Eagles gain confidence with victory

When the United States Men's National Soccer Team earned its fifth consecutive trip to the World Cup by defeating Mexico 2-0 Saturday, the Marquette men's soccer team was there.

They were part of the exuberant, sold-out crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium that celebrated Steve Ralston's goal in the 53rd minute and rejoiced when DaMarcus Beasley curled the ball around Mexico's goalie five minutes later for an insurance goal.

"We had a good time at U.S.A. versus Mexico," junior defender Nathan Sabich said. "The atmosphere was amazing because it was a World Cup qualifier… Watching that match pumped us up for our next game."

Being seated next to Penn State — the Golden Eagles' opponent for the Sunday match — during the national team game only helped build the confidence of the Marquette players.

Even though the Nittany Lions were ranked 23rd in The National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll, they lacked the swagger of a winning program.

"Penn State looked stiff," Sabich said. "We were joking around and being fans, but they were barely talking. I thought, 'These kids are lame, we can beat them.'"

The following day that is exactly what happened. Freshman forward Duncan Silvert-Noftle scored the first goal of his collegiate career in the seventh minute, which lifted Marquette to a 1-0 win.

The victory, combined with Friday's 1-0 loss to Ohio State, propelled Marquette to a third place finish in the Buckeyes' season-opening tournament.

"The goal started with (goalkeeper Steven) Grow," said head coach Steve Adlard. "The ball went the length of the field in five passes from one player to another.

"(Matt) Blouin turned and played the ball square. Duncan hit it with his left foot, one-touch, near post. It was a fabulous goal, a coach's dream."

Marquette held the upper-hand for the remainder of the first half and out-shot Penn State 4-1. For the final 45 minutes the Golden Eagles adopted a more defensive mindset and managed just one shot, while surrendering five.

However, Marquette's back line held the Nittany Lions without a shot on goal for the entire game and Grow recorded the shutout.

The defense's solid effort Sunday was an encouraging sign after struggling for much of last season and can be attributed to a number of factors.

"Defense is our first priority, as last year it wasn't," said senior captain Blair Kohlmeyer. "We're really concentrating on defense this year, and that's the most important part."

The key was "team defense. Everyone was defending all over the field," said junior midfielder Bryan Dahlquist, who along with Sabich was named to the all-tournament team. "Everyone was busting their ass for everyone."

In addition, the goalkeepers are doing a better job of communicating with their defense in 2005, and Adlard repeatedly points out that the added year of experience at the collegiate level has helped the defense come together.

That unit played well Friday against Ohio State, which was ranked 18th in the NSCAA preseason poll. In the early going, Marquette was taking it to the Buckeyes. But when junior Rob Walton was injured and replaced by freshman Andy Gill the Golden Eagles lost their momentum.

In the 14th minute, the Buckeyes senior forward Kevin Nugent controlled a free kick from sophomore striker Xavier Balc inside the box, turned to his left and knocked it over Marquette goalkeeper Andy Kroll for the game winner.

The Golden Eagles were on their collective heels for the remainder of the half but rebounded to control play after halftime.

Marquette generated multiple scoring chances, but Blouin narrowly missed netting the equalizer with four minutes to play, and the team was not able to convert on any of its other opportunities.

In the end it did not matter. By playing well against two nationally ranked teams and defeating one of them, the Golden Eagles left Columbus with a newfound confidence and the realization that they can play any team in the country.

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on September 6, 2005.