DePaul men’s soccer use spring to gear up for fall season


Jonathan Aguilar | The DePaulia

DePaul senior Harry Hilling and Loyola Connor Stevenson go up for a header in their game at Wish Field on Sep. 18, 2018. The Blue Demons lost that game 1-0 in overtime.

Being able to play in noncompetitive games that don’t matter if your team wins or loses is pretty much nonexistent in today’s sports landscape. What’s even more uncommon is being able to play games in the offseason against good opponents to prepare for the upcoming season, because teams are hesitant on having tape out for their opponents to study when they meet each other.

DePaul got a taste of both worlds in April when they participated in the Chicago Cup: playing games that don’t count and playing against good opponents that are rivals.

The Blue Demons played in a four-team mini-tournament that allows these schools to play each other, while testing out new playing styles and figure out who might be starting in the fall or who might be coming off the bench.

“Being able to play games this time of the year to get game experience [is helpful] because we have a lot of young guys and a lot of guys who didn’t necessarily get a ton of opportunities in the fall,” DePaul head coach Mark Plotkin said. “So, this is a good opportunity for them to get some game experience and figure out how they fit within our system. It’s kind of an audition for the fall to see who is going to be featured in the starting lineup, who’s going to be able to bring us some minutes off the bench, so it’s a really good way to develop some guys.”

Plotkin, who’s entering his second season as the head coach at DePaul, is trying this year more than he did last year to implement his style of play that he believes will work. In his first season, Plotkin wanted his team to play a more defensive style and limit the goals they concede, going into his second season, he wants the Blue Demons to be more adventurous when they get on the ball.

“I think in just a short amount of time, you want to control what you can control and when we came in January [2018] we were going to have a lot of new faces in the fall, so the easiest thing to do to really focus on at that point is the defensive side of things,” Plotkin said. “We talked a lot with the guys this spring on working on the possession aspect and attacking aspect of things, so we’ve just been focusing on building through how we want to be positioned to build our attacks and generate more opportunities.”

DePaul was able to hold their opponents to one goal or less in 11 of their 17 games in 2018, but only won six of those games because they had trouble scoring in a couple of those game.

In fact, in the 16 games they played last season, the Blue Demons only scored three goals one time all season. This upcoming season, they hope to change with new incoming players and with a new system in place.

“I think spring games are really big for us,” junior defender Sasa Labovic said. “From last season we have at least four starters out the first couple of games, so right now is a big time for the younger guys to come up and step up and get opportunities to play against teams that we play during the season, but games that don’t count as much. So, I think they are really big on getting exposure to the kids, especially the younger kids that didn’t get as many minutes during the season so they can get acclimated and ready for the season.”

Labovic, who will be returning for the fall season, will be one of the older guys on the team and his experience is something that he views will be an important aspect to helping his team win.

With only 11 players on the current roster who will be upperclassmen  in the fall, leadership will be key for DePaul if they want to return to the Big East Tournament.

“I think it has to be a really big step up, especially with the new freshmen coming in our job as the older guys is to get everyone acclimated as soon as possible because we have a quick turnaround from when the preseason starts to when our actual season starts,” Labovic said. “We have to get everyone on board and used to the new system.”

While the outfield players focus on building chemistry and learning the new system that their coach is trying to implement, starting goalkeeper Drew Nuelle goes through a different process of getting ready for the fall season.

But being able to play in the spring season, especially in the Chicago Cup, allows him also to try what he’s been working on and get rid of any kinks he might have in his game.

“The main thing I try to focus on heading into the fall season is probably just consistency,” Nuelle said. “I know there’s a lot of different aspects as a goalkeeper that you can train. Sometimes there’s balls that aren’t saveable and I would say the biggest thing for me is being consistent, especially when you get to the higher levels the different is very slim. If you can work on your strengths as well as improving on your weakness that’s what I’m probably trying to do right now.”

The Chicago Cup didn’t go exactly as planned for DePaul in terms of the results, they lost in the semifinals to Northwestern and then losing to UIC in the third place game, meaning the Blue Demons finished fourth in the mini-tournament.

That doesn’t take away the expectations the team has going into the fall, because Labovic and Nuelle both talked about making the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament are realistic goals for this team. Last season, the Blue Demons missed out on both tournaments after finishing seventh in the conference.

“I think our goal this year is definitely to make the NCAA Tournament, which I think is a possibility,” Nuelle said. “I know we didn’t make the Big East Tournament and it might be a huge stride to trying to aim for the NCAA Tournament, but it’s really not that far off. Especially if we are not ranked going into the Big East Tournament and we happen to win it, that’s an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.”