Men's Soccer Opens 2014 Season Against Lipscomb, No. 21 Wisconsin

Sophomore Jalen Brown is back after finishing third on the team with seven points in 2013.

Sophomore Jalen Brown is back after finishing third on the team with seven points in 2013.

Aug. 28, 2014

Live Stats (Lipscomb)
 | Live Stats (Wisconsin)

CINCINNATI – Xavier men’s soccer kicks off its 2014 season this weekend, hosting Lipscomb at the Xavier Soccer Complex in a 7:00 p.m. match on Friday before travelling to Madison, Wisc. to meet Wisconsin on Sunday.

The first 250 fans to arrive at Friday’s season-opener will receive complementary vuvuzelas.

After a 2-0 preseason with a pair of shutouts, the Musketeers will look to continue their exhibition success against the preseason Atlantic Sun Conference favorites and a 2013 NCAA second-round team from the Big Ten Conference.

“I always say that I get excited for the first day of preseason, but I’m not sure if I’m excited for the first game of the season,” joked fifth-year head coach Andy Fleming, who has led the Musketeers to four-straight seasons with 10-plus wins. “Obviously, I’m excited, but it’s more of a nerve-thing.

“I think you always wonder, as a coach, if your team can manage itself yet and what the team’s rhythm going to be like. We don’t know that yet, usually that takes a couple games to get going. But I do have enough trust in the preparation we’ve had and the returning guys, to think that we’ll be ready to go at 7:00 on Friday.”

Xavier returns seven starters from last season’s 10-7-2 side and adds the 26th-rated recruiting class in the nation, according to College Soccer News. Still, there will be some big roles to fill after losing nine letter-winners from a graduating class that took the program to three NCAA Tournaments in four seasons.

“It was an interesting preseason in that we have 11 new players on a 27-man roster, so, in essence, almost half of our team is new,” said Fleming. “This is a work-in-progress, but I think this team has a high learning curve. I think this team, by game six, will be pretty good. I think the first four or five games, we’re going to have grind-out and learn on the run. The biggest thing with the preseason is that we won and learned lessons.”

“As a coach, usually you have lose or fail to get your point across or have people to buy into what you’re saying. I think, overall, we’ve been able to get two shutouts and two results. Anytime you can beat a program of Indiana’s caliber, it means something, but we have not played as well as we can and we have not peaked yet. We’ve gotten results, but there’s plenty of learning to do.”

Amongst the starters lost were a couple major pieces and current pros in Nick Hagglund and Matt Walker. Hagglund, the 2013 BIG EAST Defender of the Year, was selected 10th overall by Toronto FC in the MLS SuperDraft. Forward Matt Walker, a second team All-BIG EAST selection, signed with the Columbus Crew in January after leading XU with 25 points (9g, 7a) in 2013.

The Musketeers tied for third with a 6-3 record during their first run through the BIG EAST Conference, but were picked to finish seventh in this year’s preseason poll. Senior Will Walker was tabbed to the league’s preseason all-conference squad and will be a featured piece on offense after tallying five times and recording a pair of assists last season.

XU returns its third and fourth-leading scorers from last season, forwards Jalen Brown and Calum Latham, who tallied a combined five times. Senior defender Garrett Halfhill also returns to lend some stability to the backline, where he produced a goal and three assists last season.

Scouting the Bison
Lipscomb finished its preseason 1-1 after beating Belmont, 3-2, and losing to UAB, 5-3, in a pair of high-scoring matches.

The Bison return most everyone from last year’s side, which advanced to the semi-finals of the A-Sun Tournament and finished 9-9-2. As a result, Lipscomb was picked to win the A-Sun this season in the league’s preseason poll.

Three Bison landed on the preseason all-conference team highlighted by Co-Player of the Year, Omar Djabi, who led the league in goals (9), points (21) and game-winners (4) last season. A-Sun Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Gearin, is also back for Lipscomb after helping the team record seven shutouts last year.

Scouting the Badgers
Wisconsin comes into the season ranked No. 21 in the NSCAA Coaches Poll and will provide a stiff test, coming off a 14-5-2 campaign that ended in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament – the first trip to the tourney for the program in 18 years.

The Badgers will kick off their season on Friday night against San Francisco, as both XU and Wisconsin will have just two days of recovery.

Wisconsin was picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten this season after putting together the fifth-most wins in program history last year. The Badgers also bring a 14-match home winning streak into the season, which is the longest active streak in the country.

Three players were named to the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch list including Jacob Brindle, who finished third on the team with eight goals in 2013.

Series Stuff
Xavier leads the all-time matchup with Lipscomb 2-0 as the two sides meet for the first time since the Musketeers took back-to-back decisions during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Against Wisconsin, Xavier is 1-1-1 all-time but the two programs haven’t seen each other since Sept. 29, 2002 – a 3-2 win for XU. Previously, Wisconsin came away with a 3-0 win on Sept. 14, 1997 and the two sides battled to a 2-2 tie all the way back on Sept. 1, 1980.

Season Openers
Xavier begins its 41st season of men’s soccer in 2014 and has put together a 1-1-2 record in its last four season openers, including results against Marshall (1-0 win in 2011) and No. 20 Northwestern (1-1 tie in 2012).

Last season, Xavier dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to Furman as the Paladins equalized with 4:50 remaining and tallied again in the second overtime to steal a win at the College of Charleston Tournament.  Will Walker, Calum Latham and Matt Walker all scored in the match for XU.

The Musketeers are 11-21-8 all-time in season openers.

Xavier went 10-7-2 in 2013 to record its fourth consecutive season with 10 or more wins. The Musketeers are one of just 12 programs to stack up 10-plus wins in each of the last four seasons.

Over the past four seasons, Xavier’s combined record of 46-22-15 (.643) ranks in the top-15 nationally. 

We Don’t Rebuild, We Reload
Xavier graduated a nine-member senior class that led the program to three NCAA Tournaments and 46 wins over the past four years, but brings in the nation’s 26th-ranked recruiting class according to College Soccer News.

Head coach Andy Fleming has now assembled 13-straight top-40 recruiting classes.