The Owls lost, 1-0, to Xavier in Friday’s game in Charlotte.
The men’s soccer team left for North Carolina with high hopes heading into this year’s Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament. But the Owls returned to North Broad Street as victims of a first-round upset.
Filled with confidence, the team had momentum on its side after it shut out Richmond in the regular season finale. Unfortunately, the sixth-seeded Xavier Musketeers got hot at the right time, and the Owls’ postseason journey ended much sooner than they had hoped, with a 1-0 loss.
Temple was unable to overcome an early first-half goal in the tournament opener. In the 12th minute of the game, Xavier sophomore forward Luke Spencer gathered a long pass from senior forward El-Hadji Diendg and rocketed a shot that landed in the center of the net for the only goal of the game. Spencer was the epitome of a clutch player for the Musketeers in the 2010 season; all his goals were either game-winning or game-tying.
“I told the team we had to keep them off of the scoreboard, and we did a pretty good job in doing that. But we gave up a bad goal, and it killed us,” coach David MacWilliams said.
The Owls outshot Xavier in the first half, 8-6, while they managed four shots on goal. However, the underdogs turned up the offensive pressure in the second half and outshot Temple, 10-4. The Owls had a modest one shot on goal after the halfway mark.
Junior midfielder Tyler Witmer, who tied with sophomore midfielder Cody Calafiore for most points on the team during the regular season, led Temple with four shots against Xavier. Freshman midfielder Ryan Bradbury tacked on three tries.
Coming off a regular season in which he recorded six shutouts, red-shirt senior goalkeeper Bret Mollon made four saves in what turned out to be his final game ever in a Cherry and White uniform.
His goalie counterpart, sophomore Justin Marshall, made five saves for Xavier before Andre Bezerra, also a sophomore, replaced him in the 85th minute.
The knockout victory was Xavier’s second win this season over Temple. On Oct. 17, the Musketeers defeated the Owls, 2-1, in double overtime. It was also a first ever win in the tournament for Xavier, which is now 1-3 in A-10 tournament history.
The Owls officially ended their 2010 season with an 8-9-2 record and went 6-4-0 in conference play.
“It’s always disappointing to lose in the first round of the tournament. You never want it to end that early,” MacWilliams said. “Xavier did a good job in forcing us to play their style of soccer. They constantly had 10 guys behind the ball.”
After sending the Owls home packing in the first round and upsetting first-seeded Charlotte in the semifinals, Xavier went on to defeat La Salle in the finals, 2-0, to become the A-10 Champions.
As for the Owls, there is always next season. With 11 years at the helm, MacWilliams has been around too long to let the effects of a season’s disappointing end to carry over into a new one.
“I definitely think this team will bounce back,” MacWilliams said. “We only had three seniors on this year’s team, so we’re not losing a lot of players. The young guys gained a lot of experience because of that, especially in the tournament. Conference games are a lot different than tournament games, and now they know that.”
The Owls are off until August 2011, when they aim to build from this season and start over.
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com.