Men’s soccer to open season on road

JJ Bullock, Soccer Reporter


Senior midfielder Fabio Collado watches as teammate Justin Oliver wrestles for the loose ball in a match against University of Illinois-Springfield on Aug. 14 at O’Brien Field.
Justin Brown
Senior midfielder Fabio Collado watches as teammate Justin Oliver wrestles for the loose ball in a match against University of Illinois-Springfield on Aug. 14 at O’Brien Field.

With the preseason in the rear view mirror, the Eastern men’s soccer team can now turn its focus to a pair of Horizon League teams it will face to open up the regular season.

The first of the two matchups sends the Panthers on the road to face Northern Kentucky. The Norse, who were slotted to take 8th in their conference in a recent coaches poll, were 1-1 in exhibition play, dropping a game against Rio Grande University, 3-1, and then earning a victory, blanking the University of Kentucky, 3-0.

Northern Kentucky will have a familiar face leading them up front; Kobie Qualah, who led his team in goals (6) and points (12), is returning to Northern Kentucky for his junior season. Qualah was responsible for the game-winning goal in overtime that delivered Northern Kentucky a 2-1 victory over Eastern last season. Qualah makes up a trio of players from Northern Kentucky that have been on Eastern’s radar.

“They’re powerful in their front three,” Eastern director of soccer Kiki Lara said. “I think more so with Northern Kentucky is they’re just a good team. They all committed to a role. But yes, their front three are powerful, and we’ve got to be aware of the counter attack and how they might affect that.”

Northern Kentucky head coach John Basalyga, who coached the team to an 8-7-4 record last season, is returning in 2016 for his 14th season at the helm of the Norse. The style of play Basalyga has instilled in his squad is what caught the eye of Lara.

“Just in terms of knowing the history of Northern Kentucky, they’re just a blue collar, hark-working group of guys that are well coached, and they take pride in being that way,” he said. “So you know you’re going to get a dog fight; you know you’re going to get people that are committed, organized, fit and want to beat you.”

After the game on the road with Northern Kentucky, Eastern will return home to play in a game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Lakeside Field.

Milwaukee was selected to take sixth in the Horizon League this year and is coming off a 2015 season in which they posted a 5-10-3 record. Milwaukee will also be without their leading scorer from last season, Declan Rodriguez.

However, Sunday’s matchup with Milwaukee is still on the distant horizon for the Panthers.

“It’s a little too soon,” Lara said about discussing the Milwaukee game. “I mean we’ve done a little research on them, but I typically will focus on the next game. We will probably watch a little bit of Milwaukee tonight, tomorrow, just to prep them a little bit, but I don’t like to get too far ahead of ourselves, and guys need to focus on Friday night, and then Friday after the game, as soon as the game is over, we will focus on Milwaukee.”

The Panthers, however, appear to be ready for anything thrown their way this weekend after turning in a strong week of practice.

“It’s sharp,” Lara said of the team’s performance in practice. “The guys are hungry, they’re ready to go. They have a chip on their shoulder; they have something to prove. It’s been very easy to go to practice and work with the guys; they want to get better.”

Every rose as its thorn, however, as despite the team’s strong practices, the squad is dealing with injuries on the roster.

“We’ve had some injuries,” he said. “Just a few, from some guys that definitely could contribute, so that’s unfortunate, but I also think there are a lot of guys who are ready both physically and mentally, technically, tactically; so that’s a big part of our program, is that everyone is prepared and feels confident to step into the game.”

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]