Temple’s AAC women’s soccer playoff hopes end

The Owls have lost three straight games and will miss the postseason.

Freshman midfielder Emma Wilkins dribbles past sophomore goalkeeper Cassy Skelton during practice at the Temple Sports Complex on Oct. 4. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Owls entered the second-to-last week of the season with postseason aspirations.

But those hopes won’t be realized.

Temple lost to South Florida on Friday in Tampa and fell, 4-1, on Sunday to Central Florida, the No. 7 team in the United Soccer Coaches poll and top team in the American Athletic Conference.

The Owls (6-9-2, 2-5-1 The American) entered the weekend in sixth place in The American, a 10-team league in which the top six teams make the playoffs. They are no longer in playoff contention after losing three games in a row.

Temple now sits at eighth in The American with seven points. The Owls have lost their head-to-head matchups with every team in front of them except Houston, which is in seventh with nine points, and Connecticut, the Owls’ final regular-season opponent.

“I told everyone on the team they need to get better and improve on something,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “For the most part, I don’t have any regrets about this season.”

O’Connor said, however, he was particularly disappointed Temple didn’t beat Tulsa and Southern Methodist.

In their draw against Tulsa on Oct. 8 in Oklahoma, the Owls took 24 shots, which matched their total in their 8-0 win against Delaware State University on Sept. 17. The team outshot Tulsa, 5-2, in overtime. O’Connor felt Temple was “the stronger team to finish the game.”

Temple, which has 19 freshmen and sophomores, had the resilience young teams often possess, Tulsa 10th-year coach Kyle Cussen said.

“For lack of a better term, young players just don’t know any better,” he said. “You saw it in our game against Temple where we took two separate one-goal leads and they tied the game back up both times.”

“From what I’ve seen and even from when we played them, [O’Connor] has done a really good job of building that winning culture back,” said La Salle coach Paul Royal, who has coached against Temple 12 times in his 15 years with the Explorers. “They may have been a young team, but they leave it all out there and they never quit.”

A week after the Tulsa game, Temple hosted Southern Methodist, which hadn’t won a conference game. The Mustangs outshot Temple, 19-8, and shutout Temple, 2-0. The effort started a three-game winning streak for Southern Methodist including Sunday’s upset victory against No. 21 Cincinnati.

The Mustangs are one point ahead of Houston for sixth place. The two teams will face each other to finish the regular season.

The Owls’ offensive improvement from 2016 kept them in the playoff hunt. With one game remaining, the Owls have scored 23 goals, nine more than their total in 2016.

In 2016, the Owls only had one player who scored more than three goals. This season, Temple has five players with three or more goals.

One of those five players is freshman midfielder Emma Wilkins, who has three goals. On top of Wilkins’ production, three other underclassmen have scored.

Young players also contributed from the back line. Freshman defender Aisha Brown has played in every game and made 16 starts. She leads the team in minutes and has an assist. Sophomore defender Emily Keitel is second with 1,354 minutes and three assists.

Temple established a solid core of underclassmen this season, O’Connor said, but the team will still focus on recruiting attackers in the offseason.

“We’ve had a lot of freshmen come in and help out this year, and we also have had a lot of bench depth,” said senior forward Gabriella McKeown, who has a team-high five goals. “We’ve been going back to the old way we used to play with aggressiveness, and I think we kind of lost that last year.”

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