Logan Lee looks back at the ball during a game this season. Lee and the Bulldogs are off to a 1-4-1 start. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo.
JOSH MULLENIX | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was supposed to be one of those years for Butler men’s soccer. But through six games, it just hasn’t been.
The Butler team that was picked ninth in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll and second in the Big East is currently 1-4-1, hasn’t scored a goal in over two weeks and most recently, lost their Big East opener 3-0 to Creighton.
“We have to get back to winning ways,” head coach Paul Snape said. “Once you get winning then it becomes infectious. But on any team, once you lose you can allow it to become negative and it can paralyze you.”
On top of their preseason accolades, the Bulldogs boasted a roster that, on paper, was more talented than the team that went to the Sweet 16 last season and won the Big East regular season title.
Sure, the 2017 team had senior captains Eric Dick and Eric Leonard — Dick being a first-team All-American and Leonard who started 69 games. But this team has nine new freshman, many of whom played at the highest level of youth soccer from all over the globe to make up the ninth-best recruiting class in the country.
Current captains Jared Timmer and Marco Charalambous have returned after missing last season with injuries. Seniors Joe Moulden and Kieran Geldenhuys command the back line as key pieces to last year’s success and Brandon Guhl is returning as the Big East co-offensive player of the year last season.
So the question is, what’s the problem?
Start on the offensive end of the field. As true as it is that defense wins championships, it’s impossible to win a game if you can’t score. If you’re not scoring the best you can hope for is a tie. The Bulldogs only have six goals on the season. On the list of Big East teams with more goals this season is Villanova — a team picked to finish eighth in the conference.
The Bulldogs rank outside the top 125 in the country in both goals and total shots. Nobody is getting many opportunities, and when they do, they haven’t resulted in many balls in the back of the net.
The lack of goal scoring might be attributed to offensive diversity. Brandon Guhl is responsible for three of the six goals this season. Freshmen Louie Bulger and Eric Hollenkamp each have one goal each and junior Derek Sutton scored the first goal of his Butler career in the loss to Columbia.
Bulger is a defender, and Sutton is a midfielder that has never been asked to score goals for Butler. Goal scoring just is not there for the Bulldogs on a consistent basis from anyone other than Guhl.
“We’ve got one of the best pure goal scorers in the country,” Snape said. “But we’ve not created enough chances for him and not enough chances for everyone else. I don’t care who scores, but we’ve got to get other guys stepping up taking ownership. They’ve got to have composure in front of the net.”
The lack of goal scoring hasn’t exactly been compensated by solid defense on the other end of the field. Through six games, Butler opponents have 93 shots, or just over 15 per game. As a result, the Bulldogs rank outside the top 100 in goals against average.
“Right now, defending is not on, and I don’t mean just the defenders,” Snape said. “We’re just not doing the basics. We call it brilliance of basics, just getting in your position, running, competing. We’re just off, 95 percent and we’re getting called out.”
The Bulldog defense has been solid in the first half of most games this season, but late game decision making has been a problem for this team.
In their season opener, Butler gave up a late game penalty kick resulting in a tie at then No. 4 Akron. Against Drake in their first home match, Butler allowed two goals with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation. And the nail in the coffin came against Columbia, when Butler committed a foul in the box to lose in double overtime on a penalty kick.
On the subject of fouls, let’s address the issue of the freshmen. Whether it is a matter of freshmen stepping into roles that are too big is yet to be clear. But decision making among that group has not been great so far this year. In five of Butler’s six matches, freshman have been assigned yellow cards, and Hollenkamp received a red card in Butler’s loss to Creighton on Saturday.
Maybe these guys haven’t found a way to work as a cohesive unit. Maybe if a couple of bad decisions here or there went the other way we’d be talking about a great start to the season.
Whatever it is, one thing is for sure. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @TheJMULL_