Simon Fraser University Clan take on Carson-Newman Eagles this evening for a place in the NCAA II Championship game on Saturday.
The Clan know that they will have a tough game on their hands if they want to go all the way to the final but are fully focussed on the job in hand, heading down to Georgia early on Monday morning and gradually adjusting their body clocks to the different time zone from before they even left.
It’s a battle between two fourth ranked teams in their respective regions, both of whom have beaten two number one seeds along the way, but SFU will head into the game as favourites.
We preview tonight’s battle with Clan head coach Alan Koch.
Before researching this article our knowledge of Carson-Newman was basically nil. We knew they were from Tennessee and had a tough battle to get to the Final Four stage, but we didn’t realise just how tough, as Koch explained to us.
“They almost didn’t make it. I saw reports that said they lost in their Conference tournament and they weren’t going to make the national tournament. A couple of other results went their way, which allowed them to get themselves in, and I think they’re almost playing as if this is their second chance and they’ve obviously taken it and been very, very successful to get themselves there.”
So what else can coach Koch tell us about them?
“Very, very similar to us. They’re the fourth seed in their region, we’re the fourth seed in our region. We play with our backs to the wall every game. We’ve gone out with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders. We’ve got a point to prove and I think they’re doing the same thing. That’s what’s allowed them to be successful.”
Like SFU, Carson-Newman’s ‘Road to Georgia’ was done the hard way, with every game in foreign territory.
They started their journey to the Final Four in Gaffney, South Carolina defeating the second ranked Anderson University 3-2 in the first round and number one ranked Limestone College 3-1 in the second.
They moved to Winter Park, Florida for their next two matches. coming through on penalties against Lander University in the Sweet 16 stage before shocking number one seeded Rollins College 2-1 in the Elite 8.
Quite the achievement.
“They’ve gone on the road every time. They’ve just beaten Rollins in the Elite 8 and Rollins are a fantastic team. That’s a team that could have beaten anybody in college soccer in any division.”
Rollins College will also be familiar to some for drawing 2-2 with Toronto in a 60 minute preseason friendly in Florida back in February after fighting back from 2-0 down. It wasn’t a full strength TFC side, but it showed them to be no mugs. They were also the 4th ranked D2 side in the nation and the fact that Carson-Newman disposed of them alerts SFU to the danger they pose.
It’s a danger Koch is very aware of.
“If they can go and beat Rollins, they’re going to be a very good team. We know they’re organised. We know they’re hard working. And they have some special players too.”
The most special of whom appears to be Welsh forward Ross Frame. The striker has had a tremendous season, leading the Eagles in goals (18), assists (10) and everything else from points to shots. He is officially classed as a Junior but this is his first season in Jefferson City, after transferring in from Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Frame definitely appears to be the dangerman that if the Clan can contain, their job will be a lot easier.
At the other end of the field Senior French goalkeeper Rumwald Le Guevel is the man to beat, with five clean sheets this season and 89 saves to his name.
Here’s a quick head to head between SFU and Carson-Newman.
The unknown element of opponent at this stage of proceedings is a two way street of course, with Carson-Newman having to do their homework on SFU. With 16 different players contributing to the Clan’s 75 goals so far this season, that’s no easy task to pinpoint where their attacking danger comes from.
“We can score from anybody. It would be tough to play against us. I wonder what a scouting report against us would be like because there’s been times there’s Carlo (Basso), but it’s not just Carlo. Carlo’s great but there is Colin (Jacques), there’s Ryan (Dhillon), there’s Jovan (Blagojevic), there’s Chris Bargholz. There’s Joseph Martins who played last weekend. We even have Lucas Ferrito who’s been injured a lot this year.
“So we have guys that can score from all over the place. That’s refreshing as a coach. The guys you’re going throw out there are going to go and take care of business but if they don’t there’s somebody else that can go out there. It’s nice to have those different options.”
So with all the talking now done, what’s the key message that Koch wants to have instilled into his players ahead of today’s game?
“Be ready for that match. Last year we went to the Final Four. This year we’re playing a semi final.
“We’re going to go play a game. That’s it. It’s 90 minutes.
“I think last year we might have got caught up in things a little bit. We’re focusing on the game. We’ll be ready to play at that first whistle.”
We’d expect nothing less.
The Clan’s semi final against Carson Newman Eagles kicks off at 5pm PT. You can watch a live stream of the game HERE.
‘Mon the Clan. Make Canada proud.