The 2019 Marquette men’s soccer season officially starts on Friday, so it’s time to wrap up our season preview with one final entry. Below you’ll find the biggest questions facing the Golden Eagles as the campaign gets going, as well as some theories and potential reasons why they may or may not answer them by the time the season ends.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Question #1 — What’s up with Luka Prpa and Lukas Sunesson?
This one may solved by the time the sun sets on Friday evening, but it’s still a question that we have to ask at this point. Prpa (six goals, six assists) and Sunesson (five goals) were Marquette’s top two goal scorers a year ago and two of the top three point gatherers, with Prpa leading the team on the strength of his 18 points. Prpa started all 19 matches a year ago, with Sunesson getting the nod in 18. Both men played over 1,400 minutes, and Prpa’s 1,760 lead the team and fell just 15 minutes shy of having him out on the pitch for every single minutes that the Golden Eagles played.
These two gents have combined to play 45 minutes in the preseason. All 45 were by Sunesson, all came in the first half of the first exhibition against Loyola-Chicago.
Let’s be clear about this: Marquette has played well in the preseason slate without them, earning 2-1 wins over preseason #9 Notre Dame as well as Milwaukee Torrent, the local NPSL squad. This speaks to the depth at pretty much every position on the field that MU has, or at the very least, that the coaching staff believes that they have.
However, if Marquette is going to maximize their potential this season (more on this in a moment), that’s going to require the services of Prpa and Sunesson. Prpa is perhaps the most dynamic midfielder in the entire Big East, and Sunesson’s combination of speed and physicality at striker creates an added dimension to Marquette’s offense.
Perhaps this is just load management by the Marquette coaching staff. Perhaps they know how much that Prpa and Sunesson will be needed to play in the regular season, and thus are giving them some free time to be able to use their legs more readily later in the season. If it’s something other than that — and to be clear, both men were at the Torrent exhibition match, not dressed to play but also otherwise uninjured — then that’s not particularly great.
Question #2 — Does this team have a clear top keeper?
Coming into the year, I thought it was clear that Cedrik Stern was the starting keeper as he was Luis Barraza’s backup a year ago. That was reinforced by Stern starting the first two exhibition matches. Nothing wrong or surprising about him leaving at the half in either one, as the coaching staff might not much of a chance to see the other keepers in live action.
However, it was Jackson Weyman who started against the Torrent, with Stern coming in at halftime.
Whether it was due to injury or because the coaching staff didn’t see a clear top man, Marquette has seen at least two different goalkeepers start multiple matches over the past four seasons. Even last year, when Barraza was on his way to being named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year, Stern still started four matches.
Stern is still the only goalie with live collegiate minutes played after his 403 minutes of action in 2018. All logic says to ride with him to start the season..... but perhaps the coaching staff sees something in Weyman. Maybe we’ll see multiple keepers get starts this season. It definitely wouldn’t be the weirdest or most unusual situation for Marquette.
Question #3 — What is this team’s ceiling?
The answer here, I think, comes down to how seriously you want to take the 2-1 exhibition win over #9 Notre Dame. I can’t tell you for certain how seriously Notre Dame was taking the match. After all, it was an exhibition match for them as well. Were they trying to play purely tactically and not freelance at all? Did Marquette see ND’s best 11 men on the field for the majority of the match? And so on and so forth. This is a big question, because regardless of whatever substitutions MU head coach Louis Bennett made as the match wore on, the Golden Eagles looked like the better side between the two.
At the bare minimum, you’d like to say that matching their projected finish in Big East play — fourth, same as last year — would be the goal for the season. Can this team compete for a Big East title? Well, the Georgetown coach clearly thinks so, as Marquette earned his first place vote since he couldn’t vote for his own team.
If the team that went 4-2-1 down the stretch to end up in fourth place last year shows up for the majority of 2019, things are probably looking pretty good. If the team that gave #19 Creighton fits in the Big East tournament semifinals before eliminating the Jays on penalty kicks shows up for most of the year, that’s going to leave us all with a pretty good feeling.
Contending for a Big East title? Seems possible, if things break right for Marquette. Aiming for a return to the NCAA tournament? Mmmm, maybe. If they are a Big East title contender, then you’d have to figure that means they’re racking up enough wins to make it into the national championship tournament. That also probably means that they’re a top 25 caliber squad.