Morrison Stadium was mostly quiet Thursday morning as the UNO men’s soccer team trained on Creighton’s home field.
Coach Jason Mims thought it was important to give the Mavs a taste of what lies ahead Friday night.
“It’s always nice to see where you are going to play at and visualize some things on the field,” he said.
Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup should be an eye-opener.
Three to four thousand people are expected when the University of Nebraska at Omaha takes on sixth-ranked Creighton, which Mims expects to be even better than the team that lost to Indiana 1-0 in the College Cup semifinals last December. Eight starters and 16 letterwinners return.
“The environment is going to be incredible,” Mims said. “The best stadium, the best facility, the best team we’ll play all year. The best crowd we’ll play before all year.”
Creighton, 17-4-3 last year, will be the second test in a challenging preseason. The Mavs fought to a 1-0 loss to Penn State before a school-record 2,581 fans in the South Omaha Classic last weekend.
UNO had a chance to tie in the second half but a shot by Craig Buettner, one of 10 returning starters, was ruled to have hit the post. Video highlights afterward showed the ball had crossed the goal line and hit a support beam inside the net.
Still, the Mavericks gained some confidence from outshooting the Nittany Lions 11-9 and picking up more corner kicks. They felt even better after seeing Penn State tie No. 2 Maryland 1-1 this week.
“I was very proud of the effort they put forth,” Mims said. “We are much deeper than I expected from last year, for sure. When you look at the bench, we’re putting guys in who actually are giving us a lift. The substitutes all made a positive impact and that’s a big difference from last year and this year. I noticed that right away.”
Creighton will show UNO a different style. Penn State had a lot of great athletes who attacked quickly, Mims said.
The Bluejays will be more patient and hold on to the ball a bit more. They also have several skilled players back on defense instead of filling midfield positions.
UNO, meanwhile, is still trying to develop a style that fits its personnel. With 11 new players among the 25 on the roster, that’s taking some time.
Mims likes his depth, likes that half of his starting lineup will be Nebraska kids and likes that he has a better mix this year of soccer players and athletic players.
And although Creighton is the better team, he said, it will be a dream for those area players to play at Morrison Stadium.
“I think it’s cool for kids from the state or city to play in front of family and friends, people who have watched them play for years,” he said.
Matchups with top teams like Penn State and Creighton give UNO a taste of not only what works but what it needs to focus on in preparation for the home opener next weekend against Grand Canyon.
Mims’ staff is filming the game, so they’ll know what to shore up next week.
“Great teams expose weaknesses,” Mims said. “It’s great for that.”
The Mavs didn’t back down from Penn State, Mims said, and they won’t against Creighton. Mims said it’s also important his players have fun, whether they play five minutes or 90.
Someday, they could be that team on the other side of the ball. They need to start preparing now, he said, and challenging CU and Penn State is the way to do it.
“Creighton is going to be incredible. We have to show we can compete against Creighton and can play at that level,” Mims said. “We want to be a team in two years that is going to the Final Four. We want to be that team.”