If the level of competition the men’s soccer team has had success against in 2012 is any indication, the Owls may have their hands full in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
Fifth-seeded Temple faces fourth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University, ranked No. 19 nationally, on Thursday, Nov. 8 in Charlotte, N.C.
The Rams come into postseason play with a 10–2–5 overall record and an in-conference record of 6–1–2. VCU is unbeaten in its last six games, going 4–0–2 in that span. The Rams’ most notable wins this season came against No. 17 Xavier and No. 21 Charlotte. VCU is led by junior forward Jason Johnson, who had 32 points – 13 goals, 6 assists – in the regular season.
“Every team in the tournament is a quality team,” coach Dave MacWilliams said. “We have our hands full but I think the guys are going to be up for the challenge.”
Although Temple will bring a 10–5–3 overall record and an in-conference record of 6–1–2 into the tournament, the Owls have struggled to beat teams with a record above .500 this season.
Of the 10 teams Temple beat in the regular season, the only one to finish above .500 was La Salle (10–6–3). The five teams that have beaten the Owls, Virginia Tech, Cal Poly, Cal State-Northridge, Villanova and Saint Louis, are a combined 56–31–6. The 10 teams the Owls have defeated are a combined 52–110–15.
While VCU has not lost since Oct. 12, Temple will have no shortage of momentum and confidence heading into Thursday’s match either. The Owls have put up three straight shutouts heading into the postseason, thanks in part due to the recent stellar play of sophomore goalie Dan Scheck.
Scheck, who was considered the team’s second option coming into the season, quietly worked hard in the offseason and has won over his coaches and teammates. Competing against junior goaltender and former starter Bobby Rosato, Scheck concluded the regular season with a .950 save percentage and a 0.27 goals against average in eight appearances. Rosato had a .750 save percentage and a 1.52 goals against average in 12 appearances. Scheck allowed two goals in 38 shots and registered five shutouts in eight starts.
MacWilliams said he believes Scheck will receive the starting nod against VCU in the opening round.
“[Scheck] has come in and done a tremendous job,” MacWilliams said. “Moving forward, he’ll probably start. We’ll evaluate that within the next few days, but that’s what it looks like.”
Despite the stiff competition that lies ahead of them, the Owls’ new starting goaltender said she feels confident they can compete in the tournament regardless of who stands in their way.
“It doesn’t matter who we play right now,” Scheck said. “We’re on a three-game win streak. Our defense is playing really strong. Even the front guys are playing well. The team as a whole is just so strong right now. We’re going to give them a good game no matter what.”
Senior midfielder Andrew Dodds said he hopes that his veteran presence can make a difference. Dodds, who scored the game-winner against St. Joseph’s Universtiy on Senior Day on Nov. 3, said he’ll be there to motivate an inexperienced Temple squad.
“You just have to go in with everything you got and hope for the best,” Dodds said. “I know we have a young team but the senior leadership and experience should be able to get them ready and excited for the game.”
Like Scheck, Dodds said he believes the Owls are playing so well lately that going up against a nationally-ranked team doesn’t factor into his perspective on the first round match.
“It’s a soccer game,” Dodds said. “It doesn’t matter what the rankings are. You have to play to win the game and anything can happen in the tournament.”
In a tournament that contains No. 17 Xavier, No. 21 Charlotte, a St. Louis team that was just recently ousted from the Top 25 and a Dayton squad that battled Xavier to a draw, there will be no easy games in what will be the Owls’ last A-10 tournament before moving to the Big East Conference in 2013.
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TySablich.