Valparaiso (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Horizon)
Crusaders continue early-season play, open home slate
Friday, Sept. 4 – 5 p.m. – Macomb, Ill. – at Western Illinois (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Summit)
Monday, Sept. 7 – 7 p.m. – Brown Field – Loyola (0-2-0, 0-0-0 MVC)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: Two of the three most common opponents in program history await the Valparaiso University men’s soccer team this weekend, as the Crusaders travel to take on former Mid-Con rival Western Illinois Friday evening before opening the home campaign at Brown Field Monday night against Loyola.
Previously: The Crusaders opened on the road against a pair of major-conference foes last weekend, but despite playing toe-for-toe with those squads, suffered a pair of heartbreaking defeats. Valpo kicked off the season last Friday night at Top Drawer Soccer no. 14 Kentucky, taking a 1-0 lead late in the first half, but the Wildcats would equalize 10 minutes into the second half and then find the match-winner with just 31 seconds to play. Then, on Monday night, Valpo dueled with Cincinnati through over 100 minutes of scoreless soccer, but a penalty kick in the 103rd minute gave the Bearcats a 1-0 win.
Following the Crusaders: Both matches this weekend will have live stats available through ValpoAthletics.com, while Monday’s home match against Loyola will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com and WVUR. Over the course of the 2015 season, five home matches, as well as at least five road matches, will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com, while WVUR, Valpo’s student radio station, will also be broadcasting select matches.
Head Coach Mike Avery: In his ninth season at the helm of the Valpo men’s soccer program, Mike Avery owns 57 career wins. The 2011 Horizon Coach of the Year led the Crusaders to their first-ever conference title in the same season and has posted eight of the top-10 defensive seasons in program history over his first eight seasons. The third coach in Valpo’s history, he owns the best winning percentage and second-most wins in program history. He has coached four Goalkeeper of the Year honorees during that stretch, and has seen a number of players go on to play professional soccer – most recently, Zev Taublieb from last year’s squad, who currently plays for Wilmington Hammerheads of the United Soccer League.
Series Notes: Western Illinois – The Crusaders and Leathernecks have faced off more than any other opponent in Valpo men’s soccer history, with WIU holding an 18-8-2 advantage in the all-time series. Valpo has won the matchup each of the last two years, however, including a 2-1, double-overtime win on Sept. 19 last season at Brown Field. Freshman Jordan James was responsible for both Valpo goals in that contest, including the golden goal in the 105th minute.
Loyola – Valpo is just 4-13-6 all-time against Loyola, but has earned results in its last five meetings against the Ramblers (2-0-3). Last season, Brown Field saw the Crusaders come out on top in extra time by a 1-0 final as Zev Taublieb tucked away a rebound from 10 yards out in the 95th minute.
Crusaders Picked Second in Preseason Poll: Valpo has been picked to finish in second place in the Horizon League in 2015, according to preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders totaled 64 points in the polling and received two first-place votes to earn the second spot in the preseason rankings, trailing only Oakland, which picked up five first-place nods and 75 points. Valpo edged out Wright State (63 points, two first-place votes) for the second spot, while Milwaukee was picked fourth and received the remaining vote for the top spot.
Looking Back at 2014: Last season saw the Crusaders enjoy a number of program firsts. For the first time, Valpo was ranked in national top-25 polls (Top Drawer Soccer, #25; Soccer America, #22) and received votes in the NSCAA top-25 poll for the first time as well. The Crusaders also earned their highest ranking within the NSCAA Great Lakes Region poll (fourth) and reached as high as #9 in the NCAA’s RPI ratings, a program high. Early in the season, Valpo went into East Lansing, Mich. and downed Michigan State for a second straight season – the win over the #7 Spartans marked the highest-ranked opponent the Crusaders have ever defeated. At season’s end, Omar Lawrence was named an NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region honoree, while during the year, Jordan Aidoud, Zev Taublieb and Lawrence all earned spots on various national Teams of the Week.
Stepping Up At Forward: Heading into the season, junior Matthew Gweh and sophomore Stian Sandbekkhaug were highlighted as players the Crusaders were going to look towards to contribute up top in 2015, and the duo combined on Valpo’s first goal of the year at Kentucky, as Sandbekkhaug fed Gweh in the 40th minute to give the Crusaders the lead in that contest. For Gweh, it marked his fourth goal in 11 games in a Valpo uniform, while it was Sandbekkhaug’s second career assist.
Integrating Newcomers: With so many new pieces on this year’s squad, Valpo will look to merge 15 returnees with its 19 newcomers in the early part of the season. Looking at the 17 players who saw time over the first two matches of the season, six are new to the Crusader program this season – including a trio of players who started both at Cincinnati and Kentucky.
Valuable Experience: Junior goalkeeper Nico Campbell and sophomore midfielder Ramone Howell both were part of Jamaica’s u23 setup this summer, trying to help the side qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. Both Campbell and Howell went to the u23 National Team camp in March and helped Jamaica advance from the June stage of Caribbean Zone qualifying, with Campbell starting every game in goal. The Reggae Boyz u23 side ended up falling just one game short of qualifying in August for the final stage of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying.
Flying Many Flags: As has become customary, head coach Mike Avery and his coaching staff have pulled from all over the world for players to comprise the Crusader men’s soccer squad. Beyond the borders of the United States, this year’s Valpo side boasts players hailing from a total of 13 different birth countries. Leading the way is the contingent from Jamaica, as Valpo counts six Jamaicans on its roster for the 2015 campaign.
#oneVALPO: The Crusader men’s soccer program will continue to promote its #oneVALPO campaign, a campaign started last year to celebrate diversity, via social and digital media and at its games. For more information, go to the #oneValpo Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/oneVALPO.