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Marquette Women’s Soccer Preview: at Illinois-Chicago

The Golden Eagles head south on I-94 with an eye on finding their offense.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 27 Northern Kentucky at UIC Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In last week’s preview for the Denver and Minnesota matches, we noted that Marquette women’s soccer has pretty much settled in on the women that they want playing on the defensive end of the field, but there’s a large number of substitutions happening all match long on the offensive end of the field. It was reasonable to wonder if that churn of substitutions was not helping the Golden Eagles put together coherence on that side of the park, and if that was why Marquette was getting outshot on the year.

Well, the evidence continues to mount.

In a 0-0 draw, Denver outshot Marquette 13-4 and if not for a career high eight saves from Mikki Easter, it seems like that match could easily have gone into the books as a loss for MU. On Sunday, Minnesota outshot Marquette 20-2 with the Golden Eagles managing just one shot in each half of action. Now, just five of those Gopher shots were on target, but Chloe Olson, making her first start and appearance of the year, let two of them in, and that’s that for a 2-0 loss to drop MU to 1-2-1 on the season so far.

Making matters worse for Marquette? Elsi Twombly left the Denver match after 31 minutes of action after what looked like a fairly common avoidance of contact with a Pioneers defender and fall to the turf. Twombly appeared to be in noticeable pain while the MU training staff checked her out, and she ultimately had to be carried off the field. Needless to say that she did not play in the Minnesota match, and if she was in noticeable pain, it seems a safe bet that she’s not going to be playing again any time soon. Twombly has yet to score this season for Marquette, but in three previous campaigns, she has 10 goals in 44 appearances, and nine assists to boot. Whatever Marquette’s problems are on offense right now, not having Twombly available is going to make them worse before they get better, and the Minnesota match was a pretty strong piece of evidence in that direction.

Even after missing Sunday’s match and most of Thursday’s, Twombly is still Marquette’s leader in shots this season with four. After four matches played. I understand that head coach Frank Pelaez might be preaching a certain amount of “take good shots and put the goalkeeper in danger” to his forwards. After all, 11 of Marquette’s 24 shots are on goal so far this season. But something needs to change about this offense, and it needs to change in a hurry. Whether it’s more confident moving with (and without!) the ball, or more risks taken, or any number of things, something has to change to not only start putting goals up on the board, but just to make life easier on the defenders and the keeper on the other end of the field. The old saying is “the best defense is a good offense” and right now, Marquette’s a long ways away from being able to say they have a good offense.

Match #5: at Illinois-Chicago Flames (0-2-1)

Date: Thursday, August 31, 2023
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Flames Field, Chicago, Illinois
Streaming: ESPN+
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWSOC

Marquette is 1-0-1 against UIC. Those two matches have been in each of the past two seasons, with MU playing host for both of them. It was 1-0 for the Golden Eagles in the first ever meeting, and 1-1 last season with Josie Bieda tying it in the 75th minute.

After being picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference this year, UIC has started the season without a win in their first three matches. They went to a 2-2 draw with Toledo at home after taking the lead in the 79th minute and then allowing the equalizer in the 86th minute. After that, the Flames haven’t scored a goal this season. They went up to Madison and lost 1-0 to Wisconsin on a goal in the 13th minute and got outshot 15-3, then followed that up with a trip to southwest Ohio for a 1-0 loss to Miami. In that case, they let in the winner in the 26th minute and got outshot 15-8 thanks to a 10-2 differential in the first half. Just to circle back on the point: UIC outshot Toledo 19-7 in the opener thanks to an 11-5 advantage in the second half.

Kaysey Castro and Makenna Maloy are UIC’s goal scorers on the year so far. Castro’s not going to be the focus of the offense as that’s her only shot of the year, and if we’re being honest about it: She didn’t play in the Miami (OH) contest. Maloy is currently one off the shots pace on the team with three attempts, while Bella Baker and Yulexi Diaz both have four attempts. Baker’s spot on the list there is the more fascinating one as she’s pulled that feat off in just 69 total minutes and all of them have come off the bench for UIC.

We should also make mention of Sophia Jaime in this preview. She was a preseason all-MVC honoree after leading UIC in points last season with eight, and she got there on a team high four goals. Jamie has two shots to her name this season after playing in all three matches but starting in only two of them. In any case, she hasn’t played much more than half of the minutes in any of the Flames’ contests so far this year.

Lauren Keiser was UIC’s goalie for the Toledo match, but the 6-foot redshirt junior out of Florida hasn’t made it back into a match since. Sara Sanabria, a 5’8” junior from Missouri, has played every minute of the last two contests. Statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue with the change, since Sanabria is stopping 80% of shots on goal. It’s still a bit of Small Sample Size Theater with 10 total shots on goal and two goals allowed, but Keiser let in two goals on four shots on goal in the opener. It’s possible that head coach David Nikolic could elect to swap back to Keiser just because he’s trying to get minutes for both keepers, but I’d lean towards Sanabria getting the nod on Thursday.