MILWAUKEE – The Panthers wrapped up their season Friday night on a high note, upsetting Horizon League contender Northern Kentucky in a 4-0 shutout in what was, aside from the opener against Evansville, the best offensive output of the season. However, the team did not do enough to qualify for the Horizon League tournament.
Senior midfielder Declan Rodriguez concluded his UWM career with a bang, scoring two of the four goals. In addition, goalkeeper Agustin Rey, another graduating player, ended his years for Milwaukee well, getting his fourth shutout of the season. Head coach Kris Kelderman discussed his team’s play after the game.
“It was a great win and a really good performance by everybody,” he said. “The team played really well together. We scored four goals – we have been waiting for a performance like that for a long time. I am glad it happened tonight. The guys were pretty sharp tonight and I was very pleased.”
Despite the rough record (5-10-3), Milwaukee showed some promise with many of the young attackers developing their skills. The other two goals against the Norse came from two freshmen (Francesco Saporito, Peter Raymonds). Kelderman alluded to youth and grit in his description of an otherwise disappointing season that ended well.
“Obviously, we were disappointed in the results from the season,” he said. “We know we are a better team than what the results showed, but that is the reality. They came out, won 4-0 against a Northern Kentucky team that was playing for the second seed in the conference. That shows that there is a lot of heart and a lot of passion with these guys and that means a bright future for UWM soccer.”
The 2015 season was similar to 2014 in that the team endured many growing pains with such a young nucleus, particularly at the forward and midfielder positions. Experience was abundant on the back end, and that reflected in the Panthers’ stellar defense. Outside of a four-goal yield against national powerhouse Creighton, Milwaukee did not allow a team to score more than two goals in a game.
Because of the youth and the struggling offense, the team missed many opportunities to have an otherwise more successful season. In addition to the three draws, eight of the Panthers’ ten losses came by one goal, with seven of them ending in 1-0 scores.
The departing seniors are Rey, Rodriguez, forward Zach Stevenson and defenders Dustin Ashley and Aaron Horvat. Kelderman commented on the fitting send-off for his graduating class.
“It was great,” he said. “We had an opportunity to play all six seniors and all but one was in the starting lineup and he came in late as a goalkeeper change. They all had a great game. It was a great way to end their season with a victory and all of the seniors having a big part of it. I couldn’t ask for a better scenario as far as a send-off for the seniors.”
Next season, Milwaukee will look to change its fortunes in close games and generate more offense in its quest for the conference and NCAA tournaments. In addition, the Panthers will need to find a quality net-minder to replace Rey.