Compared to last season, the Owls are facing a role reversal of sorts.
In 2016, Temple won its first four games and entered American Athletic Conference play with a 5-2 record. Temple finished the season 5-4-2 in the final stretch, won only two conference games and missed the conference tournament.
This season, the Owls started 2-4-1 in nonconference games and averaged one goal per game. Since its first game in The American against Connecticut on Sept. 23, Temple is 6-2 and has scored 18 goals for an average of 2.25 per game.
“You ask yourself, ‘Would you rather start strong and fizzle out at the end, or have some difficulties in the early parts of the season and then when you figure them out, you come on strong until the end?’” senior midfielder Brendon Creed said. “If you ask me, it’s always about the postseason and that’s where we want to be.”
With the momentum it has gained in this eight-game stretch, Temple (8-6-1, 3-2 The American) is confident in its ability to make The American’s tournament.
In order to qualify for the conference tournament, Temple must place in the top four of the eight-team league. The Owls are in fourth with nine points. Two games remain.
“I don’t think we want to settle for four,” coach David MacWilliams said. “I think we have an opportunity that we can go higher than fourth, and that’s what we want to do.”
Conference leaders Connecticut and Southern Methodist each have 12 points. Southern Methodist, which is 20th in the Ratings Percentage Index, are first by virtue of its higher win percentage. South Florida is in third with 10 points.
The Owls lost to Connecticut, 2-0, on Sept. 23 and dropped their match against Southern Methodist, 2-1, on Oct. 7. The team played well enough to win both games, MacWilliams said.
In Temple’s loss to Connecticut, sophomore forward Thibault Candia had a goal rescinded because the official called him offsides. Upon review after the game, MacWilliams and the team maintain Candia was not offsides.
Temple and Southern Methodist were tied until the 80th minute when Creed received a yellow card for what MacWilliams later reviewed and said was a clean tackle. Off the ensuing free kick, Southern Methodist organized the play where it scored the game-winning goal.
“We’ve been right there, we’ve been in the mix, we’ve been close,” Creed said. “Right now, we’re starting to get things together and everything is starting to fall into place. I think we’re very confident.”
Senior midfielder Matt Sullivan said the team is “in stride,” has discovered how it wants to play and found out who can score. Freshman forward Alan Camacho Soto had a four-game point streak from Sept. 27 to Oct. 7. He had four goals and an assist during the stretch.
Candia leads the team with six goals. He didn’t score until the seventh game of the season. He has four goals and an assist in the past eight games.
Ten players have scored this season and six have scored more than once. In 2016, only two players scored more than once, and former forward Jorge Gomez Sanchez scored 14 of Temple’s 23 goals.
“I probably felt stronger with this group than last year’s only because last year we had Jorge who was doing all the scoring,” MacWilliams said. “If they shut him down, they shut a good 75 percent of our team down because he was always on the score sheet.”
“I find that we’re a completely different team from last year,” Sullivan said. “I think we’re one of the most improved teams in the conference all around. I don’t think anyone is really better than us.”
The Owls hope their confidence and momentum will help them reach the NCAA tournament. With an RPI of 88, Temple’s chances of reaching the tournament through an at-large bid are nearly non-existent, redshirt-senior defender Mark Grasela said.
Temple’s only way to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985 is to win The American and receive an automatic bid.
“Making the conference tournament is just the start of us putting our foot down and possibly winning it,” Sullivan said. “I’d like to make it to the NCAAs and see where we can go from there.”