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New faces, new format: Braves soccer hopes to return to Valley tournament

On paper, the Bradley men’s soccer team had a solid 2018 season. They posted a 8-5-4 record, after starting off with a seven game unbeaten streak. To an outsider, it was the perfect follow-up to their 2017 semifinal appearance in the conference tournament.

However, 2018 was a season plagued by injuries. The team limped across the finish line, managing only one Valley win. It was capped off with the failure to qualify for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Now as the new season rolls in, the question is: What did the Braves do in the offseason in order to make a successful Valley bid this season?

Head coach Jim DeRose and his staff made plenty of moves coming into the season including the addition of 13 new players to the roster.

“We are excited about the new faces,” DeRose said. “We started two freshmen, and there are two or three others that will make an impact this season.”

Outside of the additions, the Braves had a successful spring season finishing with a 4-1 record. That included a win against Big Ten foe Michigan State.

“We had a very good spring,” DeRose said. “Even though they were spring games we had good results against good teams.”

On top of the offseason moves, the MVC’s format changed with affiliate Central Arkansas moving to the Sun Belt Conference. In the new format, conference teams will play each other twice: once at home and once on the road.

“It’s the first time to my memory that we’ve tried a true double round-robin,” DeRose said. “This will give everyone more knowledge of each team. Only teams with the most talent and depth will survive.”

The Braves opened the season last Friday at home against the Belmont Bruins. After 110 minutes of play, the game ended in a scoreless draw.

Bradley dominated possession in the midfield. However, they could not get it done in the final third of the field.

“We got the ball in dangerous positions,” DeRose said. “The final ball let us down, the last pass, cross, shot or touch didn’t get it done. When it comes to the final third that’s where I like to tell the guys that we have to drive the Porsche fast.”

The Braves offense, however, was not at fault. The Bruins’ defense did a great job at shutting down offensive veterans junior Gerit Wintermeyer and senior Roman Schindler allowing only two combined shots on goal.

Likewise, the Belmont offense struggled due to Bradley’s strong grip on the midfield. The backline of seniors Jacob McKee and Walid Kherat didn’t allow a shot on goal. Unfortunately, the counter attack was another weak point in the Braves’ game.

“Moving forward we need to be careful not getting caught in the counter,” DeRose said. “The couple of bobble moments we had were almost all off the counters.”

The Braves continue their season at 7 p.m. tonight for the annual Danny Dahlquist game when they host IUPUI at Shea Stadium. They will take on Oakland at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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