With their goal clearly defined, the Owls know what they need to do now that American Athletic Conference play has started.
This season, Temple wants to reach the NCAA tournament, and the team only sees one way to get there — through The American’s postseason playoff.
“We know what we need to do,” junior midfielder Hermann Doerner said. “It’s not possible anymore to get into the tournament with our ranking. That’s why we know we have to show up in conference and to win the conference tournament to reach our goal.”
The Owls (2-5-1, 0-1 The American) don’t believe their record will be good enough to qualify them for an at-large bid. Temple’s 10 wins last season earned it the 85th spot in the Ratings Percentage Index. Of the 48 teams that make the NCAA tournament, only 24 earn at-large bids.
At the end of the regular season, the top four teams from The American will duke it out for the conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, coach David MacWilliams said.
“Anybody can win it once you get in that conference tournament,” MacWilliams said.
Temple started play in The American with a 2-0 loss to Connecticut on Saturday. The team will face Memphis, which won its conference opener, on Saturday after a matchup against Penn State on Wednesday.
Last year, Temple finished six out of eight teams with eight points and missed the conference tournament. Entering Temple’s final game against South Florida, several scenarios existed for how the Owls could have finished the season. A win most likely would’ve gotten the Owls a bid in The American’s tournament. Temple’s loss and the outcomes of other conference games affected its place in the standings.
“Going into the last game, we could’ve finished as high as second and as low as seventh,” MacWilliams said. “Everybody else only had between two and four wins, so it is very competitive.”
The team is optimistic, despite its trend during conference play. Since joining The American in 2013, the Owls haven’t won more than three conference games in any season. This is, in part, due to the quality of opponents in the conference. Southern Methodist is currently ranked 19th in the United Soccer Coaches Poll. South Florida finished 2016 ranked 30th in the RPI.
“We play these out-of-conference games, and sure, they’re competitive, but nothing like when it comes to conference,” redshirt-senior defender Mark Grasela said. “Everyone’s a lot better, a lot faster, a lot stronger, so we really all need to just pick it up and play our best game.”
In previous years, Temple has struggled to score against conference teams. In regular season and postseason conference games from 2014-16, the Owls have scored 20 goals compared to their opponents’ 47.
The Owls haven’t had a multi-goal performance in a span of 10 regular-season and postseason conference games dating back to their win on Oct. 24, 2015 against Cincinnati.
Scoring becomes important during conference play because the games are often close, Grasela said. Last season, Temple played in seven conference games and six of them were decided by one goal or fewer.
On Sept. 19, Temple snapped a three-game scoreless streak with a four-goal outburst in its victory against Duquesne University. This win helped the Owls gain confidence with conference play looming.
“We saw other teams not doing as well as last year, and we know we are not afraid at all,” Doerner said. “I think especially with the win with four goals during the week, we know that we can score goals. We know that we have good guys on the team, and that’s why we are not scared at all.”