Temple looks to carry momentum into end of the season and beyond

Despite a rough start, the Owls want to capitalize on their final game to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2019.

The Owls control their own destiny and have an opportunity to clinch a spot in the American Athletic Conference Tournament against Southern Methodist. | JOSHUA CRELLIN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple midfielder Lleyton Imparato and his teammates took the pitch against Stony Brook on Oct. 17 already at a disadvantage. The Owls had endured a six-hour trip up to New York and only had five minutes to warm up, the opposite of a good start for any team looking for a win.

Despite everything, the Owls managed to go up a goal with less than 30 minutes left. However, two late Seawolves goals ended the Owls’ chances to extend their unbeaten streak to four games.

Even in defeat, the Men’s Soccer program was headed in the right direction. The Owls have gained momentum in time for a late push in the American Athletic Conference standings and want to build upon it as the season winds down. 

“We’re looking at taking [our momentum] pretty strong,” said Imparato ahead of the team’s final three games, which they’ve gone 1-1 in the first two. “We have three good conference games left — they’re big games. If we win one, we should be safe. If we win two, we’re definitely in, and our team is very confident.”

Less than a month ago, the team was ranked towards the bottom of the AAC, still searching for a win in head coach Bryan Green’s first season at the helm.

That all changed when Temple beat FAU on Oct. 4, giving the team its first win in AAC play in nearly a year. 

The Owls were not finished yet though. They pulled off an upset against the defending national champions, then-No. 10 Syracuse, on Oct. 10 following a last-second goal by midfielder/defender Rocco Haeufgloeckner. It was Temple’s first win against a top-10 team since its 1-0 upset over No. 2 Southern Methodist in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season.

Temple now has a 3-7-4 (2-3-2 AAC) record and finds itself in sixth place in the conference, which is the final spot to qualify for the AAC tournament. Temple’s newly-found confidence gives the program a chance for its first postseason appearance since 2019.

“The chemistry and the morale have been building every week,” Green said. “All the way through Syracuse and maybe even South Florida, we’ve been improving every week. The chemistry was great and the morale was good because you know the guys want to win and we weren’t winning, but the wins against FAU and Syracuse helped.”

The Owls have played well since upsetting Syracuse, going 1-2-1 in the games since their big upset. Temple maintained its 1-1 tie against South Florida Oct. 14 with strong defensive play in the closing stretch, and its one-goal loss to Stony Brook was a battle until the final whistle. 

This run gave the Owls a chance at the postseason. After some growing pains and tough games, Green has his eyes on making the tournament, but the road to a postseason berth will not be an easy one.

“We have a really good shot at making the postseason, that’s one of our objectives,” Green said. “We play two more tough opponents, one of them being SMU, who is top-five in the country.”

Temple lost to Memphis 4-2 Oct. 21 on the road, which pushed the team from a tie for fourth place back to eighth in the AAC, but their 5-1 win over Tulsa pushed the team to the sixth seed.

The Owls close the season on the road against No. 4 SMU on Nov. 1. A win would clinch a spot in the postseason for the Owls, but they haven’t beaten the Mustangs in two years. They could also qualify if South Florida and Tulsa lose their final games of the season.

Temple is doing everything it can to prepare for its remaining opponents. The team is growing closer in its struggle to bounce back from the beginning of the season, and the results are starting to show on the pitch, Imaparto said.

“Every day and every training is more and more intense, more competitive,” Imparato said. “I think Syracuse, and even starting at FAU, winning a conference game 3-0 clicked up and brought us together even closer.” 

However, Temple’s toughest battle remaining in 2023 may be against its own wear-and-tear, Green said. The Owls played five games in about a two-week period, and despite having six days off, their matchup against SMU will be the second in a week.

Green is getting his players focused on locking into the last game of the season. Regardless of how their season began, the Owls are putting together one last push, and every moment counts if the team wants a playoff game for the first time in four years.

“Every point matters,” Haeufgloeckner said. “That’s why you have to focus on every single minute, every single play.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.