By James Ashcroft, senior defender on the Men’s Soccer Team. First-Team member of the College Sports Madness Horizon League Preseason All-Conference Team in 2013.
After an eight-year drought, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Men’s soccer team had a season to remember. The Panther’s returned to the NCAA tournament after winning the Horizon League Tournament for the first time since 2005.
It wasn’t just a great end to the season, the record-breaking season all began with the first minute of the regular season. When sophomore midfielder Declan Rodriguez gave Milwaukee a one-nil lead against 12th ranked Marquette in the twelfth biggest rivalry in the country, the men’s soccer team knew a great season lay ahead.
“I’m proud of everyone of the seniors,” Head Coach Kris Kelderman said. “We had expectations at the start of the season and we met them. The seniors are a great bunch of guys that will be missed, they’ve set the bench mark for this program and left it in a great place.”
The 2-1 victory over the Golden Eagles in the first game of the season led to one of Milwaukee’s best starts to a season. The 9-0-1 start saw the team reach number 24 in the Soccer America Poll, the first time the Panthers had been ranked since the start of the 2003 season.
After winning the Horizon League tournament after two impressive 2-0 wins over Oakland Grizzlies in the semi finals and UIC Flames in the Final, Milwaukee gained a first round berth to the NCAA tournament, were they played UW-Madison Badgers. Despite the one-nil loss in the first round Milwaukee finished the season with a 15-2-2 record.
Laurie Bell led the team with goals and was named the Horizon League offensive player of the year, as well as sharing the player of the year award with UIC’s Bob Novak. Junior captain Bell finished the year on 13 goals as he led Milwaukee to one of their best ever seasons.
Even with the well-deserved individual honors that Bell received, I don’t feel as if he played to his full potential. I’m not trying to knock Bell in any way, in what truly was a great season for the midfielder from England. But a sportsman of his ability will know that he didn’t perhaps put in the performances that he did in the 2012 season. This is in mind, any opposition in the Horizon League should be very worried for the following season, as only confidence will have grown after this year and Bell will be more dangerous than ever.
Bell was joined on the first-team all Horizon League by senior defender Andrew Stone. Stone, a transfer from UW-Green Bay had a solid year in defense and was named tournament MVP after a goal in the semi and final of the tournament that saw the Panthers crowned Horizon League champions.
Second Team honors were given to Robbie Boyd and Luke Goodnetter. Goodnetter himself saw his 30-yard volley against Valparaiso Crusaders named U.S College Soccer men’s goal of the week.
It is the unsung hero’s however that also contributed to a successful season for Milwaukee. Freshmen Liam Anderson played every minute of the season and tied the school record of ten clean sheets (shutouts), yet for some reason the Horizon League decided not to give him any recognition. The political voting behind the Horizon League is something rather baffling as they seem to pick awards based on stats as opposed to performances, and despite Anderson leading the way for goalkeepers, he received no recognition what so ever.
Mention should also be given to the defense that helped Anderson. Aaron Cranfill, Junior Juarez and Austin Toth also were key members in the defense who helped tie the school record. Declan Rodriguez should also be mentioned for praise as his defensive duties in midfield of breaking up play and starting counter attacks are valuable to any team, and is something that will go unnoticed.
Swedish forward Rami Younes was also a key contributor to Milwaukee’s front line. The Swede’s tricky and fancy footwork has been a breath of fresh air to the Panther’s front line and has amounted a number of assists to the Panther’s goal tally. Younes was also a member of the Horizon League champion’s squad that didn’t receive any recognition from the conference.
All politics aside from individual awards, the 2013 Milwaukee Panthers will look back on this season as one to remember. A year that saw them crowned Horizon League Champions, ranked as high as number 23 in the country, gain birth to the NCAA tournament and produce the Horizon League player of the year is no small feat. Losing eight seniors will be a big blow for the following year, but the benchmark has been laid. Milwaukee is back on the map and are firmly heading in the right direction.