Due to the single-elimination nature of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament, many teams find themselves playing a conservative style that may offer fewer rewards but also reduces the risk of going home prematurely.
Case in point: five of Thursday’s 16 first-round games went to penalty kick shootouts, and two more were decided in overtime. That could be a testament to the narrow gap in talent level between teams in the postseason, but UMBC coach Pete Caringi Jr. said he wants to make sure that timidity is not part of the game plan when the No. 16 seed Retrievers (16-1-2) welcome Connecticut (12-2-6) to Retrievers Soccer Park in Catonsville on Sunday at 5 p.m.
“Last night, a lot of those games went to penalty kicks because I think a lot of teams are more cautious in how they play in the NCAA tournament than how they played in a regular-season game,” Caringi said Friday morning. “So for us, I think we’ll still take the same approach we’ve always taken. We’re going to look to attack and hope we can get some chances to score.”
That may be a difficult task against a Huskies team that has surrendered just one goal in its last seven games. Connecticut, which edged Quinnipiac, 2-1, in the first round, also has not dropped a contest since a 1-0 loss to Syracuse on Sept. 17 – a stretch in which the Huskies have gone 10-0-5.
Caringi, whose squad has not suffered a loss since a 1-0 defeat against Delaware on Oct. 1, is fully aware of the power of momentum.
“We have to play our best,” he said. “We’re very confident. We feel like we’ve earned our position and now you’ve got to go out and prove it. Now is not the time to be going in and concerning yourself with who you’re playing as how much as how well you’re going to play.”
UMBC’s defense could be stronger with the improved health of junior back Marquez Fernandez. The Baltimore native and McDonogh graduate sat out two games because of a knee injury, but started in the team’s 4-0 walloping of Hartford in the America East tournament final last Saturday.
“I thought he was 100 percent,” Caringi said of Fernandez. “I’m not sure he’s 100 percent, but the way he played in that championship game, he sure looked like it. … He adds a lot of stability. That was probably [the defense’s] best and it was probably our best game as a team. Obviously, having him back, we were able to move [junior] Jordan [Becker] back to the left [back spot]. We just looked more comfortable and confident. As a whole group, I would say that was definitely our best game of the year.”