First of all: Yes, this is a Big East match. The Mid-American Conference, Akron’s home conference, elected to stop sponsoring men’s soccer as a sport after the 2022 season. This was partly because there were only four schools in the MAC sponsoring the sport and partly because they were tired of constantly looking for affiliate members to make their league work. The Big East took one look at Akron’s long history as a national power — six NCAA quarterfinals appearances since 2009 and a national championship in 2010 — and said “hey, we’ll provide a home for you.”
Second: Marquette men’s soccer did themselves absolutely no favors by only coming up with a draw against DePaul on Wednesday night. Specifically, they fell behind 3-0 before rallying to take the draw that DePaul was absolutely just handing to them by not attempting a shot, and that makes the failure to get a win even worse.
Heading into the final two matches of the regular season, Marquette stands with four points in the Big East table at 1-4-1. That has them in a tie with Villanova for the eighth best point total in the league discounting the two division leaders.... and only six non-division winners make the conference tournament. MU and VU are two points behind Butler right now, and hey, look at that, MU would be tied with the Bulldogs and one point behind that final tournament spot if they hadn’t fouled up Wednesday night so poorly.
Or failed to score on a shorthanded St. John’s team.
Or handed Xavier a win in the final minute with a bad exchange in the back.
Or thrown a 2-0 lead against Connecticut directly in the trash.
That’s at least five points that Marquette has just wasted, all in the last five matches, and that doesn’t even take into account the 1-0 loss to Northern Illinois since that doesn’t count in the Big East standings.
I am fairly certain that Marquette will be eliminated from the conference tournament with a loss and a Seton Hall victory on Saturday. It didn’t have to be like this, but this is the situation that the Golden Eagles find themselves: Needing to beat the #7 team in the country just to stay alive.... to need to beat the #8 team in the country next week to get into the conference tournament.
Fingers crossed, I guess.
Big East Match #7: at #7 Akron Zips (9-1-5, 2-1-3 Big East)
Marquette is 1-8-4 all time against Akron. A majority of these matches happened in the 1980s, with another five coming in the 1990s. The lone MU win in the series came in the most recent encounter, which was in the 2013 NCAA tournament when Coco Navarro sent home a Paul Dillon cross in overtime to beat the Zips in Milwaukee. That was also Marquette’s first ever NCAA tournament victory.
I feel reasonably certain that Akron is going to come into Saturday night incredibly pissed off. They’re not going to have that #7 ranking much longer, not after following up a draw against Xavier that’s already factored into the poll with a 3-2 loss on the road to Creighton on Wednesday night. As you can see from the header in the section, that’s Akron’s first loss of the season. The how’s and why’s of their loss make it worse. After a relatively quiet first half — just 10 combined shots — Creighton scored three unanswered goals in the second half and the match hit the 88 minute mark at 3-0 Bluejays. Akron scoring twice in the final 119 seconds, including one with just 11 seconds left to play, only makes this match look much closer than it was, and that’s with the Zips outshooting Creighton 12-6 after intermission.
It was a bad loss for the Zips too, as Creighton sits at #114 in the latest RPI, and remember: there’s only 211 teams in Division 1. I doubt that it’s going to hurt Akron’s chances at a spot in the NCAA tournament, not with their RPI at #12 before the CU loss gets factored in, but with #93 Marquette and #132 Butler left on their schedule, it also wasn’t the best thing that’s ever happened to the program.
Marquette’s hopes for a positive result in this match lay with stopping the presumptive favorite for Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Jason Shokalook leads the Big East in points with 30, and the #2 guy only has 21. He’s averaging 2.31 points per match, no one else has an average better than 1.90. Shokalook leads in total goals and goals per match, and his five assists on the year are tied for fourth most in the Big East. He’s taken twice as many shots as anyone else on the team, and for good reason. Heck, he’s the Big East’s leader in shots and shots per game, and that’s for good reason, too. Akron’s going to look to feed him, and on average, it’s nearly a guarantee that he’s going to put the ball in the net with 13 goals in 14 contests.
The assists mean that MU will have to be wary of what Shokalook does with the ball, but there’s not an obvious #2 attacker in terms of scoring on the roster. Gyuwon Chong is #2 in shots with 36, but he has just one goal and four assists on the season. Both Stefan Dobrijevic and Josef Paulus have eight points, but with four and two assists respectively, those guys do their fair share of distributing to be threats.
After a 2-0-1 start to the year for Seth Wilson, Mitch Budler has taken over in net for Akron. Budler has started all 12 matches since the first three and he’s played almost all of the minutes. He left for 42 minutes against Xavier, but returned to play the whole contest against Creighton. Given how the second half against the Jays went, I am left wondering why Budler left the match immediately previous to that one and whether or not he’s actually 100% for Saturday night. Wilson’s numbers — 0.29 goals against average, 90% save percentage — are actually better than Budler (0.78, 70%), it’s just that one guy has 700 more minutes played at this point of the season.