For the first time in Marquette soccer history, men or women, Valley Fields will host a match between two top 10 teams in the country when coach Louis Bennett’s No. 8 Marquette team hosts No. 2 Connecticut on Saturday night.
The Golden Eagles head into the match 10-0-0, including 2-0-0 in Big East play, while the Huskies come to Milwaukee 10-0-1, 3-0-0 in conference and are coming off victories against then-No. 8 Notre Dame last Saturday and at No. 3 Georgetown Wednesday.
“UConn is one of the best teams in the country because of their culture, style and legacy,” Bennett said. “Any time you bring in one of those teams to Valley Fields, you have to be proud of where you are and where you’re going.”
“It definitely makes all the work you put in worth it,” junior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka said. “When you get recruited by Louis and those guys, they had this vision for a while, and to see all the pieces coming together is pretty cool.”
In program history, the Golden Eagles only have one win against top 5 team, which came back in 2000 when they beat then-No. 3 Creighton on the road. The only other result against a top 3 team the program has ever had was a draw against Connecticut in 2010. Senior Ryan Robb scored the goal that rainy night for Marquette.
Connecticut is one of college soccer’s perennial powerhouses, consistently ranked in the top 10 under coach Ray Reid, who is in his 23rd season as the Huskies’ head coach.
The Huskies have had many former players go on to play professionally and have two players from last season’s team who were first round picks in the MLS Superdraft.
This season’s team is no different and is led by senior Carlos Alvarez, ranked as the country’s fourth best collegiate player by TopDrawerSoccer.com. Alvarez leads the Huskies in points this season with 16, coming from five goals and six assists.
Goalkeeper Andre Blake comes in at No. 18 on that same list, and forward Mamadou Doudou Diouf, the scorer of seven goals already this season, is at No. 38.
“Any UConn team is a good unit,” Robb said. “They work hard, and they have individuals like Alvarez, who a lot of the lads have played against, so you know the quality he has. The strikers they have are some big units who have some good pace and if you give them a chance they’ll take it.”
“It’s not death by possession,” Bennett said. “They have the ability to keep the ball, move the ball, and then you add in that little piece of individual brilliance that many of their players can throw into the mix ‑ you’ve got a pretty explosive team.”
In last season’s match in Storrs, Conn., Marquette could have clinched the Big East’s Blue Division with a win but was dealt an impressive performance by Connecticut and lost 3-0.
While the Golden Eagles would go on to win the division in their next game with a win against Pittsburgh at Valley Fields, Ciesiulka and the rest of the team still remember that defeat well heading into Saturday’s huge match.
“I think a lot of guys have a bad taste in their mouth from that game,” Ciesiulka said. “We came out and did not play well and did not play the way we were designed to play. We came out a little scared. We just didn’t show up. It’s definitely sitting in the back of our minds ‑ they beat us pretty good last year.”