The Elon University men’s soccer team has fallen on hard times in the past few weeks. After going 9-1-1 in their first 11 games, the Phoenix have dropped three of their last four, all of which, it should be pointed out, were on the road. What’s more, the first of the Phoenix’s losses was against then No. 22-ranked Furman University, a result that will do nothing but help their strength of schedule going forward.
Although road games are hard to win in college soccer, especially in a conference as competitive as the Southern Conference, it isn’t wise to lose three straight away from home this late in the season, especially as tournament play begins and there are more neutral site and away games to be played.
But, the Phoenix has a chance to rebound from its struggles in its three remaining games, two of which are conference games and one of which is on the road. It begins with something of a breather against Davidson University, whose program has fallen on hard times this season.
Three days later, the Phoenix play Coastal Carolina University, an old rival who the Phoenix have played four times in the previous two years, two of which came in the last two NCAA tournaments. Needless to say, Elon head coach Darren Powell and his staff will prepare their team for whatever the Chanticleers throw at them.
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The Phoenix then end their season against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a middle of the road Southern Conference foe who, at least on paper, shouldn’t give the Phoenix much trouble, especially at Rudd Field. But, as everyone knows, games aren’t played on paper, especially one against a local rival like the Spartans.
Nevertheless, the Phoenix should win at least two of those three games. If they want to contend for the Southern Conference regular season title — which they won last year — they’ll have to take care of business against Davidson and UNCG, which, if we’re being honest, are two games they need to win in order to prove that they’re among the conference’s elite.
If they can finally beat the Chanticleers, something they haven’t done in the program’s last four meetings, they could prove to be one of the country’s best teams, which, in theory, should earn them an at-large birth into the NCAA tournament should they lose in the SoCon tournament.
But, unfair as it may seem to many, Elon will have to fight an uphill battle with the NCAA selection committee if they can’t take care of business in the postseason. So how do they ensure that their postseason fate isn’t forced into the hands of the tournament committee? The Phoenix must improve on both offense and defense in order to return to their early season form.
In their last four games, the Phoenix defense has given up six goals. Most teams would take that goals per game average in a heartbeat, but for a superb Phoenix defense, that’s a momentary diversion from their dominant ways. In the first 11 games, a stretch in which the team gave up just seven goals, the Phoenix backline was nearly unbreakable, quelling most of their opponent’s looks before they even materialized. In order to beat the country’s best, the Phoenix will have to remain stout in their own penalty area, as they were against then No. 9-ranked Wake Forest University, a game in which the Phoenix put together a clinic on defensive resilience en route to a 1-0 win.
The defense isn’t the only thing that needs improving, however, if the Phoenix wants to make a third straight NCAA tournament appearance. The offense must also improve in order for the Phoenix to find success. The unit, which has scored two or more goals in five games, has several playmakers that are capable of putting multiple goal games together. However, in its last four games, the offense has mustered just two goals, which is a trend that must improve as the team faces stiffer competition in the future.
If the Phoenix can clamp down defensively and find the back of the net on a more consistent basis, they’re capable of playing with anyone, as they proved by beating Wake Forest earlier this year.