Marquette men’s soccer is leaving the comfort of Valley Fields for the first time this season.
They have opened up the year with six straight home matches, and at 6-0-0, they’re still undefeated and untied. Sure, it took an own goal by Harvard to push them along to that point, but you take your wins how you can get them. I think it’s safe to say that Marquette is the biggest surprise in the Big East so far this season as the Golden Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the six team Midwest Division this season. The closest we could come to a bigger surprise is that of the negative variety, as the top two teams in the Midwest Division in that same preseason poll are a combined 1-6-3 to this point of the year, and yes, that means that one of them (it’s Butler) is winless.
So that’s all good news, as is MU’s ascendance to #13 in the United Soccer Coaches poll and #23 in the Top Drawer Soccer rankings. It’s even better news that last season, as Marquette went 4-4-0 in non-conference action there and they were 4-3-0 when Big East play started a year ago. Check my math if you will, but I’m pretty sure that 6-0-0 is better than 4-3-0 even with one less match involved.
Big East play is not going to be a picnic, that’s for sure. There’s a reason why people picked Creighton as a preseason top 10 team even if they have just one win so far this season. Akron is undefeated with just one tie preventing them from getting to 6-0-0 to match Marquette. The Golden Eagles drew Georgetown as a cross-division opponent, and the Hoyas have their eyes on an East Division title after being the favorite over there.
The Golden Eagles have done enough to get ranked to this point of the season. Starting on Friday night in Omaha, we start to learn the answer to the question of whether or not they can maintain that spot in the top 25 and push forward from it to contend for a conference title as well.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: This match is scheduled as the second half of a doubleheader, with the Creighton women’s team kicking off against South Dakota State at 5pm Central. If something goes haywire in Omaha, the start time on the men’s match could easily get pushed back.
Big East Match #1: at Creighton Bluejays (1-3-2, 0-0-0 Big East)
Marquette is 9-9-2 all time against Creighton. The Golden Eagles have gone 2-0-1 in the last three meetings to even the whole thing out, including last year’s 2-2 draw in Milwaukee.
Creighton started out the year in the top 10 of the United Soccer Coaches poll and as the preseason favorite to win the Midwest Division of the Big East. Losing on the road against #7 Stanford to open the season isn’t when their fall went off the rails. I can argue, I think, that going to a scoreless draw against UC Irvine in their second match isn’t even where the problem started.
The third match of the year, that’s the problem. That was a 2-1 home loss to Grand Canyon that saw the Jays fall behind, draw level, and fall behind again all in a 32 minute stretch across the middle of the match. They finally put a win on the board in the fifth match of the year, beating Michigan after going to Denver and coming home with a draw that they were lucky to get with an 86th minute goal.
Their most recent match was a 2-1 loss to Kansas City where all three goals were scored in the second half. The problem for Creighton was that the home team scored second and third, including the gamewinner with 71 seconds left in regulation.
Here’s a question: Is Creighton’s problem merely that they don’t have Duncan McGuire, who had 23 goals in 24 matches last season? That’s a gravity well that they just don’t have, and maybe that’s what helped Jackson Castro to 28 points and Giorgio Probo to 24 points. Both of those guys are on the roster this season, and they’ve both logged over 440 minutes through six matches. They’ve also only combined for one goal and four assists. As one guy, those aren’t bad numbers for six matches in. As two guys who average at least 73 minutes played per night and who were expected to carry the scoring load this year? Yeah, that’s a problem.
Alfie Pope holds the team lead in points with three goals to this point of the campaign. The grad student who had four goals a year ago is making the most of his extra time in Omaha, and he’s also leading the team in shots right now.
Nathan Schnur is Creighton’s netminder. He’s played every minute of the season, and he’s stopping 71% of shots on goal. That’s probably not the best number to have, but I don’t think that’s entirely the reason why Schnur is letting in 1.67 goals per 90 minutes, either. Creighton is underwater in terms of shots for and against this year, although at 80 against and 71 for, it’s a slim margin. It’s at least reasonable to wonder if a lack of McGuire is making Schnur’s life harder. Schnur has already played more minutes this season than in each of the last two campaigns combined, but if head coach Johnny Torres isn’t interested in a change by now, then I presume that Marquette will see Schnur on Friday night.