Question #1: Can Marquette stay healthy this season?
There is just one player on the 2018 Marquette men’s soccer roster that started every single match in 2017. There are only five that appeared in all 16.
That’s how you go 3-11-2.
Let’s be fair: Most of the returning guys that missed time last year didn’t miss eight matches or something like that. They missed one or two. But even if they missed a game, it may have meant that they were limited in the next two or three. That turns an obvious choice as a starter that plays north of an hour into a sub playing 20 minutes or something along the same lines.
You end up with a starting XI in constant flux, and a game-to-game rotation system that is never bolted down with any kind of certainty. When your best player — Luka Prpa, the lone 16 match starter last year — is best served by having familiarity with his fellow midfielders and his forwards so as to distribute the ball best to them, and the health of the roster just won’t allow it, it ends up dragging the whole thing down around you.
There are already questions to be asked about Marquette’s health this season. Manuel Cukaj was a Big East all-freshman team performer last year while missing five games, but he hasn’t played in either exhibition match. Ruben Sanchez may be taking his usual spot in the defensive midfield, but he’s sporting a soft brace on his arm. Even with these things popping up, Marquette picked up an exhibition win over Loyola-Chicago, a team picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley, and went to a draw with a Green Bay team that won the Horizon League a year ago. If the Golden Eagles can keep putting their best possible eleven on the field, then maybe they can surprise a team or two as the season goes on.
Question #2: How much of an impact from the newcomers does Marquette need?
Part of this can be answered purely through numbers. If we ignore the goalkeeping situation, as the numbers there throw this ratio off quite a bit, Marquette has 14 returning players on the roster and 10 newcomers, counting both freshmen and transfers.
Two of the 14 returning guys have never played an official match for the Golden Eagles and a third has played less than half an hour. At this point, pure mathematics tell us that MU has 11 field players returning with anything resembling notable experience at the collegiate level, and, well, you’re not going to get very far in college soccer with just one substitute.
Thus, the newcomers are going to have to step up. At least in the exhibition season, it seems that freshman Lukas Sunesson and transfers Josh Coan and Leo Villa are the names most likely to make an impact. All three earned the start in both of Marquette’s exhibition matches with Sunesson and Coan at forward and Villa on defense. We can pencil in freshman Josh Hancock in for some quality time as well as he earned a start on defense in MU’s second exhibition match.
If Marquette is going to be putting two new guys up top, then it’s safe to say that the Golden Eagles are going to need a big impact from their newcomers. MU scored just 18 goals overall last season, the lowest output in the Big East. They also gave up 33 goals, the most in the league, and their 18 allowed in the nine game conference schedule was the highest total as well. I don’t know how much of offense and defense is improved merely by putting different players out there instead or if improvement is more caused by familiarity and coherence. One way or another, Marquette has to improve on both ends of the field, and that’s going to take an impact from multiple new faces on the roster.
Question #3: Will Marquette qualify for the Big East tournament?
Not the NCAA tournament, the Big East tournament. The top six teams in the league qualify every year. The top two get a bye to the semifinals, and #5 and #6 go on the road in the quarterfinals to start things off. Marquette has not been a part of the conference tournament since 2014, and they haven’t won a match in the tourney since winning the whole shebang in 2013.
It’s been a while!
The preseason balloting from the coaches in the league have Marquette finishing sixth this season, which would be exactly good enough to snag the final spot in the field. However, things are stacked up a little bit in the voting. Just six points separates sixth place Marquette and eighth place Villanova, so there’s not much of a margin of safety in that final berth.
Last year, Marquette actually barely missed out on the conference tournament, finishing with 10 points in league action against 11 from sixth place Creighton. Fifth place Xavier had 15 points, so let’s say that 12 is the target number to earn a bid for sure. This could be as simple as earning three points from a victory against the four teams slotted below Marquette in the preseason poll. Thinking about it that way is somewhat good news, as MU opens Big East action with two of those four matches. If the Golden Eagles can get off to a hot start and then just figure out how to rummage up at least another six points from their remaining seven matches, that’s almost assuredly their easiest path to the conference tournament.