FORT MYERS, Fla. – Coming off an unprecedented fourth-straight Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season championship, the FGCU men’s soccer team unveiled its 2014 schedule on Friday, presenting head coach Bob Butehorn and the Eagles with arguably the most challenging non-conference docket in program history.
The 17-game schedule, which was first announced on Twitter (@FGCU_MSoccer), features 10 non-league tilts, nine home contests and eight road matches. In total, four non-conference opponents participated in the 2013 NCAA Championship, while the six others have made an astonishing 80 combined NCAA tournament appearances.
Highlighting the grueling slate are home matches against three of those four NCAA participants, including budding rival USF, 2010 National Champion Akron and last year’s No. 2 overall seed Washington. The Eagles will also fly to the West Coast for a pair of matches and also travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals, who advanced to the Second Round of the NCAA Championship last year.
“We’re extremely pleased with the caliber of our non-conference schedule as it’s certainly one of the most demanding we’ve undertaken in my tenure,” said Butehorn, who has led FGCU to 66 wins in the program’s first seven seasons. “Each opponent presents a formidable, different challenge which will hopefully prepare and position us well for the A-Sun schedule and postseason play.”
The Eagles open the year at home against familiar foe USF on Aug. 29 as the two programs will be squaring off for the sixth consecutive season. The two clubs also met in the season opener last year in Tampa. The Bulls won the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship last year before losing to North Carolina in the NCAA First Round.
The Green and Blue remains at home the next week to entertain the University of Portland (Sept. 4) and the University of Akron (Sept. 6). A tradition-rich program, Portland has made 14 NCAA appearances, including six since 2001, and has reached the College Cup Semifinals twice. FGCU and Portland met for the first time in 2011 as part of the Nike Portland Invitational where the two teams tied, 1-1. Akron and FGCU faced off for the first time in the Eagles’ 2012 season opener in Ohio. The Zips have made 15 NCAA tournament appearances – including nine in a row – and were the national runner-up in 2009. Akron went 17-4-1 last year and took down defending national champion Indiana in the NCAA Championship en route to finishing the year ranked No. 17 in the country.
The first road trip of the season is a long one as FGCU will travel to the Bay Area to face the University of San Francisco (Sept. 12) and Saint Mary’s College (Sept. 14). The match against the Dons will serve as their home opener and will be the first meeting between the two schools. San Francisco has made 31 all-time NCAA trips, claiming four national championships in the process – the fourth most in NCAA history. The contest versus the Gaels to conclude the weekend will also be the first between the two clubs. Saint Mary’s lost just one starter from last year’s team which finished in the top four in the West Coast Conference – the same league which Portland and San Francisco play in – for the fifth time in the last six years. The Gaels played a school-record 11 overtime games in 2013, and seven of their nine losses came by one goal.
The Eagles return home the next weekend to host another pair of formidable opponents in the University of Washington (Sept. 18) and Brown University (Sept. 20). The meeting with the Pac-12 Huskies will be the third between the two squads as the Eagles traveled to the Pacific Northwest last year and in 2011 as part of the aforementioned Nike Portland Invitational. Washington went 16-2-4 last year, won the Pac-12 title and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship. The Huskies finished the campaign ranked No. 5 in the nation and return eight starters in 2014 from that team. The Bears, meanwhile, will be facing off against FGCU for the first time. Brown – located in Providence, R.I. – has made 27 NCAA Championship appearances, with the last coming in 2012.
The final non-league tilt before the start of A-Sun play takes place on Sept. 24 at FIU. The two teams met every year from 2007-11 before resuming the series last year at the FGCU Soccer Complex. The Panthers have qualified for the NCAAs eight times, and the Green and Blue will be looking to avenge a 4-3 loss from last year.
A-Sun play gets underway at Jacksonville University on Oct. 1 before FGCU’s first home league match occurs just a few days later opposite Stetson on Oct. 4. The third A-Sun contest will be held a week later on Oct. 11 as the Eagles head to Northern Kentucky.
FGCU will remain in the state following the match with the Norse and will take on the University of Louisville a few days later on Oct. 14. The Cardinals, who will be in their first season as an ACC member in 2014, reached the NCAA tournament for the seventh straight year in 2013, advancing to the Second Round. Louisville lost in the 2010 national championship game to Akron.
The Eagles host yet another non-conference match on Oct. 21 against FAU looking to avenge a 3-2 double-overtime loss from last year. FGCU gets back into league action after a 13-day break on Oct. 24 against the University of North Florida, also looking to avenge a 2-1 loss in the A-Sun semifinals last season.
The team’s two final road games take place Nov. 1 at A-Sun foe Lipscomb and Nov. 4 at UCF – the final non-conference game of the year. The Knights, who have made seven NCAA trips, and Eagles last met in 2012 after FGCU fell to UCF in the 2011 NCAA Championship in double overtime. FGCU defeated the Orlando-based school earlier in the 2011 season when the Knights were ranked No. 8 in the nation.
USC Upstate will travel to Southwest Florida for FGCU’s final game of the regular season on Nov. 8 to conclude A-Sun play and also serve as Senior Night for the program. The A-Sun Championship gets underway at the highest seed Nov. 12 and concludes Nov. 16.
FGCU — which returns all 11 starters and did not lose any players to graduation from the 2013 campaign — became the first team in A-Sun history to win four straight regular-season titles this past fall with a 6-1-1 record. The Green and Blue has a 28-3-2 mark in A-Sun games since the start of the 2010 season. All three of its conference losses have come on the road, and out of a possible 99 points that could have been earned in that time, the Eagles have claimed an impressive 86 of them.
For 2014 men’s soccer ticket information, visit the Alico Arena Ticket Office, call 239-590-7145 or log on to FGCUAthletics.com/Tickets. For up-to-the minute information and a behind-the-scenes look at the program, follow on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer.