal-scoring instinct from not only up close but also from various angles both in and out of the 18 yard box. I can’t wait to see what he does with Luka Prpa feeding him passes.
Josh is a center-back from England who came up in the Exeter City youth system, where he competed with the best young English players. In the last Exeter City campaign, he knocked in six goals and contributed to 14 clean sheets en route to a second straight EFL Youth Alliance championship. He will join Marquette as a freshman.
Coach Bennett, an Englishman himself, loves his abilities in the air and believes that Josh will positively contribute both offensively on set pieces and defensively in his own half. Coach Bennett also thinks that Josh will add structure and communication to the back line. With experience captaining his U16 team, look for Josh to command play when called upon and keep the Marquette defensive shape solid and sound, as well as be a defensive stalwart.
Alex is a local product, a freshman midfielder from Brookfield, Wisconsin. A two-time All-State selection in Wisconsin and a four-year captain of Elmbrook United (including captaining them to a state championship in 2017), Alex is a highly regarded center midfielder.
Coach Bennett likes Alex’s ability to play in the center of the park, both as a defensive midfielder and a true center mid. Expect him to play box-to-box and put in long shifts, where his mobility and range adds to his overall midfield versatility. With 9 players listed as midfielders on the 2018-2019 roster, don’t be surprised to see him played as one of two holding midfielders behind Luka Prpa and two wide players.
Oliver is a transfer from Montana State University Billings and plays center-back. He’ll join the Golden Eagles as a junior. Having grown up in his native Italy, he played for Arzignano and A.C. Chievo Verona’s youth programs before coming to the United States. An all-conference player in the Great Northwestern Athletic Conference (that’s Division 2, y’all), he brings surprisingly good athleticism and pace from the center-back spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him deployed as a fullback at times, or as part of a back three. He can pick out a pass when needed and shows good defensive instincts in addition to being able to build out of the back on offense. He moves very well while in possession with or without the ball, and Coach Bennett can utilize this to his advantage.
Alan is a freshman midfielder who enrolled in January. He hails from Cicero, Illinois, and was Luka Prpa’s teammate on the Chicago Magic before switching to the Chicago Fire academy squad, where he was part of a squad that qualified for the USSDA Final Four.
Coach Bennett likes Alan’s versatility and ability to play across the entire midfield. He also welcomes Alan’s comfort level on the ball and his creative ability. Being able to complement the attacking skill Marquette already possesses is key, and his familiarity with the program from being an early enrollee should allow him to already be comfortable in the system Louis Bennett employs. With his versatility and creative skills, I’d like to see him get some time on both wings and as an attacking midfield player.
Cedrik is a freshman goalkeeper from Friedberg, Germany, who has experience in both Eintracht Frankfurt and SV Darmstadt’s youth programs, as well as being called up to the German U16 team.
Coming in with a resume like that, I assume that Cedrik will challenge senior Luis Barraza (because it wouldn’t be Marquette men’s soccer if Barraza wasn’t getting challenged, apparently) and see some time in goal during the year. Coach Bennett believes he has the quality to immediately make an impact on the team, and especially values his communication skills and ball-playing skills. Look for Cedrik to push hard in camp alongside the other keepers and see time, especially in the early season, in the net.
Lukas is a center forward, originally from Sweden and IK Frej Taby, his local club team. He enrolled early in January alongside Alan Salmeron.
Of Lukas, Coach Bennett says “Lukas is going to give us a definite threat and presence in the center-forward position. He’s quick and tenacious and has played at a high level in Sweden. One of his biggest assets is he’s hungry to learn and get better. This is a player we’ve been searching for quite some time. He’s a well-balanced player with a great set of tools.”
That makes me excited to see how he melds with the current roster. Having a quick center forward to receive long balls and/or crosses from the creative players Marquette already possesses will be fun to watch, and pairing him with a more dedicated target man in a two-man striking force would let him play off the target man and find space. I’m excited to see how he adapts to the US collegiate game and how well he finishes the opportunities that fall to his feet.
Leo comes to Marquette as a transfer from UW-Parkside and will be a junior center-back. Leo started 31 of 32 games for his former team, so he comes to the Golden Eagles as an experienced defending option, even if it is at Division 2. He’s an out-and-out defensive specialist, quick in tackling and athletic as well as possessing a high work rate.
With the center-back position full of experience and talent, expect Leo to be a strong part of the rotation. With his speed and game knowledge, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him also employed as a wide defender or as part of a back three alongside other experienced center backs. Much like other players in this newcomer class, his versatility, experience, and athleticism should translate well to the larger stage of D1 soccer.
Jackson is a freshman keeper who comes to Marquette from the Chicago Fire Academy, where he was teammates with Alan Salmeron. He was a member of the USSDA Final Four team and has experience at all levels of the youth academy as a starting keeper.
Because Marquette only returns one keeper in Luis Barraza, look for Jackson (along with Cedrik and Alec Wons, who we’ll cover next) to push hard to prove himself as the next-in-line. Marquette plays two exhibition matches this year (against Loyola-Chicago and at Green Bay), so look for all 4 keepers to see extended time to determine the depth chart going into the regular season. Watching the tape I could find, Jackson has very quick reflexes and reads the game well, so the keeper battle could get very interesting this fall.
Last, but certainly not least, Alec is a freshman keeper from the Sporting Kansas City Academy, where he was named player of the year in 2017. He’s also a futsal national champion (2017) and has trained with the Swope Park Rangers, KC’s USL club affiliate.
Much like the other freshman keepers, Alec will compete Day 1 to climb the depth chart and be Barraza’s backup. Alec sees the field and the ball very well, even through traffic, and plays the ball out from the keeper spot very well, with a strong right foot. The keeper battle he’ll be involved in will be a fun one to watch.
So What Does This All Mean?
Marquette scored 18 goals last year to the tune of 1.13 a game. Not bad. However, they averaged over 13 shots per game, and only managed to put 43.7% on goal. It’s not a bad number per se, but more clinical finishing will see this Marquette program rise back to the top of the Big East offensively. The components are there, and the forward signings all have the ability to put the ball into the net. If the new faces can finish with more regularity, there will be a lot more to celebrate at Valley Fields.
With 3 new keepers, 3 new center-backs, and a wide defender (as well as some versatile defensive midfield signings), Coach Bennett is looking to organize his defense. The Marquette defense last year let in an average of 2.06 goals per game (bad, particularly in comparison to their Big East counterparts) and allowed 46% of the shots played against them to be on goal. With some good returning players in the back line, look for the new faces to add structure and ability early to solidify the Golden Eagle defense and bring down that number of goals. It’s clear that Coach Bennett made defense a priority, and now it’s up to the players and the coaching staff, including former star midfielder turned new assistant coach Bryan Ciesiulka, to find the system that works to bolster the sometimes-struggling defensive line.