We’re getting closer and closer to the start of the 2022 Marquette men’s soccer season! If you haven’t already checked out our rundown on everybody coming back from last season’s team that finished 7-8-1 and closed out the year with a win over #1 ranked Georgetown, you should go do that! There’s an awful lot of talent coming back from that team, and all of those guys lend context to what we’re going to talk about today. Specifically: The new guys! There’s seven freshmen on the roster this fall along with three transfers. Two of those transfers are listed as graduate students so maybe, just maybe, those guys might be expected to do a thing or two this year. We’ll get into it as we go, so let’s just get started!
Let’s start by trying to unpack what’s going on with this entire position group. Remember: Lukas Sunesson and Beto Soto are forwards on this roster, so you would have to presume that both guys are going to get a chance to play a whole bunch. However, all three of Marquette’s inbound transfers are also forwards, and two of them are graduate student transfers. I presume those guys aren’t coming to Marquette on the short term to just sit on their hands.
One of those grad transfers is Ben Barkley, and he might have the chance to make the biggest immediate impact on Marquette. That has more to do with the fact that he’s transferring in from Tulsa, which happens to be MU’s first opponent of the regular season. Call him Student Assistant Coach Barkley, if you catch my drift here. Barkley had three goals for the Golden Hurricane last season and led the team in assists with seven with one of those helpers coming on Tulsa’s only goal in their 1-0 win over MU last season. That’s not just goof off points either, as Tulsa ascended as high as #2 in the country at one point and reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, too. He is listed as a forward/midfielder on the roster, so perhaps there’s space for him in the middle of the park instead of up top to help drive the offense.
We’ll circle back to the other grad transfer in a second, but let’s chat about Abdoul Karim Pare first. He’s coming to Marquette from LSU Shreveport, which is an NAIA program. He had 11 goals on 45 shots along with two assists for the Pilots last year, and he’s listed as a sophomore this season. Now, there’s a big difference between NAIA college soccer and Big East “here, play against this national championship contender” college soccer, so maybe that shooting prowess doesn’t quite translate. Still, Lukas Sunesson (26.1%) was the only guy with more than five shots last season who shot better than 17%, and Pare was at 24.4%. If he can succeed at even 75% of that, he’s a better shooter than anyone else Marquette had last year. We have to note that Pare did get a chance to start in MU’s exhibition opener, so we’ll see if that’s a “let’s see what we have” situation or a “he’s one of our best” setup.
Brooklyn Merl, the other grad transfer, and true freshman Lucas Nesthus round out the group here. Merl comes to MU after spending time playing in his native Germany, including helping FC Duren win a German fifth division title in 2021-22. That’s neat, but also his Marquette bio doesn’t mention if he was actually doing any scoring for them. That generally gives me an eye twitch for forwards, and he was a late addition to the roster as well. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with him. Nesthus scored 33 goals and added 14 assists last fall for Pewaukee High School, which I believe would qualify him for “Noted Problem” status. Does that translate to immediate minutes for Marquette this year, or is he going to have to wait for playing time to open up for him?
Both Mitrar Mitrovic and Tristan Ronnestad-Stevens provide something not otherwise found in Marquette’s midfield: Size. Both men stand 6’2” according to the roster, and with Zyan Andrade rising three inches taller than Edrey Caceres and seven above Alan Salmeron, you can see how the freshmen might be able to do some different things on the field for Marquette. Mitrovic, who was born in Serbia, spent his youth time with the Indiana Fire and Chicago Fire Academies. Ronnestad-Stevens hails from Australia where he most recently competed with Sorrento FC on the western side of the country. Neither man has anything about scoring ability in their official Marquette bio, but with midfielders, that’s sometimes not a surprise. If both or either man can provide the Golden Eagles with some advantage on the defensive end, that could lead to early playing time for them. That side of the field seems to have been MU’s biggest problem last year, and while there are returning guys with experience, that doesn’t mean things can’t be improved.
With that said, Ronnestad-Stevens scored one of MU’s three goals in their exhibition opener against Northern Illinois, and did so by running down a free kick from Edrey Caceres. Is that a sign of more up the field play from him or just positioning on a ball that was going to turn into a scoring chance right away? From a look at the list of starters, it certainly looks like he was playing defense in the formation.
As always, I never quite know what to make of freshman defenders as it’s hard to get a read on their official team bios and figure out if they’re a big deal or not. I will say that it’s quite fascinating to see that both Kyle Bebej and Diegoarmando Alvarado played together for the Chicago Fire Academy. They won a MLS Next Cup together, and Alvarado scored three times and added two assists just in tournament play. Bebej was most recently playing with the Fire U23 team, and again: He’s a freshman in college this fall. That’s playing with guys a few years older than him, so he’s experienced with collegiate size and speed. Alvarado started in Marquette’s exhibition opener, and when you realize that he was training with the Chicago Fire MLS squad before coming to Milwaukee, that’s not terribly surprising. Alvarado has US Youth National Team training experience, although that hasn’t turned into national team appearances for him.
As I alluded to in the midfielder discussion, Marquette needs to be better on defense this fall. If either Alvarado or Bebej can provide that, they deserve all the minutes they can get. Harvey Read didn’t start in that exhibition, so we’ll have to wait to see if that was the coaches putting out the best 11 they could or if they were mixing up their deck to see how well different guys play together.
The most interesting starting note from Marquette’s exhibition win over Northern Illinois was Ludvig Malberg getting the call in net for the Golden Eagles. The 6’4” Swede was the team MVP and school athlete of the year at Tingsholmgymnasiet in Ulricehamn, and that’s not nothing. Malberg has played with the youth development teams as part of the IF Elfsborg program, although I’m not sure what “helped the team” means when you’re a keeper and there’s no stats to go with that. Then again, they were 2021 U21 and 2020 U19 runner-ups, so that’s something one way or another. If he’s going to be an improvement over Chandler Hallwood, then that means good things for the Golden Eagles in the defensive third.
Ryan Koschik is Marquette’s other freshman netminder, giving the Golden Eagles four keepers on the roster but only one with any collegiate playing time. While he lists Chicago as his hometown and has your standard issue American prep/club history, including captain of Hinsdale Central’s team last fall, Koschik also has international experience. It appears, at least according to his MU bio, that after finishing up high school, he headed to spain to play with Malaga City’s U19 squad. Sure, it’s Spain’s fifth division, but getting that chance isn’t anything to sneeze at either. I’d be fascinated to hear the story of how he ended up there if any enterprising person over at the Marquette Wire is listening.