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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, November 18, 2010

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Men’s soccer hoping to be greedy host

NCAA soccer logo Forgive Eric Williams if he’s beginning to sound repetitive.

With each passing week, the senior back calls the Muhlenberg men’s soccer team’s upcoming game the “biggest of his career”.
Mike Williams
Mike Williams has helped Muhlenberg amass an 8-1-3 record at home this season. The Mules boast a .770 winning percentage at Varsity Field since 1986 and are hosting an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2005.

And while that might normally sound like hyperbole, with the sectional round of the NCAA Tournament coming to Allentown this weekend, Williams’ words ring very true.

The Mules are hosting a game this far into the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history. In fact, Muhlenberg has only advanced this far in the tournament three times before.

So when the Mules take the pitch at 11 a.m. Saturday against Merchant Marine, Williams said he wants to see nothing but red surrounding Varsity Field.

“This is a big deal; I want everyone to come to this game,” Williams said. “I really want the biggest, baddest atmosphere we’ve ever had.

“I told my renters to come to the game. I told my family in Texas to come to the game. I told everyone I know to come to the game. I want the entire campus there.”

The Mules kick off the weekend against a Mariner squad that is making its first appearance in the “Sweet 16” since 2002. Merchant Marine (12-2-5) beat Kean, 2-0, and Brockport State, 3-2 in overtime, to advance to face the Mules.
Tom Reilly
Reilly is one of eight Mule seniors hoping to leave Varisty Field on a winning note. In 1995, Muhlenberg beat Ithaca, 4-0, in Allentown to advance to the "Final Four" for the first time in school history.

Muhlenberg (13-2-6) and Merchant Marine have not played since 2005. But according to senior back Matt Cecconi, that unfamiliarity has actually helped the Mules concentrate on improving their own play.

“It’s good that we don’t know anything about these teams because for this week of practice we get to focus on ourselves,” Cecconi said. “And I think that’s what’s really been able to elevate our level of play for the past two weekends. You don’t really know who you’re going to play, so you just focus on playing Muhlenberg-style soccer.”

The Mules’ win over 2008 national finalist Stevens last Sunday has provided a huge boost for the team, Cecconi said. It was Muhlenberg’s first win against a top-20 opponent this season and gave the Mules confidence that they can play with any team in the tournament. It also advanced them the "Sweet 16" for the first time since 1997.

The winner of the Mule-Mariner matchup will advance to Sunday’s 1 p.m. national quarterfinal and face the winner of Messiah and Medaille, who are schedule to play at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. The winner of Sunday’s game will advance to the Division III “Final Four” in San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 3-4.

Medaille (16-4-3) is making an appearance in the sectional round for the first time in school history.
Sectional Teams

No. 21 Muhlenberg (13-2-6)
  Centennial Conference runner-up
  2.48 goals per game (28th in NCAA)
  0.57 goals allowed per game (23rd in NCAA)
  12 shutouts in 21 games

Merchant Marine (12-2-5)
  Landmark Conference runner-up
  1.63 goals per game (172nd in NCAA)
  0.68 goals allowed per game (36th in NCAA)
  10 shutouts in 19 games

No. 3 Messiah (19-1)
  Commonwealth Conference champ
  2.85 goals per game (7th in NCAA)
  0.49 goals allowed per game (15th in NCAA)
  12 shutouts in 20 games

Medaille (16-4-3)
  Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference champ
  2.65 goals per game (18th in NCAA)
  0.67 goals allowed per game (32nd in NCAA)
  14 shutouts in 23 games

The Mavericks beat Rochester, 1-0, in the first round and then upset Swarthmore on penalty kicks to advance to the “Sweet 16.”

Messiah, meanwhile, brings a 19-game winning streak to Allentown. The Falcons (19-1) have won seven of the last 10 national championships and received a first-round bye before beating Montclair State, 1-0 in overtime, in the second round of this year’s tournament.

With so much buildup, Cecconi said it might take the Mules five minutes to calm down and get into the flow of the game on Saturday.

But Williams said the team is going to play with a win-at-all-costs attitude. And he and his fellow seniors are going to make sure that every player is giving maximum effort on every single play.

“If I see someone not pushing themselves, I’m going to push them and say look, ‘This may not be your last game, but it could be mine,’” Williams said. “I want everyone at their highest level. I want everyone giving the most energy they can put out there. I don’t want to pull back at all. I want to just take it to Merchant Marine as much as we can from the very start.

“We’re going to go out there and try to get as much energy as we can. But we still need to have fun because this is about as good as it gets. We’re just having a blast right now and we don’t want it to end.”
Click here for the sectional website.

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