The two sides met for the first time last spring, and Towson held on for an 8-7 win against Fairfield in a key Colonial Athletic Association matchup. If the Stags, who are 3-2 on the road, win and Delaware loses to Drexel, they would cement the top seed and home-field advantage in the conference tournament. If the Tigers, who are 7-1 at home, prevail, they will be in the hunt for that top seed and home-field advantage.
Fairfield (7-6 overall and 3-0 in the league) has won three consecutive games by a total of four goals. While the defense has allowed 9.5 goals per game, Andrew Eidenshink has emerged as the unit's top shutdown defender. The junior defenseman limited Hofstra's Sam Llinares to one goal on April 2 and shut out Drexel's Cole Shafer seven days later.
No. 12 Towson (10-2, 2-1) had a five-game win streak come to a shocking end after dropping a 10-7 decision to Delaware a week ago. Junior attackman Ryan Drenner powers an offense averaging 10.9 goals, which is tops in the CAA. The Westminster resident and graduate leads the team in assists (18) and points (39).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday at 12 p.m.
1) Fairfield's clearing game. The Stag's goal-scoring average of 9.2 isn't terrible, but they have not gotten much aid from the clearing game. The team has cleared the ball just 82.7 percent of the time, which ranks 55th out of 68 programs. If Towson can induce turnovers, that may mean more possessions for the offense and fewer chances for Fairfield. But coach Shawn Nadelen said the Tigers won't stray too far from their usual strategies on rides.
"It's not like we're going to try to pressure with a 10-man [ride] or do anything like that," he said. "We're going to be aware of some pressure we can put on them in different areas and with different personnel, but we're not going to actively seek out or change what we're doing. We're just going to ramp up things a little bit."
2) Towson's Tyler White. The Tigers are tied for eighth in the nation in defense, and White has been at the center of the team's strength. The redshirt senior goalie ranks third in goals-against average (6.86) and 17th in save percentage (.549). White made 12 saves in last year's victory against Fairfield, and senior midfielder T.J. Neubauer (Loyola Blakefield) said the Stags must figure out the 6-foot-3, 230-pound White.
"He's very sound and takes up a lot of the cage, but at the end of the day, you just have to shoot your shot and hope that he doesn't see it," said Neubauer, a Glen Arm resident. "He's a guy who takes up a lot of the cage. So we're going to have to shoot for the edges and hope that we somehow get them by him. He's a fantastic goalie."
3) Fairfield's offensive trio. The Stags' offense has been fueled by the trio of Colin Burke, Charlie Schnider and Neubauer. Burke, a freshman attackman, leads the team in goals (32) and points (44). Schnider, a senior midfielder, leads the unit in assists (27) and ranks second in points (36), and Neubauer, a senior midfielder, ranks second in goals (27) and third in points (29). ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said Towson's defense must watch all three carefully.
"They have a perfect three-man offensive front with Burke who's a goal scorer, Neubauer who can stretch the field and has an absolute cannon, and then a feeder with Schnider," the former Syracuse midfielder said. "There aren't many teams that have that kind of passer on the team. I can think of [Johns Hopkins sophomore attackman] Shack Stanwick, [Duke senior midfielder] Myles Jones. This is going to be a really tough game for Towson."