Valparaiso (6-4-4, 2-1-2 Horizon)
Crusaders return home after five straight road matches
Saturday, Oct. 24 – 7 p.m. – Brown Field – Belmont (3-10-1, 1-4-0)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team returns home after five straight road games, taking on Belmont in Horizon League action at Brown Field Saturday evening at 7 p.m. Prior to the match, the Crusaders will be honoring their senior in the spotlight – Jorge Bermudez.
Previously: The Crusaders concluded five straight road matches on Monday night against Big Ten member Michigan. Valpo came up just short, falling 1-0 on a 51st minute goal.
Following the Crusaders: Saturday’s matchup vs Belmont will be available online with a radio broadcast and links for live stats 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 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: The Crusaders will be facing Belmont for just the second time in program history, as the Bruins just became an affiliate member of the Horizon League in men’s soccer 2014. Valpo won last season’s matchup 2-1 on the road, as Zev Taublieb and Jacob Gandarilla connected on goals in the first half to put the Crusaders up for good.
Scouting the Opposition: Belmont comes into Saturday night’s match with a 3-11-1 overall record and a 1-5-0 mark inside the Horizon League, most recently falling 2-0 to Wright State on Wednesday. Rasha Hyacenth leads the Bruins in goals, scoring five of the side’s 12 goals this year. Grayso Rector has been at goalkeeper for 11 matches this season, and owns a GAA of 1.34 with two shutouts.
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.
Bermudez in the Spotlight: Senior Jorge Bermudez will be recognized prior to Saturday night’s contest against Belmont. A four-year member of the Crusader program, Bermudez has seen action in six games off the bench this season for Valpo.
A Look at the Standings: While the Crusaders currently sit in a tie for fifth place in the Horizon League table with eight points, it’s worth noting that Valpo has only played five games to date – matching the fewest league matches so far by any league team. Of the four teams in front of the Crusaders, they have two games in hand on Wright State (13 points) and Northern Kentucky (12), as well as one game in hand on Oakland (10). The only team in front of Valpo with the same number of matches played within Horizon League play is UIC, which the Crusaders face off against next week.
Inside the Rankings: Valpo remains inside the NSCAA Great Lakes Region rankings this week, coming in at #7. The Crusaders broke into the poll at #8 in the regional rankings three weeks ago, and moved up as high as #6 this year. The program reached new heights in the regional poll last season, when it peaked at #4.
Defense Wins: 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 this season. The Crusaders set a program record with a streak of five consecutive games without letting up a goal, as well as a record in extending their scoreless streak to 582 minutes before Wright State found the back of the net. Valparaiso’s stingy defense and great play by Nico Campbell has led the Crusaders to seven clean sheets on the year and a top-20 ranking in the nation in GAA (0.71). Campbell recently was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Horizon League for the second time this year, marking the third time this season a Crusader has received the league’s weekly defensive award.
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. The Crusaders recently added a draw to the mix, after Matthew Gweh scored in the 86th minute to tie the game 1-1 and force extra time on the road against #23 New Mexico. Valpo now owns four wins over nationally-ranked sides in the last three years, and under Avery, the Crusaders have surrendered just 27 goals in 22 games versus top-25 teams – including five clean sheets.
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.