It’s a situation that is all too familiar.
The Bulls, with three road games left in their regular season, are still struggling to secure the sixth bert necessary to guarantee participation at the C-USA tourney. According to goalkeeper Troy Perkins, the Bulls have been here before.
“This is just the way that this team plays,” said Perkins. “In the three years that I’ve been here, I can say every season (qualification) has come down to the last four games.”
Last weekend’s back-to-back defeats at home to Louisville and at FIU dropped the Bulls to 9-5 and, more significantly, 4-3 in conference play.
Consequently, road trips to UAB today and DePaul Sunday have assumed must-win proportions.
While the DePaul game could prove crucial in determining the Bulls’ fate, the crunch game of the weekend is undoubtedly tonight’s matchup with preseason conference favorite UAB. With the Blazers, by virtue of their 4-2-2 conference record, a mere two places above the Bulls in the conference standings, Perkins acknowledged that this is the one the Bulls really want to win.
“It’s more than a big game,” Perkins said. “I’m not going to say if we lose we’re out, but if we lose it’s going to be tough getting into the conference tournament.”
While the prospect of playing such crucial games on the road seems daunting, the 6-foot-1 junior, pointing to the Bulls’ 4-3 record on their travels, dissents from the commonly held belief that teams perform better in home games.
“A lot of guys like traveling to play. It gives you that extra atmosphere in that you’re there to do this,” Perkins said. “There’s a lot of distractions at home. When you go away, all you have is soccer.”
According to first-year coach George Kiefer, a win and a loss allied with a sixth conference win at TCU on Nov. 9 should prove sufficient to clinch entry to the C-USA tournament.
“If we split on the weekend we could still be all right – six is the magic number,” said Kiefer.
With victories over conference leaders Marquette and second-placed Saint Louis, the coach concurred with the view that the Bulls perform better in bigger games. While it is a characteristic that may serve them well this weekend, with the coach anxious to instill a winning habit in his charges, it is not a trait that he is particularly fond of.
“I noticed that they tend to approach games differently,” said Kiefer.
“I think we have to live with that for now.”
UAB’s main attacking threat is likely to be Brazilian Flavio Monteiro, who has recorded seven goals and three assists. The performances of Blazers keeper Clint Baumstark, who has recorded five shutouts, were enough to persuade U.S. under-20 national team coach Thomas Rongen to select the sophomore goalkeeper into the under-20 national pool for the CONCACAF Group B qualifying tournament in Charleston, S.C.
The Bulls will travel to Alabama without the services of Chris Raye. The sophomore defender is still suffering the effects of a torn calf muscle.