Newly formed conference will be among best in soccer

SAM OSHLAG / TTN
SAM OSHLAG / TTN

The American: Operating Expenses for 2011-2012 Reporting Year

When the smoke finally cleared on what conference the men’s soccer team would call home following the folding of the Big East Conference, coach Dave MacWilliams and junior forward Chas Wilson were more than satisfied.

“I thought moving to the Big East with all those teams staying would have been the best conference,” MacWilliams said. “But I think with the separation, you can make a case that [The American] is definitely Top 3 in the country in terms of conference.”

“[The American] is a big upgrade over the [Atlantic 10 Conference] for us,” Wilson said. “In the A-10, sending three teams to the NCAAs was a great year. Now we’re in a conference where we expect to send at least three. At the end of the day you’re looking at what’s probably the second-best soccer conference behind the [Atlantic Coast Conference].”

While the women’s program has struggled to put a winning team on the field, that isn’t the case for men’s soccer. The men’s team finished 10-5-3 in 2012 and made the A-10 tournament as the fifth seed. Men’s soccer will have to build on its strong season if it wants to stay competitive in a more highly-competitive conference.

Three teams that will compete in The American at some point in the next two seasons – Connecticut, Louisville and Tulsa – are ranked in the Top 15 of Division I men’s soccer by the NCAA.

Combined, the soccer programs are entering a conference in which incoming teams averaged 10 wins last season in both men’s and women’s soccer.

“I think we’re going up against some really tough teams,” MacWilliams said. “I think a lot of those, probably, 80 percent of those teams, are in the Top 50 in the country. So it’s gonna be a big challenge for us.”

The women’s soccer team will not only be adjusting to the change in conference, but also a coaching change after the departure of Matt Gwilliam.

A new head coach hasn’t been named, but assistant coach Seamus O’Connor believes not much will change in the new conference.

“It was going to be exciting to be in a conference that matched the reputation of Temple academically,” O’Connor said of the Big East. “We thought our program could be nationally recognized. [The American] allows us to have a similar opportunity. The schools in the conference are also very good matchups for us on the field.”

One factor both O’Connor and Wilson noted about The American is that many of the schools in the conference are located in urban settings.

“In the Big East, other schools could offer some things that Temple could not, such as a larger non-urban campus,” O’Connor said.

“We get to travel to some awesome places like Orlando, Tampa, Dallas and New Orleans,” Wilson said.”

Women’s soccer freshman goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff said she was upset by the news that Temple wouldn’t be headed to the Big East.

“I was a little disappointed at first because the conference has that well-known name,” Kerkhoff said. “The Big East would have brought us a heightened level of play much more difficult than the Atlantic 10. It would have been an honor to play in the Big East, but I am still looking forward to seeing what [The American] will offer.”

Although the women’s soccer team hasn’t had a winning season since 2000, O’Connor believes Temple has a chance to compete in The American.

“The move to The American is going to be a huge boost for this program,” O’Connor said. “Everything with this conference change has been huge to this point.”

“I think the move is only going to continue to move us in the right direction,” Kerkhoff said. “With a harder conference, the challenge will only make us better.”

As for the men’s team, after a run in the Owls’ final season in the A-10, Wilson believes the Owls can step into The American and be competitive right away.

“We have a really good mix of experience and incoming talent next year and I really think we have a chance to take the conference by storm,” Wilson said. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun. You always want to play against the best.”

Tyler Sablich and John Murrow can be reached at sports@temple-news.com.

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