The Elon University men’s soccer team secured a much needed 1-0 victory against Drexel University Oct. 21, thanks to a first-half goal from senior striker Elijah Agu — who later left the game because of an injury.
The Phoenix went into the match at seventh place in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), needing a win to keep its hopes of making the CAA tournament alive.
Out of the nine teams in the CAA, only the top six will have the right to compete in the postseason tournament. Defeating last place Drexel helped Elon pick up three points and overtake Delaware University for the highly coveted sixth-place spot.
Things get more interesting toward the end of the season.
On Oct. 28, Elon travels to Delaware for a season finale that will determine the destiny of both teams. Just last season, Delaware was the CAA tournament champion. This year, it’s struggling to qualify alongside the Phoenix. If Elon avoids a loss, it guarantees the Phoenix a spot in the CAA tournament. But if the Phoenix is defeated, the spot will be gifted to Delaware and Elon fails to qualify for the tournament for the first time since joining the CAA prior to the 2014 season.
For head coach Marc Reeves, missing out on the tournament is a fate he desperately hopes to avoid in his first year at the helm of the program. When asked whether he is optomistic his squad can keep fighting into the tournament, he provided a fiery response that he said embodies the tenacity of Elon soccer.
“Optimism? I’ve got full belief,” Reeves said. “We didn’t take care of business with our two home games against James Madison University and College of Charleston, but we expect to go to Delaware next week and get what we need.”
Sophomore defender Luke Matthews was quick to point out areas of improvement for his side that it must fix in order to qualify for the CAA tournament.
“Drexel is a good team, and Delaware is a good team,” Matthews said. “[We’ve got to] keep up the hard work, score a few more goals, keep it tight at the back, work on those set pieces and try to get as many shots on target and score goals as well.”
The Phoenix has kept nine clean sheets this season, a statistic that it values immensely. Matthews noted the importance of playing smart defense in hopes of making the tournament.
“Hopefully we can keep tight at the back,” Matthews said. “Then hopefully that allows the forward players to do what they do atop the pitch and get a couple goals that will clinch the win for us.”
If Elon draws with Delaware, it will make the tournament as the No. 6 seed and opens play against the No. 3 seed Nov. 4. A victory could see the Phoenix overtake William & Mary for the No. 5 seed if the latter team falls to College of Charleston on Oct. 28 in Charleston.
On the other hand, a loss would allow Delaware to overtake Elon by two points in the standings and slide into the tournament it won last season.
All eyes will be on CAA soccer this coming Saturday, with a mixture of matches set to finalize the lineup for this season’s tournament. The No. 1 seed is still up for grabs, and Charleston (12 points), UNCW (12 points), and William & Mary (11 points) are all capable of overtaking JMU (14 points) for the top spot.