Friday, October 2, 2009

Colleges: No.4 Spartans, No.1 Knights ready to resume rivalry

TAMPA – University of Tampa men’s soccer coach Adrian Bush puts it simply.

“If you’re a fan of soccer, and you’re not at the game (Saturday) night, I think you’re going to miss a great opportunity to see two of the top teams in Division II, or any classification of college soccer. I know I would be there. If I wasn’t coaching the game, I would drive two three hours to watch this game.”

The No.4-ranked Spartans host No.1 Lynn at Pepin-Rood Stadium on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the resumption of what has become a heated rivalry, especially with the two sides facing one-another six times over the past two seasons. In that time, the Spartans have eliminated the Fighting Knights twice in the NCAA Tournament, including a 3-2 victory against then No.1 Lynn last season.

That history has both coaches saying the other has become the biggest rival they face each season, and both express admiration for the history of each program.

“I think Lynn for so many years has been the measuring-stick for the conference,” Bush said. “Credit to Sean Pendleton, and Sean Rootes has come in and continued the same success that they’ve had in years past. He’s done a great job. We’ve got a lot of respect for the program, their kids, the type of players that they have.”

Pendleton built the Lynn program before taking over at Division I Appalachian State after the 2007 season, and still holds the NCAA record for the highest winning percentage in Division II history. Entering this season, he held a record of 330 wins, 58 losses and 17 ties, a winning percentage of .838, which was also good for fifth all-time across all divisions. Rootes has maintained that standard, and has a talented striker in 27-year-old Paulo Vaz leading his attack with 15 goals in 10 games.

But it’s the defensive match-up that should prove to be key on Saturday, with Rootes pointing to his goalkeeper Alessandro Salvatore and Tampa’s Ryan Thompson as being two of the best in the nation.

“If you look at the game (Saturday) night, it’s going to be two very good goalkeepers,” Rootes said. “Ryan Thompson, who is probably the best ‘keeper in the country, and our goalkeeper Alessandro is coming along and really playing well. I think they’re going to be the keys to the game.”

A game that should be pretty intense if recent meetings are to be any way to judge. But while both teams are eager to earn victory and gain a leg up in their pursuit of a Sunshine State Conference title, both coaches expect the game to be clean.

“As long as the kids are allowed to play, they’re very clean games,” Bush said. “The game is played the right way. Both programs have a certain style, they tend to that. You would think it would be so intense, but it’s not that way. It’s no secret that we don’t like them, they don’t like us, but when it comes gameday, the kids play hard, but it’s clean soccer.”

All of which should make for an outstanding contest.

“I think it’s going to be a great game,” Rootes said. “We look at it with Tampa being such a great team that they’re going to be in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw them again later down the road, so we’re looking at it and trying to take some of the pressure of by saying ‘Look, this is a great team, and a great rivalry, and we want to have fun and really enjoy it and just have a great game.’ ”

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