After playing six games in a span of 15 days, all on the road, the Drake men’s soccer team (1-7-2) is ready to put behind its non-conference season and open up Missouri Valley Conference play at home against Creighton (5-2-1) this Saturday at 7 p.m.
Drake has not played in the Cownie Soccer Complex since Sept. 2, when it lost to Marquette 2-0. The Bulldogs went 0-4-2 in their road trip.
“We played probably the toughest non-conference schedule in America, definitely in the Midwest,” said head coach Sean Holmes. “We just ran out of gas in those last couple of games.”
The Bulldogs have struggled in their non-conference season. Their schedule has included tough foes such as Northwestern, Marquette, St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Errors and lack of leadership are two trends that have plagued the Bulldogs early on this season.
“Good teams are not only good, they don’t make mistakes. Our season has been littered with mistakes. Good teams will punish those mistakes,” Holmes said. “College athletics is upperclass-driven. It’s juniors and seniors that are driving your season. We’ve been addressing this in practices and meetings to make sure they understand what’s demanded of them.”
Drake closed its road trip with a trio of ugly losses in a four-game span against solid teams, falling 4-1 to William and Mary, 4-1 to Old Dominion and losing 5-0 against Memphis last Saturday.
Holmes is confident the Bulldog defense will be able to turn things around.
“That doesn’t worry me that much. It does concern me that in the past we’ve been solidly defensive,” Holmes said. “We’ve given up 14 goals in the last four games. That’s not acceptable at this level. It’s a team effort we have to address.”
Fatigue has been a factor for Drake, as it was forced to play a lot of younger players and had to go through long trips, including an 11-hour bus ride to Memphis.
“Just like anything, that’s a lot of playing in a short amount of time,” said junior midfielder Bryan Jantsch. “It took a mental toll and a physical toll.”
Despite facing a tough non-conference schedule crowded with road games, Jantsch wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“(Holmes) made it hard and on the road, and he wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t think we could handle it,” Jantsch said. “It helped us and prepared us for conference. We can reflect on what happened and fix our mistakes.”
A fresh start to the conference season is just what the Bulldogs need to get back into shape.
The Bulldogs will aim to snap out of their funk by taking on their rival, Creighton. Even though the Bluejays dominate the all-time series 21-3-7, the Bulldogs own three wins and two ties in the last 10 meetings between the teams.
Creighton made it all the way to the Final Four last season.
“They graduated a lot of guys. It’s a very different team. We’re both in a rebuilding phase,” Holmes said.
Still, Creighton is a consistent title contender every year and the Bulldogs will need to put on a strong performance on Saturday in order to get a favorable result.
“They’re always top-notch (Creighton), always in the rankings,” Jantsch said. “It’s basically containing their assets, limit their chances.”
Jantsch also talked about some of the keys for Drake to be successful, citing staying in front of the ball, being patient and taking advantage of scoring chances.
“We’ve had plenty of chances (this season). Finishing our chances will be key against Creighton,” Jantsch said.
The Bulldogs have a chance to start MVC play off on the right foot, and they’ll be happy to be back at home to do so.
“Major key, and I love this one, is we’re at home. You are always more comfortable playing at home. We have been pretty good at protecting our home-field advantage since I’ve been here,” Jantsch said. “I’m happy we had a tough schedule, it definitely prepared us well. In conference, everyone is 0-0. We can put our non-conference schedule in the past and reflect on it.”