ETSU, Mercer, Stetson.
All three squads have finished runner-up in the Atlantic Sun Men’s Soccer Regular Season over the past three years, but only one element has remained constant during that span; FGCU, who is riding a 13-match unbeaten streak vs. conference foes.
The Eagles, who have won three-straight regular season crowns, now sit in the driver’s seat at 4-0-1 after Thursday’s scoreless draw vs. Mercer. Only three matches remain on FGCU’s schedule as the Blue and Green try to become the only program in league history to capture four-in-a-row.
The feat is not lost on FGCU Head Coach Bob Butehorn, who has been at the helm of the Eagles’ program since its inception in 2007.
“When you are able to win a championship in any year it is a significant moment in your program’s history. For me it is an accomplishment that we look at and are proud of, but every year we try to find how we can succeed in that year and continue our success.”
Several records sit in the wake of FGCU’s run through the conference over the past four years. The 2010 squad, which went 9-0-0 in league play, is one of six teams to post a perfect record in A-Sun play, while last year’s senior class won 28 conference matches; most-ever during a four-year stretch.
But what makes the current squad so different than year’s past?
No seniors adorn the 2013 roster. Only redshirt juniors, Juan Castellon and Henry Penagos, remain from FGCU’s first A-Sun title team in 2010.
“With the younger group, we had to start on a different level than in year’s past which we might have taken for granted this season,” Butehorn said, noting the early-season struggles. “We needed to figure out how the players would react to our teaching and what points to make to them while laying the foundation for the team and still looking at the bigger picture for the season.”
The Eagles started the season 0-5-1 thanks in part to a grueling schedule, two overtime losses and four one-goal losses. Despite scoring an average of 1.6 goals in the first six games, FGCU’s opponents were scoring more than three goals per contest.
“We felt like we had a good team, but we just needed to get our players sorted out in the spots they were most comfortable and could contribute best. A lot of the games early in the season were one-goal games and we were just letting in too many goals.”
A two-match road trip to the Northeast turned FGCU’s season around as the Eagles recorded their first shutout; 1-0 at Princeton, after netting the season’s first win two days prior against Penn, 3-2.
“Our players took accountability for the critical moments in the game and have learned our system, which has guided us in our recent success.”
Despite the lack of four-year players on this team one thing has remained the same. FGCU is still producing at a high rate as the Eagles are on an eight-match unbeaten streak (7-0-1), which started with the two overtime victories.
Since sophomore striker Felipe DeSousa began the unbeaten streak with his overtime goal at Penn, FGCU has returned to the basics of what made them a dominant force in the A-Sun – not surrendering goals. The Eagles have allowed only one goal, a 63rd minute strike from ETSU’s David Geno, in the last 600 minutes of play.
In A-Sun play, FGCU has surrendered only 0.20 goals per game as the Eagles’ defense is taking shape after losing several key pieces last season. By comparison, the 2010 FGCU squad surrendered only two goals in nine league matches for an average of 0.22 goals allowed per contest.
Heading into Saturday’s matches, FGCU is in the driver’s seat with Lipscomb and ETSU not far behind holding identical 3-1 league records but limited time ahead to catch the Eagles. FGCU recorded conference wins vs. Lipscomb and ETSU earlier this month.
But for Coach Butehorn nothing is set in stone for FGCU this season and he knows anything can happen in the final three A-Sun matches.
“Each team is different, they all have their own personalities and identities and with this year’s team they are proud of the past accomplishments of our program, but we will still only look ahead to the next game.”
Next up for FGCU is Stetson on Oct. 26th, who finished as the Atlantic Sun Runner-up to the Eagles in 2011.