Valparaiso (3-6-5, 1-1-3 Horizon)
Wednesday, Oct. 24 - 7:30 p.m. - Wright State (3-10-1, 1-2-1 Horizon)
Saturday, Oct. 27 - 1 p.m. CDT - at Michigan (5-7-1, 2-2-1 Big Ten)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: The Valparaiso men’s soccer team closes out the 2012 home regular season slate with a key Horizon League showdown against Wright State on Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. Valpo then steps out of league play to take on Big Ten foe Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon.
Previously: The Crusaders extended their unbeaten streak to five matches last week with a pair of wins. Valpo downed Northern Illinois at home in a driving rain, 2-1, and then went on the road and beat Detroit for three league points, 2-0.
The Road Ahead: The 2012 regular season ends with two more road contests next week. Valpo will remain outside league action to take on IPFW in Fort Wayne on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The regular season concludes at Milwaukee next Saturday night, Nov. 3.
Following the Crusaders: Wednesday night’s match will have live video available through the Horizon League Network, while Saturday’s contest at Michigan will have video available for a fee through Michigan’s website. The link for the HLN video feed of Wednesday’s match, as well as live stats for both contests, will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Mike Avery: Mike Avery returns for his sixth season at the helm of the Crusader men’s soccer program after being named Horizon League Coach of the Year and guiding the team to the league regular season championship in 2011. Avery, who owns 41 victories as Crusader head coach, has led Valpo to three of the four winningest seasons in program history over the last three years. Under his watch, 21 players have earned All-League accolades, including three Goalkeeper of the Year honorees and one Defensive Player of the Year.
Series Notes: The Crusaders are just 2-8-0 all-time against Wright State, but both wins have come in the last two meetings, including a 1-0 win on Brown Field last season. Sam Haines had the match-winner in that one in the 38th minute, while Kyle Zobeck made three saves for the shutout. Valpo is 0-3-0 all-time versus Michigan, most recently falling 4-2 in Ann Arbor during the 2010 campaign. Stefan Antonijevic and Jake Freisinger scored for the Crusaders in that contest.
Scouting the Opposition: Wright State enters Wednesday’s match at 3-10-1 and 1-2-1 in league play, most recently falling to Ohio State by a 2-1 scoreline. Brett Elder (6g, 2a) and Derek Zuniga (3g, 5a) have both been in on eight of the Raiders’ 15 goals this year, while Jacob Fee has posted a 1.33 GAA during the majority of time as goalkeeper. Michigan is 5-7-1 overall and 2-2-1 within the Big Ten, knocking off #11 Indiana 2-1 last time out. The Wolverines boast a balanced offense, as 10 different players have combined for 17 goals.
Crusaders Picked Third in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso picked up the most first-place votes of any Horizon League team en route to being chosen to finish in third place during the 2012 season, according to preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders earned three of the eight first-place votes. Only Wright State and Cleveland State were selected ahead of Valpo.
Senior CLASS Award: Goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck is one of 10 finalists nationwide for the Senior CLASS award, an annual award presented to a senior who has notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition. Fans can vote for Zobeck through November 19 by visiting http://www.seniorclassaward.com/vote.
League Honorees: The Crusaders swept the Horizon League weekly awards last week, their first honorees of the season. Eric Nieto earned Offensive honors after scoring the match-winner against Northern Illinois and tallying an insurance marker in the league win over Detroit. Kyle Zobeck received Defensive honors, the second weekly award of his career, for his shutout of Detroit, as well as his seven-save effort in the win against NIU.
Finding the Back of the Net: After suffering through a season-opening stretch that saw them score just one goal in their first eight D-I games despite out-shooting the opposition 101-69, the Crusaders have scored six times in the last five games, including four times last week. Nieto had the pair of markers, while Charles Barden tallied the first goal versus NIU and Nick Suker got off the mark with the game-winner at Detroit.
Man Down? No Problem!: Valpo found itself a man down after a Crusader got issued a straight red card two minutes before halftime Sunday at Detroit, the first red of the year for the disciplined Crusader side. But despite playing the remainder of the game 10-v-11, Valpo remained the aggressor, not surrendering a shot attempt to the Titans in the final 47 minutes while firing off 11 shots of its own and scoring both its goals.
Wake Me Up When September Ends: Valpo was 1-0-1 in the month of August, but when the calendar flipped to September, the Crusaders were unable to win a match, going 0-6-1 during September. But since October 1, the results have fallen the Crusaders’ way, as Valpo has gone unbeaten in its last five (2-0-3). The Crusaders are now just one result shy of matching the program record for longest unbeaten streak.
Strong Defense: Under Avery’s direction, last year’s Crusader squad continued to be strong in the back, surrendering just 14 goals on the season to set a new program single-season record for fewest goals allowed. This year’s team has lived up to the task so far, giving up just 11 goals through the first 14 games. Valpo gave up more than one goal for the only time this year in a 2-1 loss at #9 UC Santa Barbara, something that has happened just eight times since the start of the 2010 campaign. In addition, since the beginning of that season, the Crusaders have surrendered more than two goals just once. As a team, Valpo ranks 18th nationally with a 0.73 GAA, while fifth-year senior goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck paces the Horizon League and sits 20th nationally with a 0.72 GAA of his own.
There’s Almost Always Drama: Close games are to be expected for the Crusaders as they enter the heart of Horizon League play. Valpo’s two-goal win over Detroit on Sunday broke a string of 11 straight matches decided by one goal or less, while now 12 of 14 games this year have been ties or one-goal decisions. In fact, Valpo has now had 38 of 45 Horizon League contests end as one-goal decisions or draws since joining the HL prior to the 2007 campaign.