MEN’S SOCCER: Tops get burned in Miami

Danny Schoenbaechler

A trip to Miami sounded like fun, but it turned out to be a disappointing experience for Western’s men’s soccer team.

The Hilltoppers traveled to southern Florida to take on Florida International on Friday, but were sent home with a crushing 3-0 defeat.

After starting the season with a promising 4-0 record, the Toppers have dropped to 4-2-1, struggling the past two weekends.

Friday’s game was the fifth of six straight on the road. Western will travel north tomorrow night to face in-state rival Louisville.

In Friday’s match, Western dictated play early in the first half, maintaing possession in the opening minutes.

“The first eight minutes we came out and put high pressure on them,” sophomore defender Scott DeGaris said. “Ritchie (Mupfudze) hit a shot off the crossbar and we had a couple of other opportunities.”

But Western was unable to cash in on its early chances.

“We started the game very strongly and had some scoring chances,” Western coach David Holmes said. “We felt that if we had gotten the first goal, there could have been a better result.”

Instead, the Panthers scored in the 32nd minute off a blast from the outside, and carried that 1-0 lead into the half.

They added goals in the 65th and 76th minutes.

“Nobody thought we played particularly well,” DeGaris said. “But we didn’t play horrible. That team is not three goals better than us.”

Freshman forward Jason Dugas remained optimistic despite his team being shut out for the first time this season.

“I’m not worried,” he said. “We are still playing pretty good and we are staying positive.”

Dugas is one of a crew of new faces in the Hilltopper lineup. The youthful Western squad is now trying to prevent a slide like last year’s team.

In 2001, Western also started 4-0, but tumbled to a disappointing 7-10 mark. The Toppers will rely on a small contingent of experience to avoid a repeat.

“The upperclassmen are really keeping us together,” Dugas said.

The Toppers are now down to just three games before starting the grueling Missouri Valley Conference schedule, where they’ll face three nationally ranked opponents in Southern Methodist, Bradley and Creighton.

Ther to get back on the winning swing against the Cardinals.

“Everybody is excited about Louisville,” DeGaris said. “We really want to go up there and get a win.”

Holmes also is looking forward to the game.

“It’ll be a lot of fun,” Holmes said. “We feel quite comfortable playing in Louisville.”

Louisville is 2-3-1 and coming off a huge game on Saturday, tying No. 4 South Carolina. The Cardinals also played No. 9 Indiana earlier in the season.

“We’ve been playing rather well,” Louisville junior defender Chad Turner said. “These games have geared us for the rest of the season.”

Holmes knows the Cardinals will be battle-tested coming in.

“Louisville has stepped up their schedule, just as we have,” Holmes said.

After the Louisville game, the Toppers will head home and take on Memphis Friday night.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]