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Marquette Men’s Soccer 2021 Spring Preview: The Returning Players

Head coach Louis Bennett has a deep group of 16 returning guys from the last time we saw the Golden Eagles in action.

Christian Marquez
Christian Marquez had three goals and an assist as a freshman for Marquette in 2019.
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We’re getting a 2021 Spring Season for Marquette men’s soccer!

The regularly scheduled fall campaign was struck down by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the NCAA has given the go-ahead to teams to play a spring schedule to count for the official 2020-21 school year season. As such, we have to dig into head coach Louis Bennett’s roster and see what he has going for him. This article is looking at the guys who are coming back from the fall 2019 team that went 8-9-1 with a 4-5-0 mark in the Big East.

FORWARDS

Marquette has three guys tied for the returning team lead in goals and points and as you’d expect, two of them are forwards. Junior Lukas Sunesson is a 5’11”, 175 pound speedy forward out of Sweden coming off a 2019 season with three goals and an assist. That’s a little bit of a down season for him after his freshman year where he knocked in five goals for the Golden Eagles. That’s slightly misleading, though, as Sunesson had two goals in his first ever match, a third in his second, and then collected just two goals the rest of the season. 2019 saw him score twice in Big East play as well as appearing in all 18 matches for the Golden Eagles. He was one of just five players to do that the last time we saw MU in action, and one of only two returning players.

Christian Marquez is the other forward with three goals and an assist in 2019. He did that in 17 matches as a freshman, missing only the opener against UAB. He was in and out of the first 11 all year, ending up with eight starts by season’s end. If you take volume into account, you can make an argument that Marquez was MU’s most reliable striker in 2019, as 16% of his shots went into the net. His 19 attempts were fourth most on the team, so that’s a pretty great conversion rate. With three of the four guys in front of him gone now (Sunesson is the fourth), Marquette will need to rely on Marquez to increase his attacking proficiency for success this spring.

Redshirt sophomore A.J. Franklin and redshirt junior Sam Thornton occupy an interesting spot within the group of returning forwards. Franklin made 13 appearances in 2019, all off the bench, and averaged about 26 minutes per outing. That’s pretty good stuff for a reserve forward in collegiate soccer, and he chipped in an assist against Xavier. At 6’3” and 175 pounds, Franklin gives MU’s offense a literal extra dimension, and his size and stride length can’t be underestimated on the pitch. Thornton appeared in just three games for Marquette in 2019, but they were all starts in the first three matches of the season before he went down with a groin injury for the rest of the year. He only tallied four shots on the year and didn’t contribute a point to the stat sheet, but Bennett didn’t have any interest in taking him off the pitch, either. I’d wager that both men have a good chance of being a big contributor this season with Connor Alba and Josh Coan gone after finishing their eligibility in 2019.

That leaves redshirt sophomore Nick Guido as the only other returning forward. He didn’t play at all in 2019 for Marquette after transferring in from South Carolina following his freshman year. Guido played 44 minutes across four matches for the Gamecocks, so we’ll have to wait and see what plans the coaching staff might have for him.

MIDFIELDERS

Marquette has just three returning midfielders from the 2019 season. Two of them have been with the program for four years, with the third on his third school year at Marquette. Illinois native Alan Salmeron saw the most playing time when the Golden Eagles were last in action, appearing in all 18 matches with 17 starts and logging nearly 1,500 minutes. That’s third most on the team then and most amongst returning players. As evidenced by his six shots last time there was a season and 11 for his career, Salmeron is playing a possession minded/defensive midfielder spot for the Golden Eagles, so he’s definitely going to be relied on to carry big minutes in the middle again this year. Same goes for Zak Wegner, who logged 954 minutes in 16 appearances with 13 starts in 2019. Only five shots for the redshirt junior out of Hartland, Wisconsin, which brought his career total in 35 matches to seven. Wegner is fifth amongst returning players in minutes played in 2019, so the coaching staff is going to need him to do more of the same this season if not possibly stepping out of his comfort zone into new areas.

Christian Albelo has had a very confusing time with Marquette, at least from the outside looking in. He came to Marquette as a top 20 prospect according to Top Drawer Soccer, but he has played in just 18 matches in two seasons, with a redshirt season in 2018 tucked in the middle. If he were missing time merely for injury, you’d kind of get it, but Albelo has started six of his 18 appearances for Marquette. Like Wegner and Salmeron, he hasn’t done much in the scoring or even trying to score department, tallying just 12 shots in his career. With just six midfielders on the roster this season, Marquette will need the fourth year junior to step up and contribute regularly.

DEFENDERS

In terms purely of available bodies, this is Marquette’s deepest group of returning guys. There are six returning players listed as defenders on the roster right now, and five of them played in at least 14 matches the last time we saw them.

I phrased that last sentence very carefully because of Oliver Posarelli. One match with one start in 2019, 39 minutes played, the rest of the season lost to injury. But in 2018, his first season at Marquette, Posarelli played in all 19 matches, earning 15 starts. He logged over 1,400 minutes that season, which was sixth most on the team. The 5’11” Italian clearly has the trust of Bennett to patrol the back line, so expect to see a lot of him this season as long as he’s 100% healthy.

Manuel Cukaj and Alex Mirsberger are the most interesting names in the defensive corps, as their stat lines from 2019 tell you that they’re not just stay at home guys. Cukaj is tied for the returning team lead in points with three goals and an assist in 2019, while Mirsberger had a goal and two assists in over 1,100 minutes played. Cukaj has been a mainstay on the field for the Golden Eagles since Day 1 on campus..... when he’s been healthy, that is. He missed the 2018 season with injury, making this his redshirt junior campaign. Mirsberger is a redshirt sophomore now who jumped in with both feet after sitting out his first season on campus.

That leaves Gabe Kash as the last rotation regular from the 2019 season. The redshirt sophomore from Marshall, Illinois, appeared in 14 games with four starts last season. 650 minutes maybe doesn’t sound like much, but it averages out to Kash playing 46 minutes an appearance, and over half the match is a pretty big amount for a guy appearing in all but four games. At 5’6”, and 145 pounds, Kash has to rely mostly on speed in terms of defensive assignments. But Bennett has shown a tendency to use a defender flying up the sidelines to help create distribution in the past, and if Kash can be that guy stepping into the void left behind by Patrick Seagrist’s graduation, he can contribute a lot again this season.

Sophomore Clay Smith was one of just two true freshmen to play for Marquette in 2019 (Christian Marquez was the other), getting 10 appearances in, with one coming in the starting 11. He only logged 296 minutes, so one step at a time. Jonathan Robinson is a 5’8” 155 pound defender out of Gurnee, Illinois, and he redshirted for the 2019 season. The thing that fascinates me is the note in his MU bio that says he scored 18 goals in 2017-18, presumably for his club team. But as a defender? That’s an interesting combination of skills, especially at his size. We’ll see what Bennett and his staff have in store for him after a year-plus of seasoning at the collegiate level.

GOALKEEPERS

Marquette’s netminding situation is a bit of a quandry, at least from looking at what it was in 2019. Jackson Weyman played every minute of MU’s first nine games last time we had a season..... and then Cedrik Stern played every minute of the final nine games. Weyman had the better goals-against average, 1.49 to 1.88, but that might have had more to do with the fact that Stern played eight of his nine matches against Big East opponents. Stern made 42 saves in his time on the field vs 33 for Weyman, leading to a slight edge in save percentage, 71.2% to 70.2%. Their records were nearly identical, splitting MU’s 8-9-1 record nearly straight down the middle with Weyman getting the draw and Stern having an extra loss.

Both men have been on campus for two seasons before now, with Weyman redshirting in 2018, so neither guy has a seniority advantage on the other. Stern has a slight physical advantage at 6’2” and 175 pounds, as that makes him an inch and 25 pound bigger than Weyman. Are we going to get another year of splitting time? Can one guy or the other grab the starting job for the whole year? Is redshirt sophomore transfer Chandler Hallwood going to be heard from here? There’s a lot of questions to be asked, and we’re not going to know what the answers are for a while.