There was a big crowd on hand at Morrison Stadium on Saturday night, where soccer fans had been gathering all day to celebrate the seventh annual “Kicks for a Cure” benefit. This event aims to boost cancer awareness and raise money for cancer research at Creighton and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The most important result of this year’s K.F.A.C. was one I’m proud to share: this year, volunteers raised over $239,000 in donations.
In years past, the Jays’ spring schedules were anchored by national powerhouses like defending national champions Maryland and Wake Forest, or perennial powerhouses Notre Dame and Virginia. This year, though, Creighton welcomed regional rival Denver to the newly installed turf of Morrison Stadium on a beautiful April night. The Denver Pioneers are a rapidly improving program, though last season’s lackluster results might indicate otherwise. And though the teams took the field for a common cause last night, the game quickly became as physical and tense as any regular season matchup.
The home team looked dangerous as ever, though they struggled to find their rhythm in the attacking third. José Gomez–returned after a trial with Spanish side Espanyol–picked apart the Pioneer back line with clinical skill, and forwards Christian Blandon and José Ribas kept pressure on a Denver defense that didn’t appear to fire on all cylinders. Gomez nearly scored in the second half with a crisp header, but the Denver GK deflected it with a diving save that even I had to clap for. The rising senior is in top form, and will remain a crisis for opposing defenses in the fall.
Eric Miller, who played center back with the US under-20 squad this winter, played defensive midfield. Given the freedom to move ahead, he often played an important role in the Jays’ attack, even though he couldn’t find the back of the net. Rising senior Andrew Ribeiro also played a good game, and he looks ready to assume a leadership role on this season’s team. Jake Brown and Brent Kallman anchored the back line, and looked solid doing it. Jeff Gal played the full match in goal. He looked fine, but it’s not as if he had a busy night.
On a different day, the Hilltoppers might have walked away with a 3-0 win, but Denver’s athleticism and physicality was just enough to disrupt the Jays’ offensive chances. In some respects, it appeared that Creighton simply lacked the urgency needed to put the game away. Sometimes it seemed as if Creighton (and especially José Gomez) tried to make too much happen in front of the goal, instead of taking the open shot. When you know you’re exponentially better than your opponent, it can be tempting to get overly creative and go for the highlight-reel play. As a fan, I think I’m okay with that. Sure, it would have been nice to rout Denver, but it can be hard to find your groove while experimenting with lineups and roles. You’d better believe the Bluejays are still in the process of replacing Ethan Finlay, that Bluejay legend and goal-scorer extraordinaire.
In any case, Creighton still awaits the arrival of transfers Sonny Mukungu (NC State), Zach Barnes (SMU) and Carlos McCrary (UNC), and highly-touted recruit Myles Englis. We’ll get a better look at the real 2012 Bluejays in August, but it’s going to be a long four months until then.
(Tip: The 2012 College Cup is in Birmingham on December 7 and 9. Get your plane tickets now.)