Valparaiso (2-2-1, 1-0 MVC)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – 7 p.m. CT – Des Moines, Iowa – at Drake (0-5, 0-0 MVC)
Monday, Sept. 18 – 6 p.m. CT – Valparaiso, Ind. – vs. Fort Wayne (1-2-3, 0-0 Summit)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team will look to move to 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference on Saturday night at Drake as it closes out a stretch of six straight road contests to begin the season. The Crusaders will finally get a taste of playing in front of their home fans on Monday, as Fort Wayne comes to town for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Previously: The Crusaders fell 1-0 in overtime to the SIU Edwardsville Cougars, the 2016 MVC Tournament champions who are now members of the Mid-American Conference. The Cougars defended their home pitch with a golden goal in the 96th minute. Senior Ramone Howell accounted for three of Valpo’s five shots. The Crusader defense yielded just one shot on goal in regulation.
Following the Crusaders: Saturday’s game at Cownie Soccer Complex can be seen on The Valley on ESPN3, while Monday’s fixture can be heard on WVUR, Valpo’s student radio station, with Payton Ball and Kevin Huang describing the action. Live stats will be available for both matches. Links to live coverage can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes – Drake: The Crusaders and Bulldogs will get together for the first time since 2003 and the fourth time ever. Valpo is 0-2-1 against Drake with the only draw coming 1-1 in the first meeting between the two sides on Oct. 1, 1995. The Bulldogs prevailed 3-1 on Sept. 29, 1996 and 1-0 in overtime on Sept. 28, 2003.
Scouting the Opposition – Drake: The Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth in the MVC Preseason Poll, narrowly ahead of the Crusaders. Drake has five starters back after going 6-12-1 (2-5-1 MVC) a year ago. They’re similar to the Crusaders in the sense that both teams graduated large senior classes last season. Drake has 11 underclassmen and 12 newcomers on the roster this year. Before facing the Crusaders on Saturday, the Bulldogs visit Green Bay on Wednesday night. Mason Leonard and Ryan Merideth own Drake’s two goals on the season entering Wednesday, while goalkeeper Caden McCullough has made 22 saves.
Nice to Meet You, Brown Field: After six games away from Brown Field, the Crusaders finally hold their first home match of the regular season. This marks the first time since 1996 that the Crusaders have started the season with six straight matches away from home. It’s also the most true road matches to start a season in the history of the program, which began in 1983. Valpo is 6-0-1 in its last seven home openers with the most recent defeat in a home opener coming to nationally-ranked Michigan in 2009. Valpo is 8-1-1 in home openers since the Avery era began in 2007.
Series Notes – Fort Wayne: The Mastodons and Crusaders will go at it for the 20th time with Valpo holding a 15-4-0 record in the first 19 meetings. Valpo went to Fort Wayne and earned a 2-0 victory a year ago. Fort Wayne’s most recent trip to Brown Field saw the Mastodons capture a 1-0 victory on Oct. 29, 2014. That loss snapped Valpo’s 14-game winning streak of Fort Wayne that dated back to 1986. The Crusaders have won 15 of the last 16 matches between the two teams.
Scouting the Opposition – Fort Wayne: The Mastodons will have two more matches between now and Monday’s matchup with the Crusaders – Wednesday against Detroit Mercy and Saturday at Bradley. Fort Wayne has already played one MVC team this season, falling 3-0 to Central Arkansas in the Dayton Tournament. Five Fort Wayne players have one goal apiece entering this week, while Carmelo Morales leads the way with three points and Oscar Uyamadu has fired off a team-high 20 shots. The Mastodons went 9-9 last season and 2-4 in Summit League action. They are picked to finish fifth of six in the Summit League preseason poll.
Worth Noting: The Crusaders have not lost in regulation yet this season… A victory on Saturday would give Valpo its first 2-0 start to conference play since 1997… Nacho Miras ranks fourth in the nation and leads the MVC in saves per game at 6.00. He’s second in the MVC in both total saves (24) and save percentage (82.8)… The Crusaders are ranked 10th in the West Region in this week’s NSCAA poll.
A Class of His Own: The Crusaders have consistently been a quality side for the last decade. The successful start to this season with a largely new group marks the latest example of Valpo’s ability to sustain success despite roster turnover. The one constant of the program over the years has been head coach Mike Avery, who took the helm in 2007. Avery tied the program record with his 76th career victory on Sept. 3 at DePaul, and has a chance to go where no Crusader coach has gone before with win No. 77 on Saturday. Avery reached 76 victories in his 193rd career match, while previous record holder Mis’ Mrak needed 288 matches to accumulate that many wins.
Head Coach Mike Avery: In his 11th season at the helm of the Crusader men’s soccer program, Mike Avery owns 76 career victories. Under Avery's guidance, the Crusaders have been a stellar defensive side, as eight of the top nine defensive seasons in program history have come during his tenure. Avery has led the Crusaders to a new standard in his time as head coach, as a program that had enjoyed just one winning season in the 24 years prior to his arrival has finished above the .500 mark in six of the last eight years. He has also seen numerous players go on to play professional soccer, including active pros Zev Taublieb, Kyle Zobeck, Stefan Antonijevic, Jordan Aidoud and Nico Campbell.
Mighty Miras: One of the key cogs in Valpo’s early-season success has been Nacho Miras, who is in his first year as Valpo’s starting goalkeeper. The redshirt sophomore was honored as the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 6, named the Chicago Classic MVP and earned a spot on the 11-member College Soccer News National Team of the Week following his performances against Loyola and DePaul. He totaled 12 saves in the two matches, lifting his season total to 24, which ranks third nationally.
Rafael Rolling: Valpo’s Rafael Mentzingen scored in each game of the Chicago Classic, starting the scoring in a 2-1 win over Loyola and netting a goal in the second minute of a victory by that same score over DePaul. Mentzingen's goal in the second minute on Sept. 3 was Valpo's quickest goal since Sept. 23, 2015, when Isaiah Madrid scored at the 1:42 mark against Western Michigan. He has 11 shots this season, which matches Ramone Howell for the team lead. He’s the lone Crusader with two goals this year. On Sept. 6, Mentigen became the first Valpo player to win the MVC Offensive Player of the Week Award.
Senior Success: - Senior Ramone Howell had the match-winner on Sept. 3 against DePaul, boosting his career total to seven goals, the most of any active Crusader. It marked the first time Howell has scored this season and the third game-winning goal of his career.
Topping Ranked Foes: - Valpo's win over No. 18 Loyola continued the program's recent history of success against nationally-ranked opponents. The Crusaders have five wins and one draw against nationally-ranked sides since the start of the 2013 season.
Other Ranked Successes
Oct. 14, 2015 at No. 23 New Mexico: T 1-1 (2OT)
Sept. 28, 2015 vs. No. 23 Omaha: W 1-0 (OT)
Sept, 23, 2015 at No. 18 Western Michigan: W 2-0
Sept. 11, 2014 at No. 7 Michigan State: W 1-0
Sept. 8, 2013 at No. 24 Michigan State: W 2-1
Top of the Table: Since the Valpo-Loyola match is the only MVC contest that has occurred so far this season, the Crusaders sit atop the league standings. The victory garnered Valpo immediate respect across the conference, as the Ramblers went unbeaten and untied in league play a year ago.
Looking Ahead: After this week’s action, the Crusaders will host Central Arkansas on Saturday, Sept. 23 before visiting IUPUI on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Fresh Faces: This season marked the debut of a new-look Valpo roster, as the Crusaders have experienced extreme turnover after carrying a senior-laden team in 2016. Only 10 players return who saw game action a year ago, and four of those appeared in eight games or fewer. The Crusaders had 14 players depart, 12 of whom appeared in 12 games or more. Crusader fans will have to keep their roster handy as they watch a team that features 19 newcomers this year. Just five of Valpo’s 31 goals in 2016 were scored by players who are back in 2017. Of the 11 players who started the season opener at Northwestern, only one started the 2016 season finale (Adan Garcia). Five of the 11 starters and six players in total made their Valpo debuts in the match.
Crusaders Picked Sixth in Preseason Poll: Valpo was picked to finish sixth of seven in a preseason poll of the conference’s head coaches. The Crusaders garnered 15 points in the poll, edging out Bradley (14) for sixth and narrowly behind fifth-place Drake (18). Defending regular season champion Loyola collected five of the seven first-place votes.
Howell Honored: Senior midfielder Ramone Howell represented Valpo on the 2017 Missouri Valley Conference Preseason All-Conference Team. Howell scored three goals and dished out two assists in 14 matches for the Crusaders a year ago. He totaled 33 shots, 14 of which were placed on goal. He is Valpo’s only returning player who scored more than one goal last season.
Looking Back at 2016: Last season, the Crusaders racked up 10 victories, matching the program record for wins in a single season. Following the campaign, they said goodbye to a deep and talented graduating class. Goalkeeper Nico Campbell finished with 22 career shutouts, one shy of a program record. Isaiah Madrid finished the season with 10 goals and 25 points, becoming just the sixth Valpo player to score double-figure goals in a single season and the first to reach 25 points in the last 25 years. Kendan Anderson turned the fastest hat trick in NCAA history on Oct. 31 against IUPUI, scoring three times in 1:21. The season ended as Milwaukee advanced on PKs following a first-round draw with Valpo in the Horizon League Tournament. Valpo was on the road 12 times, tying with two other Division I teams for the most road games, going 6-4-2 away from Brown Field. The team scored 31 goals, allowed 18 and notched seven shutouts.
Seasoned Staff: The Valparaiso men’s soccer coaching staff has the unique distinction of having four coaches (three assistants) with collegiate head coaching experience. Chris Pfau is in his first season as Valpo’s top assistant after spending the last six seasons as the head women’s coach at the University of Houston. Pfau has also guided women’s teams at Akron (2008-12) and Evansville (2005-06). Fourth-year assistant David Stroud was the head coach at St. Joseph’s College from 2011-13, while Brendan Roth spent the 2016 season in charge of Calumet College’s program. Valpo is the only team in The Valley with four individuals with head coaching experience on its staff.
Flying Many Flags: Head coach Mike Avery and his coaching staff have continued to pull from all over the world for players to comprise the Crusader men’s soccer squad. This year’s roster features players from 10 countries and 13 total players born outside the United States. In addition, the following states are represented – Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Maryland, California, Illinois.
#oneVALPO: The Crusader men’s soccer program will continue to promote its #oneVALPO campaign, which celebrates 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.
Crusaders Working With TOCO: Valpo will once again raise funds for They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO) this year. Throughout the 2017 season, the Crusaders will be working to raise money and awareness for TOCO’s work through sport with at risk children in the Caribbean and United States. As part of this effort, men’s soccer will be working with Valpo volleyball to fund a future international service trip, bringing the student-athletes of these two teams to the Caribbean to get on the ground with TOCO and work directly with children the charity supports. The men’s soccer team will hold a TOCO match on Saturday, Sept. 23 against Central Arkansas.