Valparaiso (5-2-2, 1-0-1 Horizon)
Crusaders put program-record unbeaten streak on the line Saturday
Saturday, Oct. 3 – 7:30 p.m. – Milwaukee, Wis. – at Milwaukee (2-4-2, 1-0-1 Horizon)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: Coming off of perhaps the most impressive week of results in program history, including defeating a pair of ranked opponents in the same season for the first time ever, the Valparaiso University men’s soccer team puts its program-record unbeaten streak on the line as it returns to Horizon League play Saturday night at Milwaukee. The Crusaders enter the week ranked eighth in the NSCAA Great Lakes Region poll.
Previously: The Crusaders won in dramatic fashion Monday night at Brown Field, winning 1-0 in the 99th minute against #23 Omaha on the first career goal by sophomore Andrew Avram. Nico Campbell and the Crusader defense secured their fourth consecutive clean sheet in the win, including a pair versus ranked foes.
Following the Crusaders: This weekend’s match at Milwaukee will be broadcasted online via ESPN3.com, and live stats will be available through ValpoAthletics.com. 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 62 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: Saturday’s matchup with the Panthers is the 12th in the all-time series between the two sides, as the series stands at 4-4-3. In their meeting last season at Brown Field, Valpo and Milwaukee battled to a 1-1 draw, as Ramone Howell scored in the 34th minute before the Panthers’ Laurie Bell equalized in the 67th minute.
Scouting the Opposition: Milwaukee enters Saturday night’s fixture with a 2-4-2 overall record on the season, but the Panthers have matched Valpo’s start to Horizon League play so far with a 1-0-1 mark, winning at Oakland and drawing with UIC. Declan Rodriguez leads the Panthers on the year with eight points (3g, 2a), as they have scored just nine goals on the season while giving up just 12 in the first eight games.
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.
Taking Down the Top 25: Maybe it was a sign of things to come in the preseason when Valpo knocked off then-#14 Indiana. Competing with the nation’s best teams has been a regular occurrence for the Crusaders under Mike Avery, but Valpo has never taken it to the level it did last week. The Crusaders went on the road to #18 Western Michigan on Sept. 23 and won 2-1, dealing the Broncos their first loss of the season. Then, last time out, Valpo hosted #23 Omaha and won 1-0 on the Avram golden goal. Not only was it two wins in the same week over top-25 foes, it was the first time in Crusader program history they’ve defeated multiple nationally-ranked teams in the same season. Valpo now owns four wins over nationally-ranked sides in the last three years, and under Avery, the Crusaders have surrendered just 26 goals in 21 games versus top-25 teams – including five clean sheets.
Gaining Results Every Time Out: With the calendar turned to October, the Crusaders completed a perfect month of September, and in the process set a new program record for most consecutive matches without a loss. Valpo went 5-0-2 in September, breaking the previous program record of six straight matches unbeaten – most recently accomplished in October of 2012. Three of the Crusaders’ five wins in the month came in extra time, with a pair of 0-0 draws as well.
Back in the Rankings: Valpo returned to the NSCAA Great Lakes Region rankings earlier this week for the first time in 2015. The Crusaders broke into this week’s poll at #8 in the regional rankings, which were voted on prior to the team’s win over Omaha. The program reached new heights in the regional poll last season, when it peaked at #4.
Zeros For the Opposition: The easiest way to earn results every time out, as the Crusaders have recently? Keep the opponents off the scoreboard. That’s exactly what goalkeeper Nico Campbell and the Valpo defense have done the last four times they’ve taken the field, posting clean sheets in each of the Crusaders’ last four games – including two against nationally-ranked sides. Over that stretch, Valpo has allowed just 13 shots on goal, all of which Campbell has saved. The four consecutive shutouts is just one shy of the program record of five, set in October of 2011, while the defense’s scoreless streak now stands at 462 minutes, 96 minutes shy of the record.
Earning Honors: The wins at Western Michigan and at home in league play over Cleveland State last week earned a pair of Crusaders individual accolades. Sophomore Stian Sandbekkhaug was tabbed the Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week, as he assisted on the golden goal at WMU and followed with the match-winner in the 72nd minute against Cleveland State. Meanwhile, Campbell was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week and also earned a spot on the College Soccer News National Team of the Week for his pair of shutouts against WMU and CSU.
Avram Strikes Quickly: In his second season as part of the Crusader program, Andrew Avram had played just 10 career minutes prior to Monday night. But called upon late in the second half and then in the first extra period against #23 Omaha, Avram took full advantage of his opportunity, scoring the game’s lone goal in the 99th minute for the 1-0 Crusader win. The goal came just 25 minutes into Avram’s career, the earliest into a Valpo career a player has scored since Matthew Gweh scored at IUPUI last season in his 24th minute of action as a Crusader.
Academic Awards Abound: The Valparaiso University men’s soccer program has been a true epitome of the athletic department’s mission statement, “Champions in Competition, Classroom and Community” over the years, and the academic portion continued this week. The Crusaders, for the 13th consecutive year, were awarded the NSCAA Team Academic Award for maintaining a team GPA above 3.00 last season. The stretch of 13 straight years earning the award from the NSCAA is the third-longest in the nation, as only Carleton College and Penn have earned the honor more years in a row.
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.