As the No. 1 seed in the upcoming America East tournament, the UMBC men's soccer team is the prohibitive favorite to capture its third tournament championship in the last four years.
But that is not the approach that coach Pete Caringi Jr. wants the No. 6 Retrievers (14-1-2 overall) to take. Although they fared better in the league than No. 5 seed Albany (6-10-4) did this fall, Caringi wants the team to be prepared for Wednesday's conference tournament semifinal at 7 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville.
"That's what I've been preaching all day today," he said Monday. "You have to respect the opponent here because teams that traditionally are seeded No. 1, they overlook certain opponents, and you know certain people are talking about this game or the next game or the NCAA tournament, and I've been doing this too long to know that you have to stay focused on the next game or you're going to be in trouble. I think our team is confident, very confident, but what we're really making sure is that we're not overconfident … because if you are, that's when bad things happen."
UMBC was extended to just two ties in America East play, but one of those ties occurred against the Great Danes, who battled the Retrievers to a scoreless, double-overtime decision on Oct. 12. That contest resonated with Caringi.
"I think we learned that the first half, that was one of our worst performances," he recalled. "I think the second half, we did a good job. I think we learned a lesson as far as you have to play a 90-minute game. [UMBC officials] moved the game from grass to turf and it was Homecoming. So there were just a lot of distractions on that particular day, and I think that hurt us overall. And to their credit, they played well. They defended well and put us in a position where at the end of the game, they really pressured and tried to score a goal, and we didn't score obviously. I think we learned a lot as far as you have to play a 90-minute game, especially in a conference game where if you take a team lightly, you're going to get burned."
Albany opened the season with a 1-7-1 record, but finished the remainder of the season with a 5-3-3 mark. The Great Danes exploded for a season-high five goals in a four-goal rout of No. 4 seed Vermont in last Saturday's America East tournament quarterfinal – a game that Caringi scouted.
"I think they've gotten a lot better, and that's what you talk about all year," he said. "You want to get better at the end of the year. So I think they're a better team than they were on that particular date. Overall, they did what they had to do to get into the tournament. They've put themselves in a position to now play in a semifinal. They totally deserved to win a game against a very good Vermont team at Vermont. So you've got to give them a lot of credit for what they've done, and I think they're a lot better team today than they were at that point."