UNLV Men’s soccer preview to the WAC playoffs

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Lucas Gélébart Celebrates Rebel goal with teammates. Photo by DJ Cabanlong.

UNLV Men’s soccer’s road to glory has begun after qualifying to the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament after placing fourth in the table with the top six of nine teams making it to the WAC playoffs. The Rebels have been drawn to face fifth place Utah Valley in its Quarterfinal game.  

Head to Head

These teams have a long history of games against each other however the first time these teams faced head to head in a WAC competition was on October 28 in 2018 in a 2-1 win for the Rebels. Just looking at WAC play, the Rebel’s record against Utah Valley sits at 2-3-1. However since the WAC tournament this season is to be held at the Johann memorial field, UNLV’s record against Utah Valley is much better at home with 2-1-1. 

This season sees the most recent faceoff between these two teams on October 15th as the Rebels took on Utah Valley at home. The Wolverines would score first early in the game from a set piece as Nik Kizarian would play a freekick to Alex Fritcher who headed the ball into the net for a early 1-0 lead. However in the 28th minute as a UNLV corner was cleared by the Wolverine defense, Mikah Madrid would hit a super strike from 30 yards out, sinking the ball into the top corner and rattle the crossbar as he equalized the game 1-1 with an unsavable shot. Both teams fought hard but with neither unable to score again, the game ended 1-1.

Key Points

In the Wolverine squad, there is head coach Kyle Beckerman who has a 21 year long professional player career with accolades like MLS cup winner, starter in the 2014 World cup, named top 25 MLS players of all time in 2020, and many more. Kyle Beckerman also has a successful coaching career at Utah Valley developing players like Jojea Kwizera, Utah Valley’s first ever MLS SuperDraft pick in his first season as Utah Valley coach. 

Along with him as assistant coach is Blake Frischknecht who in 2019 was a player and scored against UNLV. 

The Utah Valley team is patient in their game and will capitalize on mistakes by its opponents. 

The Rebels are a team that have found the back of the net in the second half of games. The Rebels have scored 18 goals this season so far with 11 of them being scored in the second half of the game. 

The Rebels’ style of play is to maintain high pressure throughout the whole match so when a team drops its pressure in the second half due to exhaustion, the Rebels attack when the team is weak. This fits perfectly with their counter attacking style which consists of taking the ball on the defense from a high pressing team and quickly launch the counter attack while the opponents struggle to drop back. 

Players to watch

Both teams have some game changing players that are pivotal to their teams. Starting with the Rebels most notable is center back Louis Hiepen. The 6’3 defender from Mönchengladbach, Germany is the most experienced player in this Rebel team making the starting lineup all the way back since 2020 having played 904 minutes as a freshman and even getting a goal. With all that experience Hiepen brings, it’s no surprise that with him this Rebel team is much more organized and confident. Without Hiepen, the Rebels record was 2-5-2. Now with Hiepen, the Rebels record has been 3-2-2. 

Alongside Hiepen is senior Nico Lopez. Lopez has been a threat to opposing teams all season with an aggressive style of play and powerful long distance shots that constantly keeps keepers on their toes. This season, Lopez has three goals and five assists which shows his growth from last season. Last season at Oregon State, Nico Lopez only managed two assists. This massive growth shows that Lopez has taken on a more offensive role in this Rebel side along with experience and maturity is able to bring great qualities to the team.

And finally are freshmen Bryce Allred, Tyler Ware, Hugo Lemos, and Mikah Madrid. All four of these players have made a huge impact and could have their whole separate segment about just what they have achieved. These young players bring energy and longevity to this Rebel group and the way they have been able to mature so quickly and already look like seasoned players in the league speaks volumes of both these players and UNLV head coach BJ Craig.

As for Utah Valley, Attacker Alejandro Silva leads the charge with 14 points having five goals and four assists. Silva, just like Lopez, is an attacking midfielder that has also begun to take much more of an offensive approach as last season Silva had just two goals and six assists. On top of that his previous year also had two goals but four assists and his first season two goals and three assists. This proves that Silva has taken an offensive approach while also still being a playmaker making him the most complete player he has been his whole college career which makes him a massive threat to the Rebels.

After Silva is Utah Valley’s attacking trident consisting of Omar Yehya, Owen Knecht, and Ura Miura. Yehya has four goals and one assist, Knecht has two goals and four assists, and Miura has three goals and two assists. This tridents’ ability was seen especially against the Rebels this season as they pressure the Rebel defense and on several occasions were close to scoring. 

Nik Kizerian, the attacking wingback for Utah Valley that makes rapid runs down the wings and has an amazing crossing and passing ability. This was even obvious in the last UNLV and Utah Valley 1-1 face off as Kizerian played the pass to Alex Fritcher for the goal off a set piece. Kizerian this season currently has one goal and four assists.

Conclusion

A draw was enough to give the Rebels the points they needed in season play however a draw won’t be enough in the playoffs and the Wolverines statistically in the past and present stand to be favored. 

However do not let this fool you as countless times this season the Rebels have defied the odds including scoring first against the best team in conference Seattle and putting in a fantastic performance.

The Rebels are a team that will fight to the end and is resilient. It is likely that Utah Valley will begin the game with more pressure and possession, possibly finding a goal however in the second half is where the Rebels stand the chance to win the game hitting their opponents when they are tired. The Rebels also play the tournament at its home field at the Johann Memorial Field.

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