By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The local soccer scene will be well represented in this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament as both Penn and Drexel earned automatic bids.
Penn gets in after winning the Ivy League title with a 2-0 win at Harvard on Saturday. The Quakers will actually host the first round on Thursday as they welcome Providence out of the Big East to Rhodes Field.
“That’s really special and honestly it came as a bit of a surprise,” Penn head coach Rudy Fuller tells KYW Newsradio about getting a first-round home match. “I mean we had a very good second half of the season in our run to the Ivy League championship. But going into the selection show (Monday), even though we knew we were assured of a bid, I wasn’t really sure that we would be given the opportunity to host, based on where we were on the RPI. But we’re thrilled that the NCAA awarded us the game and we are hoping for a big turn out from the Philadelphia soccer community on Thursday night.”
Drexel won the Colonial Athletic Association, beating William and Mary, 1-0, for the crown. The Dragons will go on the road in the first round, visiting visit Old Dominion on Thursday. ODU is now in Conference-USA, but they spent many years as a CAA rival of the Dragons. This is Drexel’s second straight NCAA berth.
“We feel like we did what we thought, but it wasn’t the conventional route for us,” Drexel head coach Doug Hess tells KYW Newsradio. “We returned a lot of guys from a team that got an at-large berth last year to the NCAA’s and we returned the core of that team, so we thought good things and big things for our group this year. But, as is the case in any college season, we dealt with injury, we dealt with not performing to our fullest at times. We knew about midway through the season that it was really going to take a strong finish to finish atop our league. We had made too many mistakes outside the league in terms of getting an at-large berth again. So we really knew about part way through October that it was going to come down to our performance in the CAA.”
Drexel brings a 9-7-4 record into the tournament and Hess says its been a team effort that has gotten them this far.
“We’re built on a lot of different guys and I don’t know that there is one particular guy,” Hess says. “We had good performances all through the season. I think soccer is the ultimate team game and we got three goals in our championship play for the CAA from two guys who never scored before for us (sophomore forward Joaquin del Rosario and freshman defender Jameson Detweiler). Timely performances is something that we seem to have.”
Overall this season, 12 different players have found the back of the net for Drexel with senior Nathan Page leading the way with five goals.
Penn is in the tournament field for the first time since 2010 and Fuller says experience is a critical component of their success.
“You have to look first at our senior leadership,” Fuller says. “It’s a group of seven young men who committed themselves to the process, way back in January during spring workouts, and never wavered in their belief in what they wanted to accomplish. And that just grew within the locker room, it was contagious, the younger guys caught on to it and its been a really special group.”
Penn is led in scoring by junior Duke Lacroix and his eight goals.
The Drexel match at Old Dominion on Thursday will get started at 6:00pm.
Penn’s battle with Providence gets underway at 7:00pm at Rhodes Field.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.