Coming back from a two-goal deficit is possible. Earning a win against the top team in the conference is feasible. Playing down a man is doable.
When combined, these obstacles amount to a task that redshirt-senior defender Mark Grasela called “almost impossible.”
Just four minutes and 27 seconds into Friday’s game, Southern Methodist, the No. 1 seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament, scored its second goal. The Mustangs were only halfway through scoring. Temple (9-8-1, 4-3 The American) lost, 4-0, in the conference semifinal in Dallas to end its season.
Southern Methodist beat Central Florida, 2-1, in overtime on Sunday to clinch an NCAA tournament spot, something the Owls haven’t done since 1985.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted,” Grasela said. “We started off slow and they got two quick goals and it just went downhill from there. When you start like that, it’s really hard to come back.”
The Owls played in Texas against a Southern Methodist program that is ranked sixth in the Top Drawer Soccer Top 25 poll.
The Mustangs have not lost a game since Sept. 24 and extended their shutout streak to seven with their win against Temple.
“We knew we were playing against the top team in the conference, so we knew we had to play a flawless game and we didn’t,” coach David MacWilliams said. “Our decision making wasn’t great, and we struggled a little.”
One of Temple’s biggest challenges came 34 minutes into the game. Freshman defender Darri Sigthorsson received his second yellow card of the night, which counts as a red card.
The penalty ejected Sigthorsson from the game and forced the Owls to play the remaining 56 minutes with 10 players.
“It’s extremely tough because the way we wanted to play, we wanted to press them hard, but the fact that we were a man down made a lot of our possessions more difficult and made us extremely tired,” Grasela said. “It’s really tough to play with a man down, especially when you’re down a couple goals.”
With fewer players on the field, the Owls had to take risks whenever they generated offensive pressure toward the Mustangs’ net, MacWilliams said. Temple managed to get nine shots to the Mustangs’ 11. Senior forward and midfielder Joonas Jokinen led the Owls with three shots.
Sophomore goalkeeper Michael Samnik ended the night with three saves on Southern Methodist’s seven shots on goal.
After recording back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2015 and 2016, the Owls missed the mark by one game. Their seven seniors played in their final games. Five of the seniors were key contributors.
Grasela started every game, led Temple in minutes and finished with three goals and two assists. Senior midfielder Matt Sullivan started 17 of 18 games. Fellow midfielder Brendon Creed also started seven games on the back line.
Senior midfielder Divin Fula Luzolo, a first-team all-conference selection, started every game and had two goals and three assists. Jokinen scored four goals in his final season.
“We haven’t always made it here, so it did feel good to get to the postseason and to come down and experience it,” Grasela said. “It’s been an amazing experience. It’s really cool to get down here and experience all these memories that I’m going to have.”
“It’s tough because you really don’t want to have to go out like that,” he added.
MacWilliams is excited about the future of the program. There’ll be spots to fill because of the graduating seniors, but the first-year players contributed immediately.
Freshman forward Alan Camacho Soto and sophomore forward Thibault Candia combined to score 11 of Temple’s 26 goals. Both players earned second-team honors in The American.
Camacho Soto and Sigthorsson also made the conference’s rookie team.
“This loss obviously leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” MacWilliams said. “It’s not the way we want to end the season by any means. But at the same time, I told the guys, ‘You can’t let one game define the season.’”