Men’s soccer opens season in Wisconsin

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

Eastern head coach Kiki Lara expects his team to come out of its first regular season games this weekend with a 2-0 record, and he and his team intend to do it against a pair of Wisconsin teams they went 1-1 against last season.

“Yes, we do feel that way (about winning both games),” Lara said. “If we do what is expected from us, then we should go on the road to both places and do very well.”

The Panthers will travel to Wisconsin this year, beginning on Friday where they will hope to spoil the home-opener of a Green Bay team they beat 2-0 last year.

This season’s Green Bay team is very similar to the squad Eastern saw last year, as the Phoenix return 14 players from last year’s team, including All-Conference Second Team defender Andre Baines.

However, like Eastern, it has also taken another step forward in development, Lara said.

“The head coach has been there for three years as well, so they are in their third year in development as a program and they are in a much better spot then they have been the last couple years. So, they are getting better as well, Lara said.

While it is returning a lot of players, Green Bay did lose its goalkeeper from last season, Kyle Ihn, who was second in the Horizon conference with 65 saves in 2016, and will be replacing him with freshman Jamison Yoder and redshirt sophomore Nikola Kahvedzic.

“They’ll be organized. They’ll be tough to break down. They have some very special players up top, they can hurt,” Lara said.

However, Green Bay may very well make up for the loss of its goalkeeper with the return of 2015 top scorer Audi Jepsen, who missed last season because of injury.

“We are ready for them. Are we at our max point of the season, no. But we are ready for Green Bay, and we are ready for what’s to come this weekend,” Lara said.

On Sunday, Eastern will travel to Milwaukee, where it will look for redemption after Milwaukee beat them 2-1 last season in Champaign.

The reputation Eastern has on defense is very similar to the one Milwaukee carries offensively, as they finished third in the Horizon League last season in goals and return nine starters this year, including their top five scorers from last season.

“Different matchup wise (from Green Bay) is that they are six or seven years into the development as a program. They have had a program running there for about four or five years.”

“They are senior latent, they have players that have done very well the last couple years in the Horizon league,” Lara said. “So, if you take the experience that we have gained from just last year, they would have that time three or four, they have a lot of experience and they’ve been a program put together for a while and they have some very special players as well.”

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