It’s almost soccer season!
I know, you’re saying, “But Andy, Marquette soccer started last night when the women played Central Michigan!” That’s true! But we’re just under less than a week away from the start of the men’s soccer season! All due respect to what head coach Frank Pelaez is doing over on the other side of the aisle, but I think it’s safe to say that Louis Bennett’s team is the more anticipated football team on campus this fall. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you start the season ranked #19 in the country, after all.
Like we did for the women’s team, we’re going to take a look at the roster for the men’s soccer team heading into their season opening match against Green Bay on August 26th. We’re starting things off with the known quantities on the team, aka the returning players. We’ll use the same format as we did for the women: Starting with the forwards and working our way backwards through the formation.
Here we go!
I have a theory about writing previews. It’s a very simple theory: When you have the first MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist in program history — in other words, one of the 15 best players in the country for the first time ever — coming back for another season, you open things up with them. So, that’s why we’re talking about Lukas Sunesson first here. The Swede racked up six goals (MU only had 16 as a team) and two assists in the spring to lead Marquette in points and goals, and it doesn’t hurt that he was one of just four guys with more than one assist on the season. By the time things came to a standstill in the spring, Sunesson had been named a Second Team All-American by United Soccer Coaches and Soccer America and a Third Team All-American by College Soccer News in addition to his First Team All-Big East honors. And technically speaking, the spring campaign was a disappointment for Sunesson, who said before the season started that he wanted to score 10 goals. Imagine what he’s going to do to work out his frustration on the issue?
From there we move along to Beto Soto, who was Marquette’s second most productive forward in the spring. The freshman from Houston only did half as much as Sunesson, going for three goals and an assist while appearing in all 13 matches and starting in 12 of them. In exchange for this effort, Soto was named Big East Freshman of the Year and was voted Third Team all-Big East along with being ranked #12 by Top Drawer Soccer amongst freshman at the end of the season. Nowhere to go but up from here, I’d say.
Christian Marquez is the last of what we could call the primary forwards in the group. He appeared in all 13 contests in the spring, starting 11 of them. He tallied three assists as the season rolled along with two of them coming in MU’s two matches against Creighton. I vote that we hypnotize Marquez into thinking that Marquette is playing the Bluejays every night. It could certainly look like Marquez had a down year after recording seven points as s freshman in 2019, but that was three goals and an assist in 17 matches, and this was a team best three assists in 13. They’re at least comparable, and at worst, Marquez is playing a key role out on the field along with Sunesson and Soto.
Louis Bennett had a four-pack of guys that he relied on last season to spell Sunesson, Soto, and Marquez. Nick Guido and A.J. Franklin both played in 12 of MU’s 13 contests, while Sam Thornton and Noah Madrigal appeared in 11. The most minutes any of them played was the 488 (out of over 1,200 in the season), and that went to Franklin by season’s end. As a group, they combined for two goals and an assist, which sounds a little on the low side in terms of production. Those guys combined for a little bit more than a full season’s worth of activity, though, and if your fourth best midfielder is giving you a two scores and a helper behind those top three guys, that’s pretty good stuff. Oh, and we should probably point out that A.J. Franklin picked an amazing time to score his only goal of the season: In the 44th minute of MU’s NCAA tournament match against Indiana. Sure, Marquette ended up losing, but they were up 1-0 at the half thanks to Franklin launching one in not long before intermission.
That leaves us Cristian Gennaro, Alan Kim, and Kacper Chrapczynski amongst the returning forwards. Chrapczynski is the easiest one to discuss, as he redshirted in the spring, as much as one can redshirt in a season that didn’t count towards your eligibility anyway. Kim was a bit player at best last season, appearing in two matches and getting 23 total minutes of run as a freshman. Gennaro presents a much more interesting case for what’s possible this season. The 5’7” Italian appeared in four matches last season, one in early February and three in March, and totaled up 107 minutes of action....... while starting twice. The scattering of his appearances is the most baffling part about the entire thing here — February 7, March 6, March 10, March 27 — but he still found his way into the first 11 on two occasions. He didn’t record a point and only had one shot in his time.... but he’s apparently not that far off the top of the depth chart, either. Gennaro did put up 20 goals and 46 points in a season at NAIA Ottawa University in Arizona before coming to Marquette, so he’s got more than a little bit of talent in those boots.
Marquette has two of the best “hey, they’re doing great work out there without getting a lot of credit for it because they don’t score” midfielders around in Alan Salmeron and Zak Wegner. Both men appeared in all 13 matches in the spring, with both starting 12 times. Wegner logged over 950 minutes and Salmeron got out there for over 1,100 minutes. Each man recorded an assist and each posted just two shots in their total contribution to the offense in the spring. They’re the guys doing the work to get the ball to MU’s talented forwards to make the plays, they’re the guys doing the work to tangle things up for the opposition offense coming through the middle. They’re never going to be the megawatt stars and they’re not going to get all-Big East recognition..... but the Golden Eagles need guys like Salmeron and Wegner to get things done on the field.
Zyan Andrade made his debut for Marquette in the spring, and he had a pretty good time of it. He appeared in 12 of MU’s 13 matches and started 10 times. He played in nearly 900 minutes of action, scoring twice and helping out on two more goals. While Soto was Big East Freshman of the Year, you could make a real argument for Andrade as Newcomer of the Year. Both of his goals were gamewinners, and both came in extra time: One to give MU a 1-0 win at home against Saint Louis and another for a 2-1 win at Creighton.
Christian Albelo and Thomas Priest round out the depth in the midfielder group. Albelo continued his confounding time at Marquette in the spring, playing 159 minutes in six appearances. Priest, a native of Neenah, had a highly decorated prep career with the Rockets including 65 goals and 32 assists, but did not get on the field for the Golden Eagles in the spring.
Defense is the only position on the field where Marquette will be reworking what they were doing in the spring. Oliver Posarelli started all 13 matches and logged the second most minutes on the team, while Manuel Cukaj started in all 11 matches that he played and racked up over 800 minutes of playing time as well as two goals, one of which was a 22nd minute game winner against Xavier on March 17th. Both men wrapped up their time at MU in the spring, and so it’s up to Louis Bennett and his assistants to figure out how to replace two of the biggest pieces of Marquette’s biggest strength while advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history.
The good news is that they have Alex Mirsberger back. The 5’10” redshirt sophomore from Brookfield started all 13 matches and logged a team high 1,238 minutes. For those of you scoring at home: Yes, that is averaging over 90 minutes a game. Marquette played nine overtime contests in the spring, and Mirsberger went over the 90 minute mark played in eight of them. He also had a goal and two assists on the year, which the goal coming as the game winner in the 107th minute against DePaul on March 24th. With Posarelli and Cukaj gone, Mirsberger is going to have to step up his game as well as his ability to help direct traffic in the back to keep the Golden Eagles on the kind of defensive level that they were on last season.
After Mirsberger....well, things are a little sparse in terms of experience. Let’s start with Tasker Wheeler, Clay Smith, and Joey Fitzgerald if for no other reason that we can just set them aside right off the bat. Wheeler and Fitzgerald were freshmen in the spring and did not play, while Smith missed the spring due to a foot injury after appearing in 10 games for a total of 291 minutes in the fall of 2019. Of the three, I’d wager that Smith is most likely to earn minutes for the Golden Eagles this fall just because of his previous experience, but if Tasker Wheeler can make use of his 6’1”, 185 pound frame to make a difference in the air like he did against Cardinal Stritch, maybe he has a chance to earn some good minutes out there.
TASKER WHEELER climbs the ladder off the corner and MU leads 2-1, 45 minutes into tonight’s exhibition! pic.twitter.com/Q7WCpxNWAW— Marquette Soccer (@marquettesoccer) August 14, 2021
I think we should be able to expect quality playing time from Harvey Read this fall. The 6’2” Brit started in the eight matches that he appeared in for Marquette in the spring, logging less than 90 minutes just once. Obviously the issue here is health and fitness for Read, and if he can play, it seems like the coaching staff is more than happy to turn over a patch of field to him to defend. Jonathan Robinson can most likely be leaned on for big minutes this season as well. He appeared in 12 of MU’s 13 spring contests and started seven times. That was his first collegiate action after redshirting in the fall of 2019. If I recall correctly, Bennett had Robinson deployed out on the wings of the defense, which does make a bit of sense as he only stands 5’8” tall. That’s not exactly textbook central defense kind of size, but if he can make things work up and down the sidelines in the styles of Paul Dillon and Patrick Seagrist, then you just run with it.
Gabe Kash and Jai Hsieh-Bailey got to see some action in the spring, moreso Kash than Hsieh-Bailey. Kash appeared in seven matches and was out there for a total of 196 minutes. Hsieh-Bailey only played once, for 39 minutes against Loyola Chicago in the opener. I would wager that Kash might get a chance to show what he can do this year a little bit more since Posarelli and Cukaj’s jobs are open and available now. JHB not playing again after the opener tells me that maybe not so much for him, but hey: Who knows how the offseason has been treating him?
Marquette’s keeper for last season, or rather for almost all of last season, is back. Chandler Hallwood came in at halftime of MU’s opener last year, left after an hour of match #2, and then didn’t leave the field again..... with the exception of missing the Big East tournament. Given that MU went into a COVID protocol pause right at the end of the regular season, I think we can add one and one and get two to figure out what happened there. Anyway, the point of the story is that Hallwood was one of the reasons why Marquette was so strong on the defensive end in the spring. His 0.65 goals-against average was driven by his 86.2% save percentage as Hallwood averaged just over four saves per game. If we ignore MU’s opener since he only played the second half and overtime, Hallwood averaged 4.3 saves per game to keep Marquette in position to win all of those overtime games that they won in the spring.
Hallwood was so good that it makes me think that Cedrik Stern will be relegated to a bench role this fall. Jackson Weyman was the only other keeper with notable minutes played in the spring as he started the opener and got the start in the Big East tournament when Hallwood was unavailable. Stern played just 31 minutes in the spring season, all of which came in relief of Hallwood in the second match of the campaign against Northern Illinois. He didn’t play again, not even when Weyman let in two goals in the first 10 minutes against Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. I suppose it’s possible that Stern had fitness issues keeping him off the field. However, Hallwood looked to be clearly better than what we saw from Stern in the fall of 2019, so I don’t know how Stern would rise up the depth chart for the fall.