Photo by Maricel Evangelista
The once-No. 14 ranked UVU men’s soccer team opened the season with a 1-0 win over Akron in the familiar confines of Clyde Field Aug. 25. Since then, the Wolverines have hardly found the pitch friendly, losing three straight matches at home. The inability to win close games at home is a new problem for UVU. The team won every regular season game in Orem during the 2016 season.
“It’s foreign to us to have the record that we do at home this season,” senior midfielder Connor Salmon said.
“Soccer is tricky, and it can be cruel at times,” head coach Greg Maas said. “There’s a lot of distractions often playing at home. … We enjoy playing here at Clyde Field, but we just haven’t had the ball bounce our way.”
After the first loss at home to Cal State Northridge, UVU went on the road and beat Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State, shutting them out 2-0 and 1-0, respectively. Upon return, the Wolverines fell to Sacramento State 1-2 and Omaha 1-3. Omaha was a top-10 team in the nation at the time, but that’s still not the type of momentum the squad was looking for as they wrap up non-conference play. To make matters worse, UVU was pummelled by Washington 4-0 and trounced by Gonzaga 1-2 Sunday.
“We still think we’re in a good spot,” Salmon said after the home losses last Tuesday. “Ultimately it’s going to come down to taking care of business [against UW and Gonzaga] and then rolling into conference playing our best soccer and taking it from there.”
“We’re not panicked right now. In fact, the team’s in great spirits,” Maas said. “We knew going into it that our nonconference play was going to be very challenging. … It’s lived up to those expectations, but it’s also prepared us for entering WAC play.”
Paul Hoffmeister, the senior who was voted to pre-season All-WAC and All-American honors, started just one game this season as he continues to recover from an undisclosed injury. Maas admitted Hoffmeister has been on a minute count thus far this season so he would not overwork himself and aggravate a potentially lengthy injury. With conference play approaching, Maas said he believes the star midfielder has turned a corner in his rehab.
“I could tell for the first time he’s felt healthy today,” Maas said Tuesday before the team left for Washington. “He was absolutely fantastic. He seemed to enter training with a very focused purpose but he was playing with a smile on his face.”
With the rankings and national attention gone for now, the Wolverines will regroup and attempt to defend their 2016 regular season WAC championship. That will be a tall order because the Wolverines aren’t the only team in the conference that has enjoyed some of the national spotlight during nonconference play.
UNLV started hot this season, appearing in the second week’s top-25 rankings after topping then-No. 15 Portland on opening day. The Rebels have since cooled off with a five-game losing streak while another pair of WAC teams have been climbing up the rankings. Entering the final week of nonconference play Air Force, with a 6-1 record, entered the Top Drawer Soccer and United Soccer Coaches poll rankings at No. 24 and No. 20. Seattle U, with a 6-1 record of its own, also climbed to No. 24 in the coaches poll.
After this season’s early losses, an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for UVU can essentially be kissed good-bye. In order to claim a spot in the tournament, the Wolverines will need to win the WAC tournament where it lost in upset fashion to UNLV last season.
Ty Bianucci is a life-long fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors who started on the sports beat for The Review, but now contributes investigative stories. He, along with two of his colleagues, were awarded the Sunshine Award in 2018 by the Society of Professional Journalists.