This time last year, the men’s soccer team went into the conference tournament with a 2-14-2 record, and left it with a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Connecticut.
This year, the squad enters the tournament with a 10-6-2 record and a chance for revenge against UConn, the team they haven’t beaten since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2013.
After a 2-0 loss to Southern Methodist Saturday, the Owls finished the 2015 regular season in sixth place out of the eight teams in The American.
“I think it’s been a great turnaround season,” redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper Alex Cagle said. “As much as we would’ve liked to have a better turnout in conference, I think after the statistical season we had last year this was probably one of the best possible outcomes. I think everyone’s happy with the way we’ve turned it around.”
The American Athletic Conference tournament begins Nov. 7 with the higher seed in each matchup hosting the first game. The semifinals and finals will be held at South Florida’s Corbett Soccer Stadium Nov. 13 and 15, respectively.
The Owls will take on No. 3 seed UConn (7-5-5, 3-3-2 in the American), who defeated Temple 2-0 in the teams’ only matchup this season Oct. 21.
“The whole team feels pretty confident that no one team in the conference is better than us,” Cagle said. “Even though our record might not show it, we definitely feel like we were in every game, and for the majority, we were the better team. So, I think we have a strong sense we can do well in this tournament.”
Conference losses hurt Temple’s Ratings Percentage Index later in the season, and the Owls finished ranked No. 73 in Division I in RPI.
Junior defender Matt Mahoney cited the quality of competition in The American as one of the reasons for Temple’s performance in conference play.
The American had two teams ranked in the Oct. 27 National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll: No. 9 Southern Methodist and No. 11 South Florida.
“I think on any given day any team can win in our conference,” Mahoney said. “Even the two teams at the top that are ahead by a lot of points, I think on any given day the bottom teams can beat any of the top teams. From third place to last place we’re all within three or four points of each other at the least, so I think that shows how competitive our conference is.”
There are 48 teams selected for the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship. The tournament will begin Nov. 19 at non-predetermined sites, and the championship rounds are Dec. 11 and 13 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Each of the 23 major conference champions earns an automatic bid, and the rest of the field is selected at-large.
Junior midfielder Kevin Klett said despite the fact Temple may need to win the conference tournament to qualify for the College Cup, the Owls will have the same mindset regardless of the circumstances.
“With the competitive nature of our team, [RPI] doesn’t put any more focus on winning with regard to the tournament,” Klett said. “I think even if we knew we could get in with or without winning the tournament we’d still go in with the same mentality—to win it.”
Dan Newhart can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @danny_newhart.