Men’s soccer team to play in AAC semifinal on Friday

The Owls will play Southern Methodist on Friday in The American’s semifinal.

Senior midfielder Matt Sullivan prepares to kick the ball during the first half of Saturday’s 1-0 win against South Florida at the Temple Sports Complex. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple only had one shot on goal on Saturday.

Senior forward and midfielder Joonas Jokinen took a close shot from an odd angle.He doesn’t know how it went into the net. But he scored his fourth goal of the season in the 54th minute to beat South Florida, 1-0, and give the Owls the final spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship tournament.

“Everyone did their job [Saturday,]” Jokinen said. “We could have made it a bit easier for ourselves, but the most important thing is that we got the result.”

With 12 points, Temple (9-7-1, 4-3 The American) is the fourth seed in the conference tournament and will face top-ranked Southern Methodist (13-2-1, 5-1-1 The American) on Friday in Dallas.

After losing to Central Florida on Oct. 28 to end its three-game winning streak, Temple had to beat South Florida to make The American’s postseason tournament for the first time since 2015. Southern Methodist and Connecticut had spots clinched entering Saturday’s action, and four teams entered the day with a chance to earn the final two seeds.

The American Athletic Conference tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Temple’s win against South Florida gave it a one-point lead in the standings. Connecticut also finished with 12 points, but the Huskies are the third seed by virtue of their 2-0 win against Temple on Sept. 23.

Five of Temple’s seven games against opponents in The American were decided by one goal. Throughout the regular season, the Owls scored three or more goals in five games, four of which were in nonconference play. Senior midfielder Matt Sullivan said the team can play more “risky” soccer in non-league games.

“I’d have to say we really play two different types of soccer,” Sullivan said. “In conference, it’s a lot more physical and it’s really close.”

Temple played one of its seven games decided by one goal against Southern Methodist on Oct. 7 at the Temple Sports Complex. The Mustangs, who are 13th in the United Soccer Coaches poll, beat Temple, 2-1.

The game was tied until senior defensive midfielder Brendon Creed received a yellow card in the 80th minute. Southern Methodist senior forward Mauro Cichero scored the game-winning goal 12 seconds later.

The Mustangs, who have the ninth-lowest goals-against average in Division I, held Temple to four shots on goal, which is below its average of 5.6 per game.

Southern Methodist is also the top-scoring team in The American. The Owls have been strong on defense, but they need to work on maintaining possession, Jokinen said.

“In the offensive half, we need to keep the ball a little bit better and relieve pressure a bit so that we’re not defending for 70 percent of the game,” Jokinen said.

In Temple’s previous three appearances in The American’s tournament, the team hasn’t scored a goal. Connecticut beat Temple, 4-0, in 2015 and, 5-0, in 2014. South Florida beat the Owls, 1-0, at the Ambler Sports Complex in the inaugural conference tournament in 2013.

In order to advance to the final round and face the winner of the match between Central Florida and Connecticut, the Owls will have to beat the No. 18 team in the Ratings Percentage Index on its home field, where the Mustangs have a perfect 10-0 record.

Southern Methodist’s Westcott Field has a grass surface, while Temple plays on turf. After a light practice session on Monday, Temple will watch footage from its matchup against Southern Methodist last month, coach David MacWilliams said. The team plans to travel to Dallas on Wednesday to get some practice on the grass before the game Friday night.

“We’re in it to win it,” MacWilliams said. “I think the guys are pretty confident. I think any one of those four teams could win it. I think we’re up to the challenge.”

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