At 6-foot-7, defender Axel Sjoberg expects to score goals. But, prior to Friday’s game against Michigan, he had yet to ripple the back of the net this season.
So the redshirt freshman promptly scored two against the Wolverines and then the game winner at Michigan State on Sunday afternoon in double overtime.
After those three goals, Sjoberg is now tied for the team lead in points with junior defensive midfielder Eric Pothast. Both players have three goals and two assists, with all six goals coming from set piece situations.
Sjoberg was named National Player of the Week by TopDrawerSoccer.com and College Soccer News, and the center back was also named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week.
On Friday, Michigan midfielder Tyler Arnone gave the visitors the lead in the 45th minute, 32 seconds before halftime. Then Sjoberg scored in the 51st minute with a free header off a corner from junior Paul Dillon, and then again in the 63rd, putting in a back heel off a shot by freshman John Pothast.
“It took a little bit of time for me to get into the goal scoring, but we’ve always been really dangerous on set pieces,” Sjoberg said after Friday night’s win. “I’ve just been waiting for the goals and I got two today. It’s a great feeling.”
On Sunday, Marquette took the lead against Michigan State when senior forward Andy Huftalin headed home a cross from Dillon.
Huftalin has scored in three of the team’s last four games and has impressed with his endless work rate and instincts in the 18-yard box.
“He definitely gives us a boost when he’s on the field,” said junior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka. “He works really hard and he knows how to get in good spots in the box or around it.”
After sophomore Adam Montague equalized for the Spartans in the 63rd minute, Michigan State had Blake Skamiera sent off after stomping on Dillon after a slide tackle. Marquette played the rest of the match with a man advantage.
Ciesiulka said while playing with the extra man can be helpful, the team had to stay patient and wait for the breakthrough to come.
“We definitely want to put an emphasis on keeping the ball when we have that man up, just being patient and waiting for good opportunities,” Ciesiulka said. “We just tried to move the ball around and let the play come to us instead of rushing things.”
After a lot of waiting, the winner came in the 108th minute when Sjoberg headed Ciesiulka’s corner kick into the top corner. It was the team’s first overtime win of the season and clinched an unbeaten start heading into Big East play next Saturday.
After scoring the majority of its goals from open play last season, Marquette has scored six from corner kicks and free kicks already this season.
Bennett said while Sjoberg’s height draws opponents’ attention, he also credits both Eric and John Pothast for completing a trio that is nearly impossible for opponents to mark.
“He attracts a lot of attention, but both Pothast boys are very good in the air in their own right,” Bennett said. “So if you put your best header of the ball on one of them, how are you going to mark the other two? Then we have all types of people scurrying around to find the second phase ball.”
Nevertheless, Bennett said his team is not dependent on set pieces. Marquette will get to prove its all-around attacking prowess in Big East play, starting on Saturday night at Valley Fields against DePaul.