INDIANAPOLIS – The #18 FGCU Eagles (14-3-2) clinched a spot in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship Saturday with their ASUN tournament title, and Monday they found out their opening-round opponent as the Green and Blue will rekindle their rivalry with USF (10-6-3) in Tampa on Thursday at 7 p.m.
FGCU earned an automatic spot in the 48-team field by claiming a 3-2 victory over Jacksonville in the ASUN Championship Final, propelling the Eagles to their fourth NCAA Tournament in just six seasons of Division-I postseason eligibility. USF, meanwhile, lost in penalty kicks in the American Athletic Conference Final to Tulsa, but received one of the 24 at-large bids.
Earlier this year, FGCU defeated USF at The Nest, 3-2, as the Eagles erased a 2nd-half deficit and used its nation-leading offense to score three times in a 3-minute-and-47-second span. All-time, USF holds a slim 4-3-2 edge in the series with FGCU, but over the past five meetings, the Eagles are 2-1-2.
One of those ties came in 2012 when the Eagles and Bulls met in the NCAA Tournament First Round in Tampa and played to a 0-0 draw. The game was officially recorded as a tie, but USF advanced to the Second Round with a 5-3 win in penalty kicks in what was then just FGCU’s second season as a full-fledged D-I member, and it had made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
“We’re pretty familiar with each other,” commented FGCU head coach Bob Butehorn of his team and USF. “They do a great job preparing and so do we, but we’ll both probably tweak a few things and it’ll be an interesting chess match. It should be great game for the fans.”
FGCU is 0-2-1 in three previous NCAA Tournament matches, but all three games have been closely contested as the Eagles will be looking to break through with their first win on Thursday. In 2011, FGCU lost in double overtime at UCF, 1-0. Its other 1-0 NCAA Tournament loss came in 2014 when FGCU traveled to Coastal Carolina and kept what was then the nation’s highest-scoring offense off the board until a highlight-reel goal in the 85th minute – a diving header which landed as SportsCenter’s No. 4 Play that evening.
Fast forward two years, and it’s FGCU with the nation’s highest-scoring offense and the biggest reason why the Eagles have posted a single-season program record 14 wins so far this year.
FGCU leads the country in nearly every offensive category by a wide margin: goals (58, next closest: 49), points (167, next closest: 152), goals per game (3.05, next closest: 2.45) and points per game (8.79, next closest: 7.60). The goal and point totals are single-season program records, far surpassing the previous marks of 35 and 108, respectively.
Individually, ASUN Player of the Year Albert Ruiz (Barcelona, Spain/ CE L’Hospitalet/UE Cornella) – who scored three times in two ASUN Championship matches – leads the nation with 20 goals (three more than anyone else), while ASUN First Team member Arion Sobers-Assue (Miami, Fla./DeMatha Catholic HS) is tied for 16th with 11 goals. Ruiz also paces all of D-I with 45 points – eight more than any other player in the nation – and Sobers-Assue is tied for 7th with 31 points.
The Eagles have scored at least two goals in every match this year with the exception of three – and two of those came in the first three outings of the year. FGCU has not been shut out all year, something that has never happened in the 10-year history of the program. Over the final 16 games of the year, FGCU has gone an emphatic 14-1-1, with the loss coming to RPI No. 40 North Florida and the tie coming against RPI No. 47 Lipscomb.
FGCU enters the NCAA Tournament with an RPI of 37, while USF sits at 28. There are 16 First Round games, with the winners advancing to the Second Round to face 16 teams which received byes. Those contests will all be played on Sunday, Nov. 20. The Third Round will be played Nov. 26 and 27, while the quarterfinals will be contested Dec. 2 and 3. The Men’s College Cup will be held Dec. 9 and 11 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Additional information, including a detailed preview, will be posted in advance of the game on FGCUAthletics.com Wednesday.
For up-to-the minute information and a behind-the-scenes look at the FGCU men’s soccer program, follow on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer, Instagram @FGCU_MSoccer, Facebook /FGCUMSoccer and YouTube /FGCUAthletics.
FGCU is led by Bob Butehorn, who has coached six professional players and 63 ASUN All-Conference selections since FGCU started its program in 2007. In just six years of postseason eligibility, Butehorn has guided FGCU to four ASUN Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances – in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016 – and won an unprecedented six-straight ASUN regular-season championships from 2010-15. His teams have been ranked nationally on several occasions by multiple media outlets, including a program-record #11 NSCAA ranking in 2016. Now in his 14th season as a head coach, Butehorn has a 129-93-27 (.572) overall record, 95-62-23 (.592) mark in his 10th season at FGCU and 52-18-7 (.721) record in ASUN contests.
SUPPORT THE CAUSE
FGCU Athletics sponsors events throughout the year to benefit the FGCU Campus Food Pantry (www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry) and the Harry Chapin Food Bank (www.harrychapinfoodbank.org), FGCU Athletics’ charities of choice. For more information, including how to make a contribution, please visit www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry and utilize the hashtag #FeedFGCU to help raise awareness.