SEASON PREVIEW: Men’s soccer returners, team chemistry could result in 2019 success

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SEASON PREVIEW: Men’s soccer returners, team chemistry could result in 2019 success

Graphic by John Steppe

Graphic by John Steppe

Graphic by John Steppe

Graphic by John Steppe

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After going from a 3-7-1 start in the first 11 games to coming one win short of an NCAA Tournament berth in 2018, senior midfielder Luka Prpa’s expectations are clear for this season.

“Being one game away, we know how close we were, and we know that did not feel great coming home after that game,” senior midfielder Luka Prpa said. “We use that as motivation, that feeling we had. We don’t want to have that again, so we give everything we have.”

Head coach Louis Bennett said the team’s goal for 2019 is “always to win things.”

Marquette will have the benefit of an experienced roster coming into the 2019 season. Of the 11 players with the most playing time last season, Marquette’s top five scorers are returning.

One player from last year’s squad that will certainly be missed is current New York City FC goalkeeper Luis Barraza.

“Luis Barraza had the unbelievable talent of making an exceptional save, doing the extraordinary,” Bennett said.

Barraza was the BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year and had the most total saves per game in the conference despite Marquette allowing the third-most goals per game in the BIG EAST at 1.21.

The team’s offseason training went beyond just developing pace, strength and technical skills. Marquette men’s soccer did not neglect the importance of off-the-field work while it was trying to get better on the field.

“We emphasized the group chemistry. That’s probably a big part of college soccer,” senior defender Oliver Posarelli said. “Sometimes teams don’t really know each other, and I feel like it’s easier if there is good communication between teammates. It’s easier to fix a problem on the field or make sure a tactical issue is fixed.”

Prpa said the team’s offseason tour in England was crucial to the chemistry of the group.

“We were all pretty close already to begin with, but I think we’ve just grown to even (the) next level,” Prpa said. “We’re a really tight-knit group, and I think it will help us in the long run for sure.”

 

Attack

The three-pronged attack of seniors Josh Coan and Connor Alba, along with sophomore Lukas Sunesson, accounted for 46% of Marquette’s 26 total points scored last season. While the trio was an important part of last year’s attack strategy, Bennett made it clear he will play whoever is best.

“I like the fact that they’re going to have to play well to play all the time,” Bennett said. “If we’ve got a set 11, that’s great, but the strength is in our depth.”

New additions to this year’s squad who scored in the exhibition games were freshman forward Christian Marquez, who scored Aug. 21 against Notre Dame, and junior Sam Thornton, who scored Sunday against the Milwaukee Torrent.

 

Midfield

The returning midfielders who played a significant amount of minutes last year include redshirt sophomore Zak Wegner, sophomore Alan Salmeron and Prpa. Wegner was more of a defensive midfielder last season who also played right and left back, while Prpa was always a problem for opponents while attacking.

When Bennett answered the final question of an interview with the Marquette Wire, he followed with this.

“It’s strange you haven’t asked about the one person that everyone normally asks about, which is Luka Prpa,” Bennett said.

The senior’s resume speaks for itself. Last year Prpa was named to the ALL-BIG EAST First Team, and the year prior he was named to the Second. As a freshman, he won BIG EAST Freshman of the Year. He also had the most goals and assists on the team last season and is this year’s co-captain along with senior defender Patrick Seagrist.

Defense

Seagrist held down left back last year, earning an All-BIG EAST First Team honor. The speedy defender distributes the ball well for the Golden Eagles, as he was tied for the most assists on the team last year. Redshirt freshman Gabe Kash will line up at right back despite not playing last fall.

For center back, Bennett said he has four starting-caliber players.

“It’s a wonderful situation for us to have, at any time, four people that could probably start on a lot of other teams,” Bennett said.

The most obvious candidates are four returners from last year, including redshirt sophomore Manuel Cukaj, who missed the last season.

“Cukaj is so unbelievably hungry. After in his first year getting BIG EAST recognition, in the last two semesters he had some injury issues,” Bennett said.

Sophomore Josh Hancock and seniors Leo Villa and Posarelli played the most minutes at center back last year. While the Golden Eagles may have a lot of options at the center back position, only two can start.

“The goal is to win games and to get a clean sheet throughout the season,” Posarelli said. “We are not really focused on who’s going to start, who’s not going to start. We leave that decision to coach. We are trying to put our best on the field.”

Goalkeepers

While sophomore Cedrik Stern is the only goalkeeper who played last year, Bennett said the next man in the position is not set in stone.

“What we’ve always been concerned about is, can you be consistent to do what’s expected of you,” Bennett said. “With (the goalkeepers) that’s essential. If they’re not going to pick one out of the top corner, okay, but the most consistent, reliable, well-organized character will be the guy that starts for us.”

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