The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team has unveiled its schedule for the 2017 season, a slate that features three exhibitions and 17 regular season matches.
The Crusaders open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 25 at Northwestern, then will become the first Valpo team to compete in a Missouri Valley Conference contest since the school became a full-fledged member of The Valley with a match at Loyola, a team that earned an at-large NCAA Tournament bid a year ago, on Friday, Sept. 1.
The Crusaders have a date at Big Ten foe Michigan on Monday, Aug. 28 sandwiched between the visits to Evanston and Chicago. After cranking up Valley play against the defending regular season champion Ramblers, the Crusaders will have three more road matches (DePaul, SIUE and Drake) to round out a stretch of six straight fixtures away from Brown Field to start the regular season.
In addition to playing at Michigan and Northwestern, the nonconference schedule features a visit to SIU Edwardsville, a team that reached the NCAA’s Sweet 16 a year ago, on Saturday, Sept. 9. Plus, conference foe Loyola presents a challenge of its own after finishing the 2016 season ranked 21st in the nation in RPI.
“One of the unique things about Valparaiso is that we have an opportunity to give our student-athletes a small-college education while they’re playing big-time athletics,” Valpo head coach Mike Avery said. “We try to give them these opportunities to play big programs in big environments. Often, that means we have to go on the road to do it, and this year’s schedule is no different. Our philosophy is to play the best teams we can play.”
The home opener will occur on Monday, Sept. 18 against Fort Wayne at 6 p.m. CT. Later that week, the Crusaders will welcome Central Arkansas for the team’s first home Valley match, which will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23. That will mark Valpo’s annual TOCO match. The Crusaders will once again work to raise funds and support for TOCO, or They Often Cry Outreach, which works through sports with at-risk children in the Caribbean and the United States. The money raised will help fund a future service trip that will allow Valpo to take its team to the island of St. Lucia, the base of TOCO, to work with children.
The TOCO game is one of three charity games Valpo will participate in this season. The Crusaders will play an exhibition at Notre Dame on Monday, Aug. 21 to support Grassroot Soccer, an organization that uses the game to promote healthy lifestyles across the world. The match begins at 4 p.m. CT in South Bend.
The final charity match will take place on Monday, Oct. 30 against Eastern Illinois at 5 p.m. at Brown Field. That will be the St. Baldrick’s match, as the Crusaders collect donations to help begin a campus-wide event in support of St. Baldrick’s Childhood Cancer Research Foundation.
“All of our charity events are for different organizations, but they all have a common theme, and that’s supporting at-risk children that come from underprivileged communities,” Avery said. “We have players from all over the world who, in many cases, come from impoverished backgrounds, so when we have an opportunity to go back and help the communities like the ones we came from, this is something we’re really excited about.”
Four of the final six matches of the season will take place at Brown Field. The Crusaders conclude the regular season by hosting Bradley on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m., a Senior Day matinee.
The Valley will play an unbalanced schedule, as each team will have eight conference games, playing two opponents home-and-home and the other four opponents once each. The Crusaders will oppose Missouri State and Central Arkansas twice apiece. All seven teams will qualify for the 2017 MVC Men’s Soccer Championship, which will be hosted by Bradley starting Nov. 7. The championship match is slated to take place on Nov. 12, with the winner receiving an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“This year’s schedule is going to be interesting for us and for our team,” Avery said. “We have a lot of new pieces to the puzzle. We have a new league, we have a lot of new players and we have two new coaches on the staff. It’s going to be interesting to see how this team comes together, and we’re going to do a lot of that on the road early in the season. The team has a tremendous amount of potential, and now it’s a matter of moving from potential to performance, and I think our schedule is going to set us up nicely to do that.”