The Elon University men’s soccer team was showing alarming signs of a team that had peaked too soon a couple weeks prior to its disappointing 2-0 loss to Northeastern University in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament on Saturday, Nov. 8 at Rudd Field.
After a 2-1 victory over Duke University on Oct. 21 extended its winning streak to four and its unbeaten streak to five, the Phoenix hit its highest peak. From there, Elon began its descent, drawing with James Madison University, beating last-place College of Charleston 2-1 in overtime after escaping from an early 1-0 deficit and suffering a 2-1 loss in its finale against the University of Delaware with a chance to win the CAA regular season championship and earn the No. 1 seed in the postseason tournament.
Yet, for its opening game in the CAA tournament, everything had seemed to fall perfectly into place for the Phoenix.
Needing only to beat the Huskies to seemingly assure itself of an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament should it not have went on and won the league’s automatic bid, the Phoenix came out flat and was knocked around from the opening kick by the more physical Huskies.
“Coming into the game, we didn’t really expect the result that happened,” junior forward Chad Craig said. “But give credit to them, they came in and brought the game to us but we just didn’t finish any of our chances and you’re not going to win if you can’t find the back of the net.”
Northeastern, which was dominated in every facet of the game in a 5-0 pounding at the hands of the Phoenix less than a month ago, came out and took the game to Elon, bumping and jostling the Phoenix in an effort to rough up the game and take Elon out of its groove.
It worked. The Huskies scored two first-half goals to take control of the game and advance to play the University of Delaware, the host for the semifinal and final.
In the 12th minute, freshman forward Ackim Mpofu headed a loose ball in the box over the head of Elon senior goalkeeper Nathan Dean and just into the goal to give the Huskies an early 1-0 lead.
Then, right before halftime, the Huskies struck again. After a cross from the right wing fell onto the feet of midfielder Marc Greenblatt in the top right hand corner of the box, the midfielder crossed it again to the streaking Brad Fountain, who took the ball in the far left side of the box and slotted it past Dean for a 2-0 lead.
From there, the Huskies hunkered down, putting large numbers of red and black jerseys between Elon and its goal and ultimately keeping the Phoenix out of the back of the net.
“It’s so disappointing,” Elon head coach Chris Little said. “We had 18 shots, and I would say at least seven of those were good chances to score. We just didn’t get the break of the ball. We created so many chances. I was in disbelief that some of them didn’t drop in.”
In not being able to control its own destiny, the Phoenix, which sits at 9-6-4 overall and 37 in the RPI, will now wait to see if its resume, which includes a 4-2-1 record against Top 50 opponents, is strong enough to still earn them a bid into the NCAA tournament.
“I think if you look at our strength of schedule — I think our strength of schedule is at 31 — so that’s a testament in of itself that we play quality competition,” Little said. “We’re 4-2-1 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI. I don’t that there’s many other teams around us that have those same statistics. So yeah, I do think we warrant a bid.”
It appears, though, that the Phoenix’s hope for a fourth straight birth in the big dance will go unfulfilled, thanks in large part to its disappointing loss to its foe from Boston.
“We’re probably out of the NCAA tournament now, I would assume,” senior forward Jason Waterman said. “We’ve gotten accustomed to success after winning championships but to know that this year is going to end without one is incredibly frustrating.”