Creighton soccer coach Elmar Bolowich challenged his team before Saturday night’s Big East match against Xavier to do more than just win the game.
The Bluejays did, snapping a three-game winless streak with a 2-0 victory over the Musketeers before a well-chilled turnout of 2,864 at Morrison Stadium.
The manner in which Creighton achieved the win that allowed the fourth-ranked Bluejays to maintain their hold on first place in the conference is what especially had Bolowich encouraged.
“We needed to grow as a team and get better,” he said. “And I thought we did in many aspects of the game. We played faster, we were more connected, we created a number of opportunities and we kept the speed of play up throughout the game.
“It was definitely an improvement.”
The Bluejays were coming off Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at St. Louis that had followed double-overtime ties with Michigan State and Georgetown. Before Saturday’s match, Bolowich told his players that their effort in the loss to the Billikens was lacking in many areas.
“We were physically too slow, we were mentally too slow,” he said. “Our game was a bit stagnant and too predictable. We needed to change that, and I asked the players to show a reaction to our St. Louis game.”
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Held scoreless in its previous two matches, Creighton got a goal in the 12th minute from Eric Miller and another from Christian Blandon in the 51st minute. The Bluejays outshot the Musketeers 15-5, limiting Xavier to two attempts on goal in posting their fifth shutout of the season.
“It’s always good to get a clean sheet, but I thought overall it was one of our better efforts of the season,” Miller said. “Defensively, we didn’t give them many chances, and I thought we had some of the best ball movement that we’ve had. We were dynamic at times on offense.”
Miller picked up his first goal of the season when he followed a blast by Zach Barnes that bounced off the crossbar with a header that beat Xavier goalkeeper Eric Osswald.
The goal at 11:15 snapped a scoreless streak that stretched more than 267 minutes since Bruno Castro’s score in the second half of a 2-2 tie against Michigan State on Sept. 24.
“Soccer can be a weird game,” Miller said. “One team can possess the ball 90 percent of the time and still end up scoreless. In our last two matches, we had chances.
“It was good to get that one early, but we knew the goals were going to come. We were just on a little bit of an unlucky streak.”
Blandon got his first goal of the season 5½ minutes into the second half when Castro flicked him a pass in the middle of the field and he unleashed a 25-yard rocket that found its way into the left upper corner of the net.
“I thought the whole night we were well-connected,” Blandon said. “It’s like Coach said, we needed to win, but we also needed to play better than we have been.
“We needed to come out and compete, and I think we showed that today. We attacked more and were more aggressive the entire game.”
The win improved Creighton to 2-0-1 in the conference and 6-2-2 overall. Xavier dropped to 4-5-2 and 0-2.
“We slipped up against St. Louis,” Blandon said. “We definitely didn’t play our best. But that’s soccer, and we knew we just had to come out tonight, play better and move forward.”
Creighton now faces a stretch in which it will play four of its next five matches on the road, starting with Saturday’s game at Marquette. Fortunately, that contest will come the day after the Bluejays start fall break, and they’ll stay on the road for an Oct. 15 match at Michigan.
“That will give us a little chance for some team bonding,” Bolowich said. “It will give us a chance to focus on our soccer and start growing as a team.”
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Video: Watch the Creighton-Xavier men's soccer highlights: