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PREVIEW: Men's soccer seeks first CAA title since 2006

Cam Keough/The Chronicle By Jean Pierre Guzhnay - STAFF WRITER

“It takes grit and determination to be successful,” said men’s soccer head coach Richard Nuttall.

After beating the likes of Syracuse, Elon, Northeastern, UNCW and others along the treacherous road of the regular season, the objective is now complete: the Pride soccer team will host the CAA championship.

“From our point of view, our objective was set out. One of our objectives in the beginning of the year was to win the regular season championship,” said the coach. “We beat some tremendous opponents during the regular season. I am very proud of the team.”

But those well-deserved victories seem like a distant memory now, as the team has not been in form lately. After winning in the regular season against No. 10 Elon in a 1-0 home game, the Pride made a statement. With a season full of incredible victories, the Pride is the best team – on paper, at least – in the conference.

Yet three days after winning the regular season – and winning six straight home games –  the Pride was looking to finish their home schedule with a victory. However, they lost to their archrivals Stony Brook 3-0. To make matters worse, four days later the Pride had a dismal performance against James Madison losing 2-0 in the last game of the regular season. That JMU team is the very same opponent the Pride will face in the semi-finals.

If the Pride is going to continue their tremendous season and have a chance at the title, the next few days of preparation are vital for coach Nuttall’s men. The English coach has continuously reminded his players of the amazing performances and epic victories they have had across the campaign in an attempt to bring them back to their winning ways.

“I think we have to be open and real about this situation. I think some of the issues were fatigues and overconfidence and not being mentally prepared,” said Nuttall.

“[The problem in those last games were] thinking we can go out there and win without much prep and effort and sometimes the luck of the bounce doesn't go your way and we are playing quality teams. It contributed to our poor form in the last games,” he said.

The last couple days have given the squad time to reflect mentally and physically in preparation for the postseason. With players given some major rest time and relaxation sessions, coach Nuttall is confident the team can bounce back.

“We’ve tried to rest some players in the last couple of weeks giving time off where the bodies can recuperate and emotionally recuperate so hopefully we will be prepared,” he said. “We don't want to take too much time off or we lose our sharpness.”

Even though there is no denying the excitement coming into a semifinal championship, the Pride coach has noticed doubts within the squad in the last couple of days.

“[The players have] mixed emotions right now. You know you have a little bit self-doubt when you lose a couple of games,” he said. “But I do believe in the history of the season and that they can pull on and get a lot of confidence from that. We have done as well as we have in practice and in getting their heads in preparation.”

Nuttall stressed that it may definitely help mentally for the team to be home for the CAA Tournament, but they are unwilling to relax ahead of the fixture.

“The last three, four years we have been outstanding at home, but we also have to understand that the teams coming in are very good,” he said. “We can use our home as an advantage. We will be in front of our fans in our own surface. It is definitely an advantage. From our point of view we cannot take anything for granted.”

The coach went on to further praise his team’s attributes and strengths, believing that the Pride has what it takes to beat any opponent.

“This stage of the season has been our goal from the start. It’s a work in progress and I am very proud of the guys for making it and we are going to continue and hopefully we can make it through.”

IF Hofstra can win Friday, they will play the winner of #2 Elon vs. #3 Delaware on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. They would have the chance to lock up a CAA Championship on their home pitch.

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