MCGILL: As C-USA tournament hosts, men's soccer team has motivation
The Word on the Herd -- Sept. 23, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The second of eight Conference USA games awaits the Marshall University men’s soccer team Sunday at noon.
The Thundering Herd is 0-1 in league play, and the next test is Florida Atlantic, which is 1-4-1 overall, 0-1 in C-USA play and 0-3 on the road this season. FAU, however, has not allowed a goal to Marshall in the last three meetings, with a scoreless tie in 2013 followed by 3-0 and 1-0 wins against the Herd the last two seasons.
This is the first of four home games against Conference USA opponents for Marshall. The team’s coaches and players hope, though, there are a few more than that in 2016.
MU is the host site for the C-USA men’s soccer tournament, which will be held Nov. 9 through Nov. 13 here at the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex. The league has nine teams, and the top seven teams qualify for the postseason event.
“We’ve talked about it for months now,” MU assistant coach Thomas Olivier said prior to the season. “We sure looking forward to having it here in November. That’s our pride. We want to be in it and we want to win it.”
Marshall, 4-4 overall this season, finished 2-5-1 in conference play last season before rallying to the championship match of the league tournament.
If the Herd can qualify for the event – which will give a first-round bye to the top seed – the team feels it can make another run, especially in the cozy confines of its home field.
“Our opponents hate playing on turf,” Olivier said. “It’s a huge turf field and they don’t like playing here.
“But at some point we have to show it on the field,” he added. “We made strides last year in the conference tournament. Fell short.”
FIU defeated Marshall in last year’s final, although Charlotte was the host. That broke a two-year run of the host school capturing the tournament crowd: No. 4 seed Old Dominion won as the host in 2014, and No. 6 seed Charlotte won on its home turf in 2013. Charlotte is the only team seeded sixth or worse to win the tournament title since the league’s inception in 1995.
In all, eight host teams have also won the tournament title in 21 years.
“I think our motivation has a lot to do with the conference tournament being here,” senior midfielder Trevor Starcher said prior to the season. “We’re very excited for that. We get to show off this great facility. Hopefully we’ll be there and really get to show what we’re made of.”
His classmate and fellow state native, Tommy Trupo, knows the prospect of hosting C-USA tournament matches looms, but he tries to keep the focus on the now.
“As hard as it seems to be in the top seven of the tournament we don’t even want to think about the tournament being here because it just adds pressure,” he said. “Conference USA is one of the top three conferences in the nation. It’s not like football with the SEC and the others. We want to take it day-by-day and once we get to the tournament that’s where we show what we’re made of.”
Marshall hosts FAU after Wednesday’s home win against Northern Kentucky. The Herd still has three non-conference games left – including a date with No. 14 Wake Forest – before ending the season with five consecutive C-USA matchups. Three of those five matches are at home, which bodes well for the Herd down the stretch.
“The conference tournament being here, the competition of the conference and the community being able to come and see a bunch of top 25 teams come here and play is huge,” Starcher said. “We’re excited about that, but first off we have to get there.”