The UMBC men's soccer team has previously enjoyed strong starts in the America East, but the program has done something this season it hadn't done in eight years.
The No. 8 Retrievers opened conference play with two wins on the road, defeating Hartford on Oct. 5 and Vermont on Wednesday night by identical 2-1 scores. Add a scoreless tie in double overtime on Homecoming against Albany last Saturday, and the team is 2-0-1 with two road victories for the first time since 2005.
Coach Pete Caringi Jr. said he is pleased with the strong start.
"I think it's very significant to win two games on the road, especially against two of the better teams," he said Thursday morning after the team had returned from Vermont. "Yesterday was a big deal with us playing up there. It was a very windy day, so we got behind in the first half as we were against the wind. With the wind, they scored two minutes in, but I'm just real proud of how we came back and won on the road. I thought we controlled the action in the second half."
For the third time this season, UMBC emerged with a victory despite surrendering the first goal. In addition to Vermont, the team overcame early deficits against Navy on Sept. 17 and Hartford.
Caringi said the Retrievers' determination is not surprising.
"This is a lot of the same players who won the championship last year and a lot of guys who have had success in their clubs," he said. "So we know how to come back. When we're down a goal, we don't panic, and we just continue to play. That says a lot. I think there are a lot of teams that can play for 45 minutes, but they don't play the whole 90. This group does."
Despite its strong start, UMBC (11-1-1 overall and 2-0-1 in the conference) does not sit atop the America East. That spot belongs to New Hampshire (9-3-0, 3-0-0), which will visit Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville on Saturday at 7 p.m.
A win by UMBC, and the team will overtake the Wildcats for first place and position itself for the top seed and home-field advantage in the upcoming conference tournament.
"Anything can happen," Caringi said. "If they win, they'll be five points up on us. But they still have three more games, and the one thing that we've found is that those things aren't settled until the last game. I think we'll just look at what's in front of us, and it's them and they're very good and right now, they're ahead of us.
"But I wouldn't be surprised if the conference's final seedings aren't decided until the last game on Nov. 6."
Last season, the two sides battled to a 1-1 tie in double overtime in the regular season, but the Retrievers edged New Hampshire in the America East tournament final via penalty kicks. Caringi said he did not anticipate the players getting too excited about Saturday's game.
"I think the good thing about this group is how we lock onto the next day and take it one day at a time," he said. "I know that's a cliché, but we've done a really good job of doing that. So I don't think we're looking ahead. Physically, we're kind of beat up. We just need to get back and get ready to play, and I'm sure by Saturday night, they'll be ready to go."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun