Valparaiso (6-3-2, 2-1-1 Horizon)
Crusaders set to battle another ranked opponent before returning to league play
Wednesday, Oct. 14 – 8 p.m. CT – Albuquerque, N.M. – at #23 New Mexico (6-4-1, 0-3-0 C-USA)
Saturday, Oct. 17 – 3 p.m. CT – Highland Heights, Ky. – at Northern Kentucky (6-4-2, 3-1-2 Horizon)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team continues its five-match road trip this week. The Crusaders look to add a third win versus a ranked opponent this season when they play at Soccer America #23 New Mexico Wednesday night. Then on Saturday, Valpo travels to Horizon League newcomer Northern Kentucky for a key league match.
Previously: The Crusaders’ streak of eight consecutive games earning a result came to an end on Saturday, as they fell on the road at Wright State, 3-1. Valpo went into the match with a streak of five straight shutouts, but allowed two first-half goals to the Raiders. Suleiman Thomas scored his first career goal in the waning seconds to get the Crusaders on the board.
Following the Crusaders: Wednesday’s midweek matchup at New Mexico will be broadcasted online, with links for the live video and live stats available through ValpoAthletics.com. Saturday’s league action versus Northern Kentucky will be broadcast on ESPN3.com and have live stats online as well. 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 63 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: Wednesday’s matchup with the Lobos, as well as Saturday’s match with the Norse, will both be the first meeting between Valpo and their opponents in program history. Saturday’s game will be a Horizon League duel as well, as Northern Kentucky joined the league earlier in 2015.
Scouting the Opposition: New Mexico enters Wednesday night with a 6-4-1 overall record on the season, but have lost three of its last four games and are 0-3-0 in C-USA conference play. Chris Wehan leads the team in goals, scoring eight of the team’s 13 goals on the year. Northern Kentucky heads into Saturday afternoon’s matchup following a tough home loss in overtime against UIC last Saturday. The Norse have a balanced attack on offense, splitting 13 goals amongst seven different players.
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.
Good Things Come to an End: While the Crusaders suffered defeat last time out at Wright State, it was hopefully only a brief blip following a long streak of recent success for Valpo. The Crusaders went without a loss through the month of September and beyond, setting a program record eight-match unbeaten streak in the process. The side also tied program bests for consecutive victories (four) and clean sheets (five).
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 earlier this season. The Crusaders went on the road to #18 Western Michigan on Sept. 23 and won 2-0, and then less than a week later, hosted #23 Omaha and won 1-0 on an Andrew 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, which is looking for its third win over a nationally-ranked team when it faces Soccer America #23 New Mexico on Wednesday, 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.
Horizon League Showdown: Valparaiso’s Saturday match versus Northern Kentucky is a battle between two of the league’s top four teams in the current table. Northern Kentucky is atop the standings with a 3-1-2 record, giving them 11 points. The Crusaders are 2-1-1 so far in league play, totaling seven points. Valpo does have two games in hand over the Norse, however, while the Crusaders sit three points back of UIC and are level in games played with the Flames.
Inside the Rankings: Despite its loss last time out, Valpo remains inside the NSCAA Great Lakes Region rankings this week, coming in at #8. The Crusaders broke into the poll at #8 in the regional rankings two weeks ago, and moved up in last week’s rankings to #6. The program reached new heights in the regional poll last season, when it peaked at #4.
Another Program Record: The easiest way to earn results every time out, is to keep the opponents off the scoreboard. That’s exactly what goalkeeper Nico Campbell and the Valpo defense have done the season. The Crusaders’ streak of five consecutive games without letting up a goal came to an end on Saturday, but Valpo was able to set another program record, extending its scoreless streak to 582 minutes before Wright State found the back of the net.
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.