Your Marquette Men’s Soccer team started their regular season with a 3-1 win over the Crusaders of Valparaiso University.
Coach Louis Bennett named a starting 11 consisting of Luis Barraza at keeper, Steffen Bohm and Patrick Seagrist at fullback, Leo Villa and Josh Hancock at center back, a midfield consisting of Ruben Sanchez, Zak Wegner, and Luka Prpa (captain), and a front three of Grant Owens, Lukas Sunesson, and Connor Alba.
Alba opened the game by beating a much taller defender to a ball in the air crossed by Prpa and then sneaking it by the Valpo keeper at the near post in the 5th minute. Marquette looked like the stronger side in the first fifteen minutes, holding possession well and constantly making incisive attacking moves from outside.
Valpo grew into the game as the first half progressed, pressing higher and higher up the field and forcing Marquette into passing around the back four and the keeper, generally pinning the Golden Eagles into their own half. Valpo created some chances off some forced turnovers, but nothing came of it. Zak Wegner looked incredibly sharp in a holding midfield role, especially in the first half. He disrupted a large number of passes and was physical in the tackle, and made a massive difference right in front of the back four along with the other holding midfielder Sanchez.
Marquette took the one goal lead into the break, and right after the restart Lukas Sunesson picked up a ball on the break and fired one into the Valpo keeper’s chest before putting the rebound into the back of the net for his first Marquette goal and the 2-0 lead in the 53rd minute. The freshman striker was particularly impressive outside of his scoring (more on that in a minute), as he tracked back very well, played in the channels, held up play, and generally out-worked every Crusader he came up against.
Valparaiso clawed one back on a tap-in after a set piece by Daniel Moreno in the 66th minute, making the score 2-1, but Sunesson added a second goal off a high ball by fellow freshman Josh Hancock in the 85th minute. The Valparaiso back line stood still and looked around, assuming an offside call was coming, but no flag went up and Sunesson calmly slotted a shot over the keeper for his brace, taking the game out of reach for the Crusaders.
It feels good to start the season with a win at home, but that doesn’t mean all the questions have been answered. Marquette was troubled at times by the pressing of Valparaiso, and the back four definitely had its moments of weakness. Solid midfield defending and a “bend, don’t break” mentality helped see that the Crusaders didn’t net more, but the defense has some work to do to not allow a more coordinated offense to exploit some of the gaps they showed today.
That all being said, it was a good debut for new men Leo Villa, Josh Hancock, and Sunnesson. Despite some mistakes, the center back pairing held their own, and fellow newcomer Oliver Posarelli added some good minutes off the bench, even if he did pick up a yellow card along with Villa. Having to rely on newcomers early on in a center back pairing is tough, and the communication is still building, but all in all, they did well enough to see the result out for Marquette. With Manuel Cukaj still not suiting up, playing time in the back may be open for whoever starts to stand out among these new defenders.
Where to begin with Sunesson? Having a man like him to play the #9 role is crucial. Marquette has Diego Nunez to spell Sunesson and provide a different look, but Lukas looked completely locked in and ready this afternoon. I’m excited to see how he develops as a freshman. It may even be fun to see how he would slot in with a second striker, but right now the 4-3-3 Coach Bennett is employing with Sunesson up top flanked by two wingers has produced results.
Marquette continues their season on Thursday, August 30th as they take on Central Arkansas at Valley Fields.
Other Quick Thoughts
- Alba not starting in favor of Sanchez was interesting, but both each saw about half the playing time in the middle of the park. I expect more of this going forward depending on if Coach Bennett needs a stopper like Sanchez or a more creative player like Alba.
- I mused in my newcomers’ article that we may see a back 3 employed at times by Bennett. Please ignore that, I am an idiot. Patrick Seagrist and Steffen Bohm are two outstanding fullbacks and need to be employed in that role. The newcomers in the back four dictate that we need their leadership and experience in defense, and they are incredibly skilled players that distribute well, get forward often, and can outwork opponents. They are critical to the success of this team.
- I like the element that the wide duo of Grant Owens/Josh Coan add on the left. The two were subbed on and off for each other, and each adds a unique element to the attack. Coan is a good dribbler with a great first touch who can quickly create space and chances, while Owens can run for days and adds a good crossing game and work rate. That combo will be necessary to opening up defenses alongside Prpa and Alba.