Officially, Marquette is not in first place in the Big East right now. In fact, after drawing with #19 Xavier in their league opener, technically they’re in a four-way tie for eighth place which actually doubles as a tie for last place in the conference. However, MU is one of seven teams in the Big East that have not lost yet so far this year. That’s a kind of a tie for first place if you’d like to think about it that way.
While you can make arguments about bigger offensive explosions from the team — and coming out of a game where you were actually shut out, that’s easy enough to do — I think you could make an argument that Saturday’s 0-0 contest with the nationally ranked Musketeers was Marquette’s best performance of the season. Yeah, sure, they got outshot 17-8 by the time the final horn went, and MU managed just two shots on goal for the entire match. It’s not great! However, taking into consideration that they had to survive an 11-3 shots disadvantage in the opening 45 minutes and the fact that Xavier held them without a shot at all for the final 25 minutes of that half, but they still went into the break scoreless? That’s pretty good stuff, especially against a ranked team on the road.
The second half was a much more even affair, and ultimately, Marquette is the first team to shut Xavier out this season. Considering the fact that the Musketeers are still unbeaten as of this writing, 6-0-3 and idle till Saturday, that’s a pretty good accomplishment, especially when it results in a road point in a match that maaaaaybe MU couldn’t really have counted on getting a point when judging the schedule ahead just four days ago.
The question facing the Golden Eagles now is whether they can take that performance and step forward with it. Tuesday night gives them a match against a team that has to be frustrated with how their season is going given preseason expectations, and it might be an uphill battle against them as a result of that. After that, MU has nine more Big East matches to go, but everyone in the league has shown flaws one way or another to this point of the year. If there’s lessons to be learned from the draw with Xavier and MU can deploy those lessons, then maybe this 1-0-1 pairing in the last week can turn into a nice little unbeaten streak for a while.
Match #9: at Saint Louis Billikens (3-3-1, 1-0-1 Atlantic 10)
Marquette is a hilariously awful 4-23-2 all time against Saint Louis. The 21st century has proven to be a little bit more favorable to the Golden Eagles, as they are 2-6-2 since the calendar flipped to 2000 and 2-4-2 in the last eight matches. That includes a 1-0 Marquette victory in the most recent meeting, which came in the spring 2021 season in Milwaukee. This will be the first time the two sides have played in Saint Louis since 2018.
Well, let’s start here, because it’s where SLU started the season: The Billikens were ranked #10 in the country in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll. Yep. They were also the preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10, earning 13 of the 14 first place votes and placing four players on the preseason all-conference team. Two of those guys — senior forward John Klein and grad student defender Alberto Suarez — were named to the preseason MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List.
And then they opened up the year with a 3-1 loss at Louisville and followed that up with a 2-1 home defeat to Lipscomb. In both cases, the Billikens coughed up a very early 1-0 lead before suffering defeat. For an encore to that, they went out to Omaha..... and beat then-#7 Creighton 3-2. I say “then-#7” because the Bluejays are now 3-2-3 on the year after exploding into the rankings with 12 goals in their first two matches and uh, definitely not ranked any longer. Remember when I said that everyone in the Big East has shown some flaws? While that win was probably pretty neat at the time, it has lost its luster, and it lost it pretty quickly when SLU lost to SMU, 3-0 at home, just seven days later.
They’ve righted the ship now, as much as one can right the ship with road wins over SIU-Edwardsville and La Salle along with a home scoreless draw against VCU. Those last two were A-10 contests, which is how you get SLU coming into this one in a four-way tie for first place in their league. Early, yes, but you can’t go unbeaten in Atlantic 10 play unless you avoid losses in your first two matches.
The good news for SLU is that Suarez and Klein are amongst the top five guys in minutes so far this season, and both of their stars have started all seven matches. Part of the problem for the Billikens is clearly that they only have six men who have started all seven matches, and that does not include anyone listed as a keeper on the roster. A seventh man, Grady Easton, has started five times while appearing in all seven matches, but no one else is north of four. That’s some pretty nasty inconsistency in your best eleven, and that’s definitely not helping the Billikens build rapport with each other out there.
Klein leads the team in goals with three, and he adds an assist to that to lead the team in points as well with seven. His 12 shots are also top of the charts with Christian Buendia one behind him there, so there’s the two most important guys to mark for the Golden Eagles. Redshirt freshman Max Floriani is the only Saint Louis player with more than one assist on their 12 goals so far this year, but he only has two.
SLU has two keepers that have played this season, and it’s been a “if you start, you finish” situation for head coach Kevin Kalish. Redshirt freshman Yuval Sade started the first match of the year, but gave way to Carlos Tofern for match #2, but then took the net back next time out against Creighton and kept it against SMU. It’s been all Tofern since the loss to the Mustangs, so the best guess says that the 6’2” senior from Germany will keep his playing time going. After posting a six save shutout against VCU last time out, his goals-against average sits at exactly 1.00 and he’s stopping 81% of shots on frame. That’s a far cry better than Sade’s 56%, so barring further weirdness, it definitely looks like Tofern’s the best option on Tuesday night.