Creighton has not lost a soccer match since Benito Amaral found his way on to the field four games ago.
Coincidence? Not in coach Elmar Bolowich’s mind. The emergence of Amaral is among the lineup tweaks that, combined with the natural evolution a team makes during the season, have helped the Bluejays dig their way out of a rough spell.
“We are at a point that if we play the way we’re capable of playing,” Bolowich said, “we’re a tough team to beat.”
Creighton takes an 8-3-2 record into Saturday’s Missouri Valley Conference match at Central Arkansas. The Bluejays have tacked three straight wins onto a tie against Drake after a 1-3 stretch that dropped them from No. 2 to No. 24 in the coaches rankings.
Amaral, a junior transfer from San Jacinto (Texas) College, played as a reserve against Drake and has started the past three matches at outside back. His first goal as a Bluejay gave Creighton a 3-2 overtime victory at Princeton on Tuesday.
“I was in absolute shock,” said Amaral, who converted a pass from Jose Gomez for his game-winner in the 96th minute. “Every night before I go to bed, I try to envision things that I want to accomplish, but that was like, ‘Wow.’
“I guess miracles can happen and hard work does pay off.”
Amaral did not play in Creighton’s first nine games, partly because he was still trying to adjust to the Bluejays’ system and partly because the staff was experimenting with other options at outside back.
An injury to freshman Vincent Keller, along with the struggles other players were having, provided Amaral an opportunity.
“We were using some other guys there, but they were more center-back guys that were better suited for that position,” Bolowich said. “In the spring, Benito wasn’t all that technically sharp at the position, but he’s continued to work hard and improve.
“When Vincent was injured, we gave Benito the nod and said, ‘OK, you’ve learned quite a bit since you’ve been here. Now it’s time to just go and play.’”
The initial lack of playing time frustrated Amaral, but not so much because of personal reasons. When Creighton hit the stretch in which it lost three of four matches, Amaral kept asking himself what could he do to help pull the team out of a tailspin.
“I wanted to be out there helping my team out rather than trying to overcome the problems that were keeping me from getting on the field,” Amaral said. “When you aren’t playing, it makes you realize how much you do miss the game.
“It shows you the basic reason why you come out every day and train so hard.”
Amaral’s insertion into the lineup was coupled with the move of Jose Ribas from the midfield to the other outside back position. Creighton has allowed only the two goals to Princeton, one of which came on a penalty kick, in the past four matches.
With Ribas and Amaral holding down the outside back positions, it’s freed up other players such as Eric Miller and Andrew Ribeiro to shift into spots that have furthered the development of the team’s identity.
It’s a development, Bolowich said, that can’t be rushed, especially with a team that had to replace seven starters from a season ago.
“We had so many players that didn’t know what Division I was like, that didn’t know what our league was like,” Bolowich said. “They’re finding out. Our challenge from day one was finding out who we were, what kind of a team we were going to be.”
Coming off a final four appearance last season, the Bluejays entered this year with heavy expectations despite so many new faces in the lineup. Bolowich was asked if Creighton’s development to this point comes anywhere near his expectations for the team.
His said his expectations are not that important.
“Each team has its own life and its own dynamic,” he said. “As a coach, you hope you can at least control it or steer it in the right direction. But some of that dynamic has to come from within.
“No matter how hard a coach wants to work or practice, if that dynamic doesn’t come from the players, you’re not going to win. There is no way.”
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