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Cukaj Heads Marquette Past UAB In Double Overtime

Never a bad thing to start a season 1-0

Manuel Cukaj
Manuel Cukaj made a big impact in his first match since 2017.

It took over 106 minutes of action on Friday night, but finally, Marquette men’s soccer was able to walk away with a 2-1 double overtime victory against UAB in the season opener for both squads.

It was Manuel Cukaj, making his first appearance for Marquette since November 2017, who provided the golden goal heroics. Connor Alba, owner of MU’s first goal in the game, launched a beauty of a free kick from right in front of the Marquette bench. The ball sailed over the assembled masses in front of the Blazers’ net, allowing Cukaj to trail along behind and be in the right place at the right time. A UAB defender mistimed his jump at the ball for a header, which gave Cukaj the chance to bang his own header into the right wall of the net.

It’s hella neat to watch.

For a long time there, it didn’t feel like Marquette was going to get the win in this match. The Golden Eagles claimed the first 12 shots of the game through the first 35 minutes, forcing UAB’s Seth Torman to make six saves along the way. One save he did not make was on Alba’s penalty kick goal in the 23rd minute. I’m still not entirely sure what drew the penalty, for the record. It was a weirdly officiated match, which is not to say it was badly officiated. The referee seemed to be watching the match on a three second delay, which is to say the following happened repeatedly in my head: “Hey, come on, isn’t that a foul? No? Fine, whatever. Wait, what did he blow the whistle for? Wait, he’s moving the ball back there? That thing I saw seconds ago was a foul??”

In short, what I saw was a scrum on a free kick generated by a yellow card on UAB’s Donovan Watson, the first of seven cards handed out by the end of the night. Eventually, there was a Marquette player laying flat on his stomach, looking up at the referee, arms outstretched as if to say “hey, what the hell, sir?” Then the whistle blew and the referee signaled for the PK.

Again, weirdly officiated. Not bad, just weird.

Once UAB got a shot off, things started turning in their favor. Remember, Marquette had the first 12 shots of the game. From there on out, UAB outshot Marquette 17-13, and everything that looked like it was going well for the Golden Eagles now seemed to be going in the Blazers’ direction. Over the final 10 minutes of the first half, UAB outshot Marquette 4-1, and given that course of play, it’s not terribly surprising that UAB’s first shot of the second half leveled the match at one goal each.

That shot was also UAB’s first shot on goal of the match, and the first shot on goal that redshirt freshman Jackson Weyman had ever faced in his collegiate career. Weyman, making his first ever collegiate appearance and start, made three saves across the next 43 minutes to keep the match level and send it to extra time. He made two more in the first overtime to keep pushing things through to eventually give Cukaj his opportunity to win the game.

We should probably point out here that senior midfielder Luka Prpa did not play in this match. Prpa, one of two Golden Eagles on the preseason all-conference team, did not play in the exhibition schedule either. At this point, it’s clearly something more serious than merely keeping his legs fresh for live games that count.

Up Next: Marquette returns to action on Sunday afternoon for a home match against UC Davis. First kick is set for noon Central time, and the match will be the front end of a doubleheader with the MU women’s team. The Aggies are coming off an 11-4-5 season in 2018 and opened up this year on Friday night with a 2-0 win over a Wisconsin team that was receiving preseason top 25 votes.