By Ryan B. Harrison
The men’s soccer team went on a dream run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, only to fall just short in a heartbreaking loss to the University of Connecticut in penalty kicks. Expectations for the 2014 season were already high after the Retrievers solidified their position as a top-twenty team last season with a 16-1-3 record and a first round bye in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team has not had the same success as that spectacular run, but it has found ways to win games and currently sits at 5-4-2, with a 4-1-1 record at Retriever Soccer Park (RSP).
UMBC started the season at 15 in Top Drawer Soccer’s national rankings and spent the next three weeks in the top twenty before falling to 21 in week four. The Retrievers slipped out of the top 25 in the next week’s rankings and have not been able to find their way back onto the list since, but they are making headway.
The Retrievers started the 2014 America East Conference season on a high note with a 2-1 win over the University of Massachusetts Lowell at RSP. Senior forward Kay Banjo had a hand in both of the Retriever’s goals, first by drawing a penalty kick in the 61’ and then with a goal to the bottom right corner with a shot off a cross from junior midfielder Michael Scott. Banjo has been a force on offense this season with a conference and team best 14 points.
UMBC will host Hartford University in a rematch of the 2013 America East championship game on Saturday at RSP. The Retrievers stuck it to the Hawks with a 4-0 victory to earn their first concurrent regular season and tournament championships, and their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years.
Hartford is tied with the University at Albany and New Hampshire University for least goals allowed this season with 10. The Retrievers are not far behind with 14 goals allowed this season. Hartford, however, dropped their conference opener to Binghamton University with a 1-0 loss in regulation. The Hawks sit at 4-4-2 on the season.
A second straight conference victory would solidify this team as a real contender for a conference championship repeat and extend their win streak to three games. The Retrievers have the talent to make another run to the America East post-season, and could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament if they can grab the America East’s automatic qualifying bid.