THIS WEEK: DePaul at Valpo (Friday, 5:00 p.m.) & Evansville at Valpo (Sunday, 12:30 p.m.)
ON THE AIR: Both of this week's Crusader matches will be carried live on 95.1 FM, WVUR and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Adam Amin and Matt Engelbrecht will call all of the action Friday with Ron Castor joining Engelbrecht for Sunday's match.
SCOUTING DEPAUL: One of Valpo's top historic rivals, the Crusaders and Blue Demons will meet for the 19th time since 1984 on Friday. Only Western Illinois has been a more frequent Valpo opponent, although DePaul is making its first trip to Eastgate Field since 2001 when Scott Daly scored in the 72nd minute to lead the Crusaders to a 4-2 win. The last time these two clubs squared off, in Chicago in early 2004, they played to a 2-2 draw. This season, the Blue Demons are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2005 when they competed for the first time in the Big East and sputtered to a 14th-place finish.
SCOUTING EVANSVILLE: Valpo, on the other hand, has only met Evansville twice in the program's history, but both meetings came within the last four years. In 2002, the in-state rivals clashed for the first time and played 110 minutes of scoreless soccer at Eastgate Field. One year later, the Crusaders traveled south and were pounded 5-0 by the Purple Aces in Evansville. Since then, however, the program has fallen on hard times, including a 2-14-1 record in 2005. So 2006 has brought a new coach, Mike Jacobs, and new optimism, despite the fact that the Purple Aces return only 13 starters from a year ago.
EXHIBITION RECAP: The Crusaders went through their two-game exhibition slate last weekend with a pair of losses, falling 2-0 at Xavier (Ohio) on August 18 and dropping a 1-1 decision at home to #24 UW-Milwaukee on August 20. In the opener, junior Sean McGinnis made five first half saves to hold off a strong Musketeer attack, and the two clubs reached the halftime break scoreless. In the second half, however, Xavier's offense got rolling twice beating McGinnis en route to the 2-0 victory. Two days later, the Brown and Gold played for the first time at Eastgate Field, and after a slow first half, the pace quickened in the second stanza and the Panthers got the decisive goal in the 71st minute. Paul Leitelt led a 14-shot Valpo attack with four shots. D.J. Catrow added two shots on goal.
SLOW STARTERS: Under Mis' Mrak, the Crusaders have struggled in their season opening matches. Since 1991, Valpo has gone 1-14 in their openers, winning only in 2001 when they upset regionally-ranked Bradley 4-3 at the Bradley Invitational. Mrak's Valpo clubs dropped nine straight openers after his arrival in 1991, and have in fact only won their second match of the season three times, including last year's 2-0 shutout of Canisius. The Brown and Gold have also sputtered in home openers since 1991, including three in a row dating back to their 0-0 draw with Evansville in 2002. Since Mrak took over, Valpo is 3-11-1 in the season's first match at home.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS: The biggest reason for Valpo's resurgent 2005 campaign was their defensive play. The Crusaders allowed only 29 goals in 18 matches, the lowest single-season total since 1987 when the Valpo program was in its infancy. The 2006 Crusaders return several big keys from the defensive end, inclduing the 2005 team's Most Valuable Player, Tyler Pagano, and the Defensive MVP from last year, sophomore Andrew Stewart.
BUT OFFENSE IS NICE TOO: And the Crusaders have plenty of scoring back from last year's team. In fact, Valpo returnees accounted for 22 of 27 goals and 13 of 17 assists last season. Back also are the top two scorers, D.J. Catrow and Jon Brighton. Catrow led the team in goals (6), assists (6) and points (18), while Brighton scored five goals for the second consecutive season.
WHO'S IN GOAL?: One of the best keepers in school history, Jeff Oleck, graduated in May making this the first season since 2002 where the Indianapolis native won't see the bulk of the minutes in goal. The battle between the pipes is between junior Sean McGinnis and freshman Ryan Schwarz, who each played one match during the exhibition season. McGinnis made more saves (5 vs. 3) but Schwarz allowed only one goal compared to McGinnis' two.
QUICKLY: Senior Jeremy Stacy needs one assist to become just the 8th Crusader in school history with at least 10 career helpers.