After a rough start to the season, the Drake men’s soccer team is looking ahead to this weekend to challenge a pair of East Coast teams, William and Mary and Old Dominion, at the Creighton Invitational tournament in Omaha, Neb.
“The record doesn’t show how hard we’ve worked,” said fifth-year senior midfielder Michael Thaden.
Thaden played on the team in 2010 before taking the 2011 season off and believes this year’s team is “the strongest it’s been” since he first took the field, citing a strong defense, a midfield that creates a lot of chances to score and good team chemistry. Redshirt junior and starting goalkeeper Rich Gallagher agrees, stating that the team “fights from start to finish,” but the inability to finish chances in front of the opponents’ goals has led to a less-than-stellar record.
Despite Gallagher being the conference leader in saves, the Bulldogs have so far only recorded one win against Loyola, a draw last Sunday against a talented Northern Illinois squad and four disappointing losses against the likes of the Cincinnati, Saint Louis, Marquette and, as Thaden puts it, a “heartbreaking” overtime loss to Northwestern University. The Wildcats came into the game having received votes in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top-25 national poll.
Also contributing to the adversity faced in Drake’s first few games of the season is the lack of starting experience in much of this year’s starting 11. Last year, the Bulldogs held a 11-8-1 record, finishing fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 3-3 record in conference play.
However, of Drake’s 11 starters in 2011, only five returned for the 2012 season. The loss of prolific midfielder Matt Kuhn, who scored 11 goals for the Bulldogs last season and assisted four others, has also hurt the team’s ability to score goals, and freshmen outnumber all other classes on the squad by a wide margin.
This year, only Thaden has scored more than one goal, on a free kick against Northwestern, as well as a top-notch 28th minute strike against Northern Illinois. Juniors Nick Marshall, Logan North and Addison Eck each knocked-in a goal during the 3-1 win against Loyola. Eck is also the team’s leading assister with two assists credited to him in six games.
Both Thaden and Gallagher believe finding that “last ounce of determination” is the key to winning against the upcoming Virginia teams.
William and Mary’s season has also gotten off to a rocky start with a 1-2-1 record. Season statistics for William and Mary’s team, known to fans as “the Tribe,” show that they tend to start slowly but gain momentum in the second half, much like the Bulldogs seem to do. If Drake can apply as much offensive pressure during the second half as they have in recent games, the Tribe can expect a competitive match.