The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team continued its strong start to the season on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, besting host DePaul 2-1 to secure the Chicago Classic title. Valpo was the only squad to go unbeaten in the four-team event, which was co-hosted by Loyola and DePaul and also featured La Salle. Valpo goalkeeper Nacho Miras (Ubeda, Spain / Nuestra Semora del Pilar) was named the tournament’s MVP after totaling 12 saves over the two matches.
Valpo senior leader Ramone Howell (Portmore, Jamaica / Jamaica College) provided the game-winning goal in the 67th minute on Sunday. Jacob Keck (Topeka, Kan. / Hayden Catholic) earned the assist on a long touch, as Howell broke through two defenders, sidestepped the goalkeeper and tapped a low roller into the bottom right of the net.
Following Sunday’s match, four Crusaders were named to the Chicago Classic all-tournament team. MVP Miras, Matthew King (Edmonton, Alberta / Louis St. Laurent [Grand Canyon]), Rafael Mentzingen (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / Bryan) and Howell all garnered all-tournament accolades. King played a key role on Valpo’s defense, while Mentzingen had one goal in each match this weekend.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders (2-1-1) picked up precisely where they left off Friday night in Sunday’s matinee. After a late goal to upset Loyola in the opener of the Chicago Classic, Valpo wasted no time in sustaining the excitement with a goal in the second minute against the Blue Demons (1-3).
- The goal came courtesy of Mentzingen, who continued a strong start to his Valpo career. He split two DePaul defenders by dribbling to his left, side stepped and fired a right-footed boot into the lower left-hand corner for an unassisted goal.
- The Crusaders had another chance at the 4:01 mark as a header by Jordan James (Hellshire, Jamaica / Wolmer’s Boys School) was saved by DePaul keeper Quintin Low.
- Miras made his first save in the seventh minute, corralling a header by Stijn Van Der Slot. Neither team had another shot on goal until the 18th minute, when Timmy Iscra attempted to head one in following a corner kick, but Miras again made the stop.
- The two teams exchanged opportunities approximately 29 minutes in when Keck and DePaul’s Istvan Wilhelms each had shots on goal.
- After finishing the first half with five saves to help the Crusaders stay in front, Miras was tested in the 51st minute, making a quality stop on a rifle by Bryan Simmons.
- The Blue Demons drew even in the 54th minute as Wilhelms scored on an assist by Philipp Konigstein.
- After the Wilhelms goal, each keeper had one save over the next 20 minutes, then the Crusaders regained the advantage courtesy of Howell in the 67th minute.
- The Valpo defense was strong down the stretch, as the shot on goal in the 54th minute proved to be the final SOG for DePaul in the match. The only time either keeper was required to make a save in the final 23 minutes was when Low stopped a Howell effort in the 85th. All four of DePaul’s second-half shots on goal came in a four-minute span shortly after halftime.
Inside the Match
- After picking up his first Valpo goal on Friday, Mentzingen followed with his second in Sunday’s match. He finished with a pair of shots on goal on Sunday and has rifled off a team-high 10 shots this season.
- The Crusaders have scored first in each of their first four fixtures.
- Miras (2-1-1) was again a critical component to Valpo’s victory, making a career-high eight saves. Just four matches into his first season as the team’s starter, the Crusader keeper has notched 24 saves. The redshirt sophomore’s eight-save total was the most by any Valpo keeper in a single match since Nico Campbell had eight against Belmont on Oct. 24, 2015.
- Valpo head coach Mike Avery picked up his 76th career victory, moving into a tie with Mis’ Mrak (1991-2006) for the most wins by a head coach in program history. Mrak needed 288 matches to get to 76, while Avery achieved the feat in his 193rd career match. Avery will go for the program record on Saturday night.
- The goal scored in the second minute was Valpo’s quickest goal since Sept. 23, 2015, when Isaiah Madrid scored at 1:42 in an eventual 2-0 victory over No. 18 Western Michigan.
- Howell’s goal was the seventh of his career, the most of any active Crusader. It marked the first time Howell has scored this season and the third match-winner of his career.
- Keck garnered his first assist of the season and the second of his career on Howell’s goal.
- DePaul, a member of the Big East Conference, was the defending champion of the Chicago Classic. After both teams won on Friday, Sunday’s match between the Crusaders and Blue Demons was a de facto championship match for the multi-team event.
Thoughts from Head Coach Mike Avery
“Today was one of those college soccer anomalies where you play two games within 48 hours, and it made for an extremely challenging game for both teams. I thought both teams handled it well, but I know for our group the struggle to maintain concentration and fitness was a real one. Given our youth and relative inexperience, it was a great lesson for the boys and I’m proud of how they handled themselves.”
“I’m also very proud of our mentality – from the staff right through to every guy on the field, the bench and the few we had to leave back on campus. We took the approach that we had a championship on the line, and we want to get in the habit of winning titles. We needed to be willing to gut this one out, whatever it took. Again, I’m very group of this group.”
The Crusaders will have a few days away from competition before returning to the pitch on Saturday at 6 p.m. CT at SIU Edwardsville. Links to live video and stats will be available on ValpoAthlietcs.com.
Final Team Standings
- Loyola (Loyola takes second on goal differential)
- La Salle
Full Chicago Classic All-Tournament Team
Valpo – Nacho Miras (MVP), Matthew King, Rafael Mentzingen, Ramone Howell
Loyola - Elliot Collier, Kyle Thomson, Ryan Walker
DePaul – Caleb Pothast, Philipp Konigstein
La Salle - Zach Rutherford, Soji Olatoye