Column: Men’s soccer hosts conference-leading Denver Saturday

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

Eastern’s men’s soccer team is currently riding a three-match losing streak, going into what quite possibly will be its toughest match of the season. The Panthers host Summit League powerhouse Denver Saturday at Lakeside Field at 3 p.m., in what is Eastern’s conference-opening match.

With conference play starting, what better time than now to look at the current conference standings, and see who ranks where in my power rankings.

Denver- With no surprise, the Pioneers are first in the conference and first in these power rankings. With a current 8-0-1 record, including a 4-3 win over conference foe Omaha, Denver already has a step ahead of the rest of the conference. And, if nothing else, Denver has a prolific scorer in Andre Shinyashiki, who was just named the United Soccer Coaches National Player of the Week for the second straight week. Not to mention, he has 19 goals and two assists. In Denver’s win over Omaha, Shinyashiki scored all four goals. Oh, and Denver is No. 4 in Division 1 men’s soccer rankings.

Fort Wayne- The Mastodons have made a name for themselves so far this year, after finishing last in the Summit League last year. This year, Fort Wayne is 6-3, including a 1-0 win over Green Bay, who defeated Eastern by that same score. Fort Wayne’s offensive attack has also been potent this year, scoring the second-most goals out of the Summit League teams (24, Denver leads with 25). Leading that attack is Matthew Lieshout, who has eight goals and one assist. In total, seven Mastodons have scored this year, all of whom, except one, have multiple goals.

Oral Roberts- With a similar story to Fort Wayne, Oral Roberts finished fifth in the conference last year, and now sit in third in conference standings and in my power rankings. The Golden Eagles have 16 goals on the season, good for third in the conference. Oral Roberts will have its conference opener Saturday against Western Illinois, and if the season so far is any indicator, the Golden Eagles will grab the victory there. Dante Brigida leads Oral Roberts with six goals and one assist.

Eastern- The upside for the Panthers is that the offense started the season on an improved note compared to last season as a whole, averaging more shots per game and scoring half of last season’s goal total in six matches. Christian Sosnowski leads Eastern with two goals, while five other Panthers have scored a goal each as well. Jonathan Burke has been solid in goal, allowing a .95 goals against average and saving 78.4 percent of the shots he faces. A slight bump in the road has derailed the Panthers, as they have averaged only 5.3 shots per game their last three matches, down from the 10 shots per game average over its first six matches. They did fire off eight shots in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Belmont, but a tie, at least, would be helpful for eastern Saturday.

Omaha- The Mavericks may be a surprising choice to be fifth, and realistically, they could be fourth if I wanted to rank them higher based on potential, rather than current numbers. But from that numbers standpoint, Omaha is only 1-5 so far this year and last in the Summit League, surprising after finishing third in the regular season last year. But they take the fifth spot because they have scored more than Western Illinois on the season, and they have put up commendable fights against Denver, who as already established is fourth in the entire nation, and UCLA, who was ranked 11th in the nation and narrowly beat Omaha 2-1. That being said, the Mavericks’ defense will need to hunker down to give them a fighting chance, as Omaha’s opponents are taking 12.8 shots per game, compared to Omaha’s 9.3. Scoring one goal against No. 11 UCLA, then three on Denver in back-to-back matches is a good way to build momentum going into the rest of the conference schedule.

Western Illinois- Even though the Leathernecks are currently ahead of Omaha in the Summit League, they have failed to really do anything noteworthy thus far. In any statistical category that the Summit League recognizes and tracks, no Western Illinois player is in the top 3, while every other team has at least one player in a top-3 spot. Paul Kirdorf leads Western with two goals, and three other Leathernecks have added a goal each. Western has had similar results to some common opponents as Eastern: Western lost 2-0 to Green Bay, while Eastern lost 1-0; Western defeated IUPUI 1-0, and Eastern tied IUPUI 0-0; lastly, Western only lost to Northern Illinois 1-0, and Eastern lost to the Huskies 2-0. But despite that, Western does not have a threatening offensive attack and has given up 15 goals this season, tied for the most of any Summit League team with Fort Wayne.

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