TAMPA – As they meet to end the regular season at Pepin-Rood Stadium tonight at 7 p.m., it can easily be said that the seasons of the University of Tampa and Saint Leo men’s soccer teams have taken vastly different paths.
Tampa is currently ranked No.9 in the nation, has only lost once, and while it faces a tough road to get there should certainly be considered one of the favorites to advance to the NCAA Division II Final Four. The Spartans can earn a share of the Sunshine State Conference regular season title with a victory, something Coach Adrian Bush is happy about.
“Anytime you can close out the conference with a win before your final stretch of conference tournament and playoffs is good,” Bush said.
Saint Leo has gone the other way. After a 5-3 record in the SSC last season, the Lions cannot make the SSC tournament this year having only won twice in seven conference games entering Thursday night’s game.
Illness has affected the program for the whole season, with Coach Joel Harrison not knowing at times how many players he would have available on a day-to-day basis. The Lions appeared to be getting on the right track after putting together three straight wins at the beginning of October, including one over then No.14-ranked Lynn, but a pair of defeats to Barry and Nova Southeastern have left the side knowing tonight will be their final game of the season.
“It’s been frustrating, and all kind of things, it’s hard to put it into words,” Harrison said. “I don’t know if its hit us harder than anyone else, but I think our guys have still come out and worked hard and tried to do their best, and that’s all we can ask of them, you know, regardless of who’s healthy an who’s not to go out and compete and hopefully eventually things will start to pay off for us.”
Bush has little to no sympathy for what Saint Leo has gone through, noting that his side, and most sides, face similar adversity during a season.
"That's what you carry extra players on your team for," Bush said. "Every team goes through injuries, and if they want to make an excuse of a flu going through their team, I don't think there's a team in the country that hasn't experienced that.
"So they can sit there and pin-point excuses all they want, hopefully they're healthy now, and we'll see what their excuse is tomorrow."
The Spartans are certainly confident of earning victory. Spartans center back Dan Ingvarsson believes if his teammates take care of outworking the Lions, everything else will take care of itself.
“I know we’re a better soccer team,” Spartans center back Dan Ingvarsson said. “The only thing they can beat us at is work-rate, and if we bring the work-rate, there’s no way we can lose.”