Columnists, Soccer, Sports

MAZUREK: Let go of the panic button for men’s soccer

The month of September is a weird one for students at Boston University.  Academically, it allows us to remove the summer rust and get back into the mode of studying, or at least procrastinating.  If lucky, you will find no midterms in this month, just readings, problem sets and maybe a paper — nothing too stressful.

September is bizarre in terms of BU Athletics as well.  Men’s hockey and men’s basketball, arguably the two most popular sports, do not start until October and November, respectively.  While hockey season starts in only a mere 11 days, soccer takes center stage for the remainder of the month. 

In his 27 years at the helm of the BU men’s soccer program, Coach Neil Roberts is used to high expectation and success.  The Terriers are consistently among the favorites to win the America East Conference crown, competing closely with University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Stony Brook University.  The program’s history is a successful one with 10 America East regular season championships, seven tournament championships, and 14 total NCAA appearances.  I would be hard-pressed to complain with those results.

Nevertheless, if you have been following the Terriers this season, their 2-4 record certainly won’t blow you out of the water, nor will their five goals in that span.  To say I have been underwhelmed by their performance would be an understatement. 

Their inability to put away offensive chances has cost them at least a draw, and maybe even wins against Monmouth University and Seton Hall University.  Most recently, they did have an impressive come from behind victory at the University of Massachusetts that could kick start a winning streak, but that is looking too far ahead. 

If you are worried about this shaky start, you shouldn’t be. 

Simply put, non-conference games do not mean as much as conference games do.  I think it is great that Roberts schedules challenging non-conference opponents each year, simply because it prepares the team for America East play. 

Yes, it is impressive that BU can host some of the nations’ best collegiate soccer teams in the University of Connecticut, Boston College and St. John’s University, but the results of those games do not hold a candle to any conference match. 

The AE Conference is what I like to call a one-bid league.  Only in rare circumstances (women’s basketball 2009-10 season) will two teams make the NCAA tournament.  The idea of an at-large bid is absurd in this conference.  Four loses in non-conference play has already eliminated any chance of an at-large bid, and all that matters now is winning the AE championship.

I am not saying the remaining four non-conference matches are not important, because they could affect seeding later down the road, but that a slow start is nothing to fret about at this moment. 

In the 2009 season, the Terriers went 6-2-2 in non-conference play with wins against then-No. 1 ranked St. John’s and No. 12 UConn.  BU was nationally-ranked and seemed in prime position for a birth in the NCAA tournament.  

What happened next completely caught me and other fans off guard.  The Terriers struggled in America East play going 3-4 and barely made the conference tournament, where they lost in the quarterfinals to the University of Hartford.  Their great non-conference start meant nothing, when they struggled against lesser-ranked teams, whom they should have easily defeated.

Last season, the Terriers were a respectful 5-3-1 outside of their conference, winning the games they should win and falling to superior opponents such as Boston College, St. John’s, and Brown University.  They then began to dominate America East play finishing 6-1, and were rewarded with the regular season crown and home field advantage in the conference playoffs. 

In a one-bid league it is win-or-go-home, and unfortunately for the Terriers, they were upset in the semifinals against the University of New Hampshire in overtime. 

Sometimes the hardest thing in sports is winning the games you are supposed to win.  For the favored BU men’s soccer squad, that means wins against conference foes in the regular season, and, more importantly, winning every game in the conference tournament. 

Coaches are supposed to only focus on the next game on the schedule, but for an experienced coach like Roberts, who recently notched victory No. 300, the only thing that should matter is that his team has positive results come conference play.    

On the first of October, the BU student body will be ready and excited to welcome in a new season of men’s hockey.  For the average Terriers’ fan, when men’s hockey is playing, all other sports, unfortunately, do not receive as much attention, if any.

However, if you want to separate yourself from the norm, remember that on the same day, men’s soccer has their biggest match of the season: the conference opener at Hartford.

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