Three key questions facing men’s soccer team

Dillan Schorfheide , Assistant Sports Editor

After its last exhibition match Tuesday against DePaul, the men’s soccer team will have a week to prepare for the regular season.

But going into the year, Eastern is projected to finish fourth out of six teams in the Summit League, according to the coonference’s preseason poll.

Each of the six coaches voted to place the six teams in the preseason standings, and Denver, for the sixth straight year, received the most first-place votes. Omaha and Western Illinois took second and third respectively, with Oral Roberts and Fort Wayne placing fifth and sixth.

The Summit League also announced preseason players to watch for each team. The two Eastern players on the list, senior Kris Luke and junior Edgar Mesa, have a big role in answering some questions for the team this season.

Can the offense score?- A sparse offense hurt the Panthers last year. The Panthers scored 10 goals in the whole season, compared to opponent’ s 21. On top of that, Eastern’s two leading scorers from last year are both not returning members of the team this fall. Lastly, from Sept. 13 to Oct. 10 last fall, the Panthers went seven straight matches without scoring a goal. 

To turn things around this year, Eastern will need some leaders to step up on offense, and look for those leaders to be Luke, a midfielder/forward, and redshirt junior forward/midfielder Christian Sosnowski. Both had the time in the attacking third last year to be prepared for this season. Luke had one assist last year, and Sosnowski had one goal and assist each. Sosnowski had the third-most points on the team last year (three), and head coach Kiki Lara said he will be a big part of what he wants the team to do this season.

Sosnowski said he believes his big role for the team will be to score goals. 

“We’ve always been solid defensively, but the biggest thing is making the connection between midfielders and forwards, getting on the same page, and putting the product in the back of the net,” he said.

After Eastern’s 2-0 loss to Wisconsin in an exhibition match on Aug. 14, Lara and Luke both said finishing is something the team needs to work on. 

“We created more chances for ourselves, we looked potent,” Lara said, “we created two or three good chances that should have resulted in goals.” 

Eastern recorded two shots on goal against the preseason twelfth-ranked Badgers, coming from sophomore Jake Andrews and redshirt freshman Zabdiel Justiniano.

Can the defense maintain the “iron curtain” mentality?- Before the match against Wisconsin, Lara said the defense needed to sustain its defensive grit and its iron curtain mentality. The Badgers held an 8-to-1 corner kick advantage over Eastern, and Wisconsin scored its first goal midway through the first half, it did not score its second goal until late in the second half.

Last season, Eastern gave up 21 goals to its opponents, giving up the most of those goals in the second half (10) and two in overtime. This season, two returning players will anchor the defense: Mesa and sophomore Erik Isaksson.

Mesa is another player whom Lara said is going to be a key to the team this season, and Isaksson, along with Mesa, were named to the 2017 Summit League All-Newcomer team. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, and 6 feet 3 inches, Isaksson and Mesa are big bodies who can dominate the air game on corners and free kicks.

Mesa said that he will be playing a center back position this year. After the match against Wisconsin, he said that the defense did pretty well. 

“We still have to improve on a couple things, especially the connection to midfielders and forwards, but we did a good job,” Mesa said.

Who is the last line of defense this year?- For the past few years, Eastern had an elite talent as its goalie in Mike Novotny, who was named the 2017 Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year, and he was named to the 2017 First Team All-Summit League. 

So coming into this year, a goalkeeper will be essential to Eastern’s success, and Lara has said that Jonathan Burke is the team’s top choice. 

“He has come to camp fit and mature, and he is ready to take ownership of the position,” Lara said.

Burke has not played a minute of college soccer yet. After only surrendering two goals to Wisconsin. 

“Jon needs to just get those games under his belt, get game experience, and really learn how to handle the ups and downs of the game and the ups and downs of results,” Lara said.

Eastern’s second and last exhibition match of the year is Tuesday at 1 p.m. at DePaul.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]