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Marquette Men’s Soccer: Rebuilding and finding the right combinations in the spring

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Eric Pothast. Tribune File Photo.

The Marquette men’s soccer team played its first competitive game of the spring Saturday night, ending in a 0-0 draw against Northern Illinois, who had beaten the Golden Eagles 1-0 in overtime at Valley Fields last fall.

The Huskie won the Mid-American Conference and a game in last fall’s NCAA Tournament.

On defense, the Golden Eagles lose Michael Alfano, who was a graduate student in the fall. Alfano partnered with sophomore defender Eric Pothast in the center of the defense for most of the season because freshman defender Axel Sjoberg broke his foot in the team’s third game.

Sjoberg is fully fit, though, and looking great this spring.

Pothast played with the 6-foot-7 Swede during all of the spring season last year, so the duo is already familiar with one another.

“Axel (Sjoberg) is really easy to play with, so I thought we did pretty well today,” Pothast said. “He’s a physical guy. He wins everything in the air. He keeps the ball well and is very calm and collected.”

Coach Louis Bennett liked what he saw from the duo, noting Northern Illinois provided a difficult test. Huskies freshman Isaac Kannah has already been called up to the U.S. Under-18 national team, and provided a pace that would be difficult to deal with for any defender. Sjoberg seemed to handle it just fine.

“When we play against a team like this that’s quick and is a handful,” Bennett said, “Axel proved as long as he keeps his feet moving, he’s not slow. He doesn’t lummox around.”

The other position that needs a replacement is in midfield, where the Golden Eagles lost Calum Mallace. Junior Ryan Robb and sophomore Bryan Ciesiulka are entrenched in the midfield but had a different player alongside them in each half.

Redshirt freshman Charlie Hoover played the first half and impressed Bennett, who has been full of praise for Hoover’s work last fall while redshirting.

Hoover played his freshman year as a reserve winger but after that became a central midfielder. Bennett was impressed with Hoover during his 45 minutes of action, as the freshman was breaking up play and distributing well in the midfield.

Freshman James Routledge, who enrolled at Marquette in January, played the second half. According to Bennett, the New Zealander is still getting acclimated to the college game.

“It was just James getting his feet wet,” Bennett said. “It’s a pretty long preseason and hopefully he’ll be able to move forward.”

Robb said while neither will replace everything Mallace did, this is a great chance for both Hoover and Routledge.

“This is a big opportunity for them, and they have to take it,” Robb said. “This is their chance to shine, and I think one of them will. It’s just both of them can’t play, so somebody has to show their steel.”

Marquette’s next game is the second Blue vs. Gold intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday and then a trip to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., to play another opponent from last fall, Illinois-Chicago.

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