With a 3-2 double-overtime win against Navy on Tuesday night, UMBC's men's soccer team moved to 6-0-0 and now has not lost in its past 15 games, a stretch dating to a 2-1 defeat to Albany on Oct. 10. (Last season’s run to the second round of the NCAA tournament ended in an 0-0 draw, with North Carolina advancing, 3-2, in penalty kicks.)
The Retrievers are ranked in three national polls this week: No. 17 in Top Drawer Soccer's rankings and No. 21 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's (NSCAA) and College Soccer News' polls.
The national recognition is a nice reward for the team’s efforts, but senior forward Pete Caringi III said this is not the time for players to ease up, especially with a game at undefeated Loyola (5-0-1), which is enjoying its best start since 2008, looming Saturday night.
"We can’t overlook anybody," said Caringi (Calvert Hall), who leads Division I in scoring with 18 points and is tied for the lead in goals with eight. "It’s a great start, but we’re still improving. We’re still not where we want to be. We’re improving each day. It’s a great start, and I’m as happy as I can be when it comes to that, but there’s still a lot to improve on, and we’re going to improve each day and try to win each game. We’re not going to overlook anything."
Pete Caringi Jr., who coaches UMBC and his son, said he has noticed an improved cohesion among his players. Twenty-two of the 28 players hail from Maryland, and 15 are either seniors or juniors.
"I think the key is the chemistry of the group," the elder Caringi said. "Pete’s had success, but the reason he’s had success is because of his teammates. It’s a strong group. It’s Baltimore-based. A lot of kids have played together in club or played against one another in high school. … This is basically a local team, and a lot of these guys have played with one another. So they’re very comfortable and familiar with one another. That’s a big positive versus coming into the year and introducing this new player here and this new player there."
While the Retrievers are far from nearing the success of the 2010 season, when they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament and went 12-4-4 overall, the pressure is mounting.
Asked whether a loss would remove that pressure from the players and coaches, Caringi Jr. said, "I think when I was younger, I probably would have felt that way as a coach. Having been through every kind of scenario, I think you have to enjoy it. Being 6-0, we’re one of the few teams in the country, and you enjoy it. If you’re not playing your best, someone’s going to be out there to knock you off, and then it becomes, 'How do you recover from that?' The goal of any team is to go and try to win every game. I learned years ago that you don’t sit there and go, ‘I’ll take that loss.’ You learn from losses."
For now, UMBC appears comfortable to see where this ride will take it. Caringi III said morale is high and that players are thriving in the atmosphere.
"There’s a great level of confidence, but we still think we can always improve," he said. "It’s not like we’re satisfied with where we are. We’re in a great position right now. We’re getting ranked and getting recognition that we think we deserve, but there’s still that chip on our shoulder that we can do better. There are things we can improve on."