We’re just a couple of days away from the start of the Marquette men’s soccer season, so it seems like just as good a time as any to look at the three biggest questions facing the Golden Eagles as the 2021 fall campaign gets going.
QUESTION #1 — How much of the spring season was an illusion?
Marquette men’s soccer went 8-3-2 in the spring season, and they went into the Big East tournament with a record of 8-1-1. Yes, two of their losses came in somewhat expected fashion: In the Big East tourney semifinals and in the NCAA tournament, because only one team walks away from those things without a loss. However, in matches that only lasted exactly 90 minutes, Marquette finished the year with a record of two wins and two losses.
Yes, that’s right, the Golden Eagles went to overtime nine times last season. They emerged from those extra time session matches with a record of six wins, just one loss, and two draws. The one loss came at home to Creighton when the Bluejays beat MU to the punch on the golden goal, and one of the draws came in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Marquette only got their 13th match of the spring because they were able to best a top ten ranked Loyola Marymount team in penalty kicks after going to a scoreless draw with the Lions. I’m counting eight matches that could just as easily have been losses for Marquette instead of wins or draws. That’s a very big knife’s edge to base your entire opinion about a season on.
And Marquette brings back almost their entire roster from the spring. Only defenders Oliver Posarelli and Manuel Cukaj are gone from amongst the guys who played serious minutes for the Golden Eagles. That’s where we start to get into some worrying territory about whether or not the spring was an illusion. Marquette was underwater on shots in the spring, attempting 128 of their own against 187 coming against them. In per match terms, that’s 9.8 vs 14.4 on average. That’s not really what you want to see when you know that the coaching staff is going to have to reassemble a decent chunk of the defense with two seniors having left the team. The good news is that Marquette allowed just 12 goals in 13 contests, and four of them came from Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. In other words: MU bent a whole bunch last season, but they didn’t break very often at all.
How much of that is replicable? How much of a factor did luck play in the spring? Is this Marquette team more like the one that starts the year ranked #19 in the United Soccer Coaches poll...... or more like the one that was picked to finish fifth in the Big East?
QUESTION #2 — What’s up with the keeper situation?
After how the spring season went, I figured that Chandler Hallwood was in line to maintain his spot as Marquette’s starting goalkeeper this fall. He took the starting job from Jackson Weyman early on in the spring and kept it all year, minus a missed match against Seton Hall in the Big East tournament as the Golden Eagles were coming out of a COVID related pause. Cedrik Stern, he of the 14 career appearances heading into the spring, played just 32 minutes all season. Weyman is gone now, having transferred to South Florida. All of this seems to lead to Hallwood being the top man in net for the Golden Eagles.......
.... and yet he hasn’t been the starter in any of MU’s three exhibition matches.
Here’s the starting 11 against Cardinal Stritch:
Your Starting XI this evening against Cardinal Stritch pic.twitter.com/BAVyKGrsTn— Marquette Soccer (@marquettesoccer) August 14, 2021
And against Bradley:
And against Loyola Chicago:
That’s Cedrik Stern in the keeper’s grays in all three.
Now, Hallwood has played, or at least played some against Cardinal Stritch. #31 is clearly visible in the Facebook photo album from that match. If Stern’s winning the job, then fine, that’s what the coaches think. It’s just surprising after Stern could barely play at all in the spring and Hallwood played so well.
It’s also possible, and actually very clear from the various tweets from the exhibition matches, that head coach Louis Bennett was throwing all sorts of combinations out on the field to see what did and did not work. Is the plan to give Stern big minutes in exhibition play to see if he can take the job? Is Hallwood the guy, so Stern’s getting the minutes that don’t count? There’s a bunch of different ways this can go, and we might not get a solid feeling for what the real answer is until we get three or four matches into the season.
QUESTION #3 — Can Lukas Sunesson be one of the best players in the country?
I think we can safely argue that a big reason why if not the biggest reason why Marquette rose as far as they did last spring because Lukas Sunesson had his best season as a Golden Eagle. He scored a career best six goals, and he posted his final goal in MU’s final regular season match, which means the Swede scored those goals in just 10 matches. That’s nearly half as many matches as in his previous two seasons at MU, but he still beat his freshman year total of five and his sophomore year total of three. Sunesson also notched a career best in assists, landing two. He had registered just one total assist in his previous two seasons wearing the blue and gold.
At the end of the season, Sunesson became the first Marquette player to ever end up as one of 15 semifinalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy. For those of you not in the know, that’s the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for college soccer. I’ll say it again: Sunesson was recognized as one of the 15 best — or at the very least most impactful — players in the country last season, and that had a lot to do with Marquette having the kind of season that they did.
So, obviously, a big question for this season has to be: Can Lukas Sunesson do it again? He went into the spring season wanting to score at least 10 goals. He fell short, but let’s be honest: Playing only 13 matches didn’t help, either. He has big goals for himself. If Sunesson can get there, if his teammates can provide him the support to maximize his abilities, if his coaches can scheme him into great opportunities...... well, I think he can at least match that kind of MAC Hermann semifinalist level of play again.
If that happens? Who knows what the ceiling is for the Golden Eagles?