Having outlasted No. 5 seed Albany, 2-1, in double overtime in Wednesday night’s America East tournament semifinal at Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville, the top-seeded UMBC men’s soccer team can take aim at its third tournament championship in the past four years.
But even if the Retrievers fall short in Saturday night’s title game against No. 3 seed Hartford at 7 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park, they may have already cemented a spot in the NCAA tournament’s field of 64.
UMBC – the America East regular-season champion – is 15-1-2, is ranked sixth in the most recent National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, and boasts the No. 6 RPI in Division I. That resume might be enough for the selection committee to invite the team to the NCAA tournament, but coach Pete Caringi Jr. tried to tap the brakes on that train of thought.
“I’m sure a lot of prognosticators have us in the tournament, but as I told the team, all along you want to win the championship because you want to make sure, you want to guarantee it,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I think we’re in a pretty good spot. We’re No. 6 in the country, our RPI is in the top 10. So I can’t see us not getting in if something should happen and we don’t win.
"But we're trying not to even have that to fall back on because I think we’ve been focused on trying to win these games and trying to win the conference championship."
Standing in the Retrievers’ path is a Hawks squad that edged No. 2 seed New Hampshire, 4-3, in penalty kicks after forcing a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtimes. Hartford (14-3-3) boasts a physical style of play, leading the league in fouls (275), yellow cards (42) and red cards (three).
The Hawks also lead the conference in shots (288) and ranks second in goals (28) – which should make for a back-and-forth contest against UMBC, which ranks second in shots (281) and first in goals (35).
“I anticipate a game where I think they’ll come out and play,” Caringi said. “It should be an exciting game from the standpoint of attacking as far as people taking chances and trying to score. They’ve got some good players. They play very solid defense, but they’ve got some guys that can score – a different style than if it had been UNH.”