Every once in a while, a team comes along and completely outclasses its competition in almost every possible way. Teams like the 1969-70 Cornell Big Red hockey team, the undefeated UCLA Bruins teams of John Wooden, and, for a professional example, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are sports’ closest approximation of group perfection.
More often than not, the front-runner in any given competition resembles this year’s iteration of the Boston University women’s soccer team: a front-runner, but not an unstoppable force or even a clear-cut top dog. The success or failure of a team’s campaign often hinges on one or two pivotal contests.
In this instance, those contests are right around the corner. Coach Nancy Feldman and the Terriers are approaching their two most important games of the season. Standing at an undefeated 4-0-0 in America East; the meat of the conference schedule arrives just as the Terrier offense begins to get in gear.
First, a look at the standings. BU’s perfect record in conference play leaves the Terriers in a tie with New Hampshire (5-8-0, 4-1-0) at 12 points, but the Terriers have a game at hand. Two points back lay Hartford (6-4-4, 3-1-1).
Hartford boasts a plus-seven goal differential in the conference, but the Hawks’ loss and tie in conference play will likely separate them from a real chance at a top seed. The greatest threat to a Terrier regular-season title may be fourth-place Stony Brook (7-6-0, 3-1-0).
Although the Terriers are in the best position of the four regular-season title contenders at this point, the upcoming schedule promises to help resolve the playoff picture. Tonight, New Hampshire rolls into town fresh off two home wins, and Sunday afternoon the Terriers invite the Seawolves in for a Parents’ Weekend showdown. Hopefully, Long Island parents will remember which team to root for.
UNH’s greatest strength is, undoubtedly, offense. BU’s closest conference neighbor ‘-‘- both in the standings and geographically ‘-‘- leads America East with 13 goals scored against conference opponents. With 2.75 goals per game in conference play, the Terriers aren’t exactly a popgun offense either, but BU has only scored more than one goal in a game at Nickerson once all year, netting two against Albany.
A number of indicators are in the Terriers’ favor. Unlike BU, New Hampshire’s record in non-conference play is quite poor. More troubling for the Wildcats is their performance against the Terriers’ common opponents.
BU and UNH share six opponents on their schedules to date. The Terriers’ record against those six opponents is 5-0-1; UNH managed a mere 2-4-0. Furthermore, both Wildcat wins were by a single goal, while BU’s goal differential against those two opponents (Vermont and Binghamton) is an impressive plus-six.
Most worrisome of all for the Wildcats is their porous defense. No America East team has allowed more goals in conference play than UNH. Compared to BU’s two goals allowed, the Wildcats’ nine goals allowed looms large. While the Terriers may not score many goals at home, the more relevant stat is goals allowed at home ‘-‘- they’ve surrendered just one, and none in nearly two months.
The Stony Brook game offers some different, and perhaps more troublesome, challenges for the Terriers. The Seawolves’ goal differential and loss to New Hampshire doesn’t suggest a more difficult matchup than the Wildcats, but a first glance can be deceiving.
Stony Brook’s stats are skewed by two one-sided losses to Boston College and Columbia, the top two teams in the most recent NSCAA/Adidas Northeast Regional Rankings (BU is fifth).
Looking beyond the losses to BC and Columbia, Stony Brook’s overall play is fairly solid. Unlike the Wildcats, the Seawolves have a win over a team ranked in the Northeast poll (a 2-1 win against Fordham University). The Seawolves also have a win against Hartford.
None of this should particularly concern the Terriers, as BU’s non-conference performance was clearly superior to that of both Stony Brook and UNH. What may be of concern is the Seawolves’ record in games decided by one goal or less: 7-3-0, including four road wins.
Given the relative power outage at Nickerson this year, the Terriers have to be careful not to fall behind early. The Seawolves are perfectly capable of turning a slim lead into a victory.
BU isn’t particularly likely to lose to either of these opponents. It’s safe to expect at least a win and a tie, which would leave the Terriers with 16 points in the standings by Sunday’s end. But four points this weekend doesn’t put BU in a dominant position, as the Terriers would still require a win against UMBC and a win or tie against Hartford to clinch first place overall without help.
On the other hand, sweeping the weekend would all but secure a regular-season title and home-field advantage for the playoffs ‘-‘- of vital importance considering the Terriers’ 5-1-0 record at Nickerson.
The Terriers can let the rest of the conference continue to hang around, or they can step on the gas and run away with the regular-season title. It’s about time BU showed America East who’s boss.
Matt Whitrock, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. He can be reached at [email protected]