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Men’s soccer preview: Quietly confident amid roster turnover

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The Marquette men’s soccer team will enter the 2017 season with more than a few questions to be asked. The Golden Eagles lost 13 players to either graduation or other schools, including two seniors and eight letter-winners.

It will be another season of discovery for head coach Louis Bennett, who enters his 12th season at the helm, although there are some stable elements. Sophomores Connor Alba and Luka Prpa were major bright spots for a team that finished tied for second to last in the BIG EAST table last season. Bennett saw a lot of promise in that squad and believes that this season could be a major step forward.

“This group — the optimism that you always bring into the preseason is very high,” Bennett said. “I think this group is smaller; we’ve taken less people, and I think everyone is close to the core to play and so it’s refreshing. It looks like they’ve all come into camp in pretty good shape, so if we can stay healthy, I think this could be a very exciting and eye-opening season.”


College soccer blue-bloods define non-conference schedule

Bennett is no stranger to scheduling the titans of college soccer, and this campaign is no different. Marquette will go up against the likes of  Saint Louis, New Mexico and Virginia, three opponents that have a combined 29 NCAA College Cup appearances. However, Bennett believes that in order to be the best, they have to play the best.

“We have to test ourselves because we are playing in one of the best leagues of the country,” Bennett said. “So it’s no good to be so super surprised when you play Creighton or Providence or Georgetown … the credentials and credibility of our team in any season should not be just only what we do in the league — it should be what we do outside of it as well. If we want a chance to get into the NCAA, we better be playing those traditional NCAA-bound teams.”

Freshman midfielder Christian Albelo, the No. 17 recruit of 2016’s class according to TopDrawerSoccer, is also anxious to prove himself against the league’s best.

“I’m looking forward to really going out there to show the rest of the college game that we really have a team,” Albelo said. “We can really go out and really outperform some of these teams that we are going to play. For me, it will be exciting because I will be playing against my teammates on the national team, so I’m looking forward to it.”


Questions abound at centerback position

One major question the Golden Eagles will have to answer is who will be anchoring the back line. Marquette gave up 23 goals last season for an average of 1.44 per game, which is one of the highest totals in the conference. With defenseman Danny Jarosz retiring and John Pothast graduating, Bennett will have to dig deeper than ever for answers at centerback. Expect Cade Dombrowski, who redshirted last season, to be in the mix, along with highly-touted freshmen Manuel Cukaj and Brendan Skinner. Cukaj has Bundesliga experience in Germany as a youth player with FC Astoria Walldorf at the U-18 and 23 level. Skinner, a product of British Columbia, Canada, is a member of the Canadian U-18 national team and was a member of the Vancouver Whitecaps academy.

“I think when you look at our squad, you see where we are inexperienced,” Bennett said. “We are inexperienced at the centerback position and we’re inexperienced at the point forward position. So the incoming guys, you’d probably see a new point forward and a new centerback, if not two.

“Even though we brought in two freshmen, they are both 19, they have an extra year and they come from very good academies and under 23 teams,” continued Bennett. “Brendan Skinner is a prototypical guy and so is Manuel. They were really sought after and we’re really excited about them.”


Potent offense remains from last season

While the defense may need some work in order to figure out the chemistry and positioning, the midfield and attacking side has plenty of potential. Graduate transfer forward Jason Davis has the pace and prowess to make an instant impact for the Golden Eagles and take pressure off the midfield. The Birmingham, England native trained with English Championship side Burton Albion and cuts a striking figure at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds.

The midfield is also talented with Prpa playing central midfielder. He led the team with 26 points last year and was named TopDrawerSoccer’s fourth best freshman of the 2016-17 season. Captain Connor Alba and redshirt senior Daniel Szczepanek, who each had 10 points last year, will flank Prpa, as will Albelo.

“For me, I think it’s about seeing what we can do as a team and improving on last season and I definitely think we can do better for sure,” Prpa said. “Last year, we were inexperienced, and it showed because we couldn’t seal out games that we should have won. This year, we have some new guys, some more mature heads and the team has grown in general and I think we will be ready.”


Starting off on the right foot

Marquette will travel down to Lexington, Kentucky for its opening match on Friday, August 25 against the Kentucky Wildcats. UK, which qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, thrashed the Golden Eagles four-nil in last season’s opener. From there, the Golden Eagles will square off against New Mexico and Saint Louis at Valley Fields, then make the trek to Virginia.

Marquette will also travel across town for the 45th annual Milwaukee Cup with UWM Sept. 26 and to Madison Oct. 4 for a showdown with Wisconsin.

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