And thus, a new season of Marquette men’s soccer begins.
Goal #1 (ha ha get it goal it’s a soccer joke) for the Golden Eagles this season is to qualify for the Big East tournament. They fell ever so slightly short of the six team field a year ago, making it three straight seasons without a postseason appearance of any kind. This year, the Big East coaches picked Marquette to finish sixth in the conference, and that would be exactly good enough to get back into the field.
To make it there, Marquette is going to need a few things to happen. First, the Golden Eagles are going to need to stay healthy. Preseason all-Big East honoree Luka Prpa is the only returning player to start all 16 matches a year ago, and that’s not because MU had seven seniors departing or something to that effect. No, it was merely the cumulative effect of guys missing a game here and a game there. It resulted in a lot of guys playing outside the role that the coaching staff imagined at the start of the season in order to put the best possible lineup on the field on that particular day.
Regardless of who is and is not in the lineup, Marquette’s going to need better performances from both their offense and defense, or at least one of them. MU was one of the least productive teams in the Big East on both ends of the field last year, and that’s not going to work out in the long term. You can be a little lackluster on offense if you’re a brick wall on defense, and you can allow a few more goals than you’d like if you’re a Gatling gun on offense.
Perhaps the biggest question mark on the field right now is keeper Luis Barraza. The New Mexico native has spent the last three years getting challenged by the other keepers on the roster, right to the point where they’ve taken playing time from him. This year, it’s Barraza and three freshmen, so he’s got the clear experience advantage. Is that going to be enough to keep him on the field? Can he raise his game and thus raise the game of the team out in front of him as well? Will an extra save or two per game be enough to push the Golden Eagles into the conference tournament? Can you put too many hypothetical questions into a game preview article?
Match #1: vs Valparaiso Crusaders (0-0-0)
Marquette is a perfect 5-0-0 all-time against Valpo. In fact, were it not for a goal in 2000 in Indiana, Marquette would actually be perfect against the Crusaders, earning four shutouts in the five meetings. As it stands, MU has a goal differential of +24 in the series.
You might get the idea that Valparaiso is a team that Marquette might be able to kick around a little bit. However, the last meeting between the two sides was in 2001, and, well, at least for the last couple of years, the Crusaders are on an upswing. Their 8-9-1 record last season tied the program mark for the sixth most wins in a season, as did their 30 goals. They’ve scored 30 goals in each of the last two seasons, which is just the second time in program history that they can say that. The last was in 1986-87, so it’s been just a minute or two.
While they’re coming off two very productive seasons in terms of their own history, expectations should probably be metered a little bit. They’re picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, and there’s a big drop off in the voting from 4th place Bradley (31 points) to Valpo (18 points). They did put two players on the preseason all-conference team in junior midfielder Adan Garcia and senior forward Rafael Mentzingen. Both men were all-MVC performers a year ago, with Mentzingen earning First Team honors. The two tied for the team lead in goals last year with nine each and tied for the seventh most in a season for Valpo, but Mentzingen had this stunner in the MVC tournament, so let’s say he ended up with the unofficial lead.
Redshirt junior Nacho Miras is your likely starter in net after making 16 starts a year ago. His 1.64 goals against average may not seem particularly great at face value, but it was the 10th best mark in program history, so who are we to knock it?