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MSOC Preview: New blood looks to help in rebound year

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Barraza returns to Marquette after starting all but one game as a freshman.

Barraza returns to Marquette after starting all but one game as a freshman.

Photo by Graphic by Brian Georgeson

Photo by Graphic by Brian Georgeson

Barraza returns to Marquette after starting all but one game as a freshman.

 Coach: Louis Bennett (11th season)

2015 Record: 5-10-2 (9th in BIG EAST)

Key Departures: M Louis Bennett II, F Kelmend Islami, F C. Nortey, F David Selvaggi, D Adam Hermsen, D Jake Taylor

Players to Watch: GK Luis “Wicho” Barraza, F Daniel Szczepanek, M Luka Prpa, D John Pothast, D Danny Jarosz

Overview: Men’s soccer had a disappointing season in 2015, missing the BIG EAST Tournament for the first time since 2008-’09. Head coach Louis Bennett lost valuable members of that team, but has plenty of talented young players who already have NCAA experience. He also reinforced his troops on a long trip to Europe.

It’s easy to be impressed while looking at the resumes of some of the younger players on the roster, but at the end of the day, they are young. In the team’s first preseason game against Wright State there were five new faces in the team’s starting lineup. There could be some growing pains as players adjust to college soccer and Bennett’s strict system.

Forwards: Marquette will have a new-look offense, as every player who scored a goal last season is no longer with the program. Marquette has to replace the entire starting front line from last year, as David Selvaggi, C. Nortey and Kelmend Islami have all graduated. That’s in addition to Jesper Larsson, who transferred to UNC-Greensboro.

“We’ve known this was coming, so we’ve had to plan ahead,” Bennett said. “Now we have a young team, but we also have some guys who are used to that position and some guys that are very talented at that position.”

The three returnees with the most experience are Daniel Szczepanek, Nick Parianos and Toby Howell. Szczepanek has the most game experience, scoring one goal in 34 games. He started six games last year, but usually came off the bench for Selvaggi. Szczepanek may be moved into more of an attacking midfield role with Bennett likely switching to a midfield heavy formation.

Parianos returns after tearing his ACL and meniscus and chipping his cartilage on his femur bone in a training session in 2014, while Howell looks to build on a freshman season where he made five starts.

A name to watch among the young bunch is Diego Núñez. A late addition to the team, Núñez has experience playing in the Spanish first division with RSD Alcala and scored 25 goals and 25 assists in 58 games with the U-19 squad. He was forced to relinquish a year of eligibility despite this being his first year of collegiate soccer, meaning he’ll be listed as a sophomore.

German freshman Jan Maertins made quite the impression against Detroit in the team’s second preseason game, scoring four of the team’s five goals. He’s a two-time Swiss Cup winner with FC Basel.

Connor Alba is another new player that could make a mark. He went to two state titles and three Midwest Regional Premier championships with SC Waukesha and played in the Chicago Fire Academy. He’s also spent time with the U.S. National program.

Midfield: The Golden Eagles ran into depth issues at the midfield last season due to injuries. Although Bennett has more pieces to play with this year, it will be very difficult to replace Louis Bennett II, who signed a pro deal in Cyprus.

Incoming highly-touted freshman Luka Prpa plays a similar style as an attacking midfielder with great passing abilities, but Bennett said he doesn’t expect him to take over that position entirely. He said the team will have to replace Bennett II by committee.

Ruben Sanchez moves to his natural position at midfield after playing defense in place of the injured Danny Jarosz in 2015. Returning to the team is Martin Alba, who underwent two different hip surgeries last year.

Ben Tweedie also got some time last year. He notched two assists in eight games.

Defense: The defense will once again be led by a veteran presence in center back John Pothast. The three-year starter has played every minute of the past two seasons and contributed offensively last year as well. He was second on the team with three assists. However, he’ll be surrounded by a lot of new blood.

Jarosz returns to the Golden Eagles after missing all but two games with a concussion last year. Bennett had high expectations for the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Area Player of the Year. He’s coming off a trip to the U.S. Amateur Cup final as one of the youngest players on the field. He’ll be the team’s other starting center back.

Freshman Anton von Hofacker offers something the Golden Eagles sorely missed last season — size. The 6-foot-6 Norwegian can play the role that Axel Sjoberg did while at Marquette, giving Marquette a physical presence to get headers on defense and set pieces.

Fellow freshman Patrick Seagrist was the 15th best defender in the Midwest according to Top Drawer Soccer.

Jake Taylor and Alex McBride, who both played sizable roles with the team last year, are no longer with the program. They are both currently planning on continuing their education at Marquette.

“The easiest way for me to say it is: there was a change in direction and a change in focus,” Bennett said.

Goalkeepers: Barraza returns as the reigning starter. He had a successful freshman campaign, posting a .714 save percentage, a 1.68 goals against average and four shutouts in 15 starts. A highly touted recruit out of the RSL Academy, Barraza was the team’s Rookie of the Year and earlier this month was named the third-best sophomore keeper in the country by Everybody Soccer.

Although the starting role isn’t really in question, redshirt senior keeper Mac Wheeler provides great motivation and guidance for Barraza.

Schedule: Aug. 18 vs. Kentucky, Aug. 29 at Northern Illinois, Sept. 2 at Illinois-Chicago, Sept. 5 vs. Northwestern, Sept. 10 at St. Louis, Sept. 14 vs. UW-Milwaukee, Sept. 17 vs. St. John’s, Sept. 24 vs. Villanova, Oct. 1 at Seton Hall, Oct. 5 vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 8 vs. Georgetown, Oct. 15 at Creighton, Oct. 22 vs. Xavier, Oct. 26 at Providence, Oct. 29 at Butler, Nov. 3 vs. DePaul (Senior Day), Nov. 6-10 BIG EAST Tournament

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