Clarksville, Ark.-The University of the Ozarks men?s soccer team has played its way into a position to qualify for the American Southwest Conference playoffs and its final regular season match will determine their fate.
At 2-4-3 in the conference, Ozarks (7-6-4) is currently in sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot. But the Eagles will need to win Saturday against nationally-ranked Texas-Dallas in Richardson, Texas, to secure their first post-season appearance since 2009. A loss or a tie could put a damper on their aspirations.
“There are a number of unique things about this upcoming match,” said head coach John Cossaboon. “It is the last game of the year so we can spend our whole week focusing on one opponent. And, it is exciting because we are accountable for handling our own future. I hope the boys will focus on the number one task at hand and take our shot at Texas-Dallas. We have some momentum on our side after that Louisiana College match.”
Ozarks, which started the season with a 6-0-1 unbeaten streak, should have plenty of confidence heading into its match against Texas-Dallas. The Eagles tied conference leaders Hardin-Simmons and Louisiana College this season, and, after a rough three-game stretch where the Eagles lost two matches in overtime, rebounded and earned a victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor and then accumulated two ties. Additionally, the Eagles played a difficult non-conference schedule and can claim early wins over respected opponents Westminster College, Sewanee and Hendrix College as well as a tie against Berry College.
“Our record could be better, but it is very solid and much deserved,” said Cossaboon. “Those three ties in conference could have gone either way. Overall, I’m very proud of our effort. We are learning that we are nothing by ourselves, but we are anything we want to be as a team.”
Ozarks has been fueled by a solid senior class and a number of talented underclassmen. The team has been balanced on the offensive attack as seven players have three or more goals. Marcus Aldaba, Shaun Keane, Eloy Salgado and Thomas Mills have each recorded double digit point totals. Ozarks starting goalkeeper Austin Benner has posted three shutouts and owns a 1.58 goals against average. Senior midfielder Josh Duncan has played a pivotal role in the offensive and defensive success for the Eagles. Duncan, a team captain, realizes the magnitude of the game Saturday.
“It’s a feeling of excitement,” said Duncan. “I know all the seniors are excited because we haven’t been this close during our time here. It would be huge for the program to qualify for the playoffs. I expect a very hard fought game. They have skilled players and we need to have a mindset to defend our goal and set a solid foundation and build off of that. I feel like this week will be the hardest week of practice because we will be pushing each other and giving it our all. We have a sense of belief that we can beat anybody.”
One of the underclassman who Cossaboon credits for his team’s success is sophomore defender Travis Leach. The Denton, Texas, native has been strong and consistent in Ozarks’ backline defense throughout the season, and like Duncan, he expects the Eagles to give maximum effort.
“I expect everyone’s best effort,” said Leach. “We need to put everything into this one game. I think we will be more focused knowing that we all have a goal that we want to reach. No player on this team can follow their own path. This is the most important time because it is right now.”
The ASC Championship Tournament will be held November 8-10 and will be hosted by the No. 1 team. The top six teams will be determined by winning percentage.