It’s been an up-and-down year for the Memphis men’s soccer team, and despite an overall record of 3-8-4, the Tigers’ final regular season game has massive postseason implications.
Memphis (3-8-4, 1-3-3 AAC) faces off against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (6-6-3, 2-3-2 AAC) Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Mike Rose Soccer Complex, and depending on the outcome of that game and others in the conference the Tigers could ultimately place last in the conference or finish as high as third.
“It’s massive,” Memphis coach Richard Mulrooney said of the final regular season game against Tulsa. “If you would’ve asked me at the beginning of the year would I take the last game of the year to have a chance to finish third, sign me up. That’s an honor to finish third or fourth in this conference, but at the same time knowing that we could take a loss and other results could possibly put us in eighth place, it’s a lot of pressure.”
SMU and USF have broken away from the pack, sitting comfortably in the top two positions, but outside of those two teams nearly every position from third to eighth is up for grabs. The top four schools host a first round match in the American Athletic Conference Tournament next week, and the incredible parity in the league has created a situation where six teams enter the final day of matches competing for two spots for the right to host a first round game.
Not only are the teams fighting to secure the third or fourth seed for home field advantage, but everyone is also trying to avoid the seventh and eighth spots so that they don’t have to face powerhouses SMU and USF in the first round. For Mulrooney, perhaps more important than the matchup is the bad aftertaste that such a low seeding in the conference tournament would leave.
“I’m not scared to play anybody, but if we’re playing (SMU or USF) that means we finished seventh or eighth and that’s not good, or at least in my book that’s not good enough,” the second-year head coach said. “For that reason alone, yes I don’t want to be playing USF or SMU, but if it ends up being like that it’s not a death wish by any means.”
Memphis fell 3-1 to SMU this season, only getting off four total shots in the loss. However, Memphis did find some success against USF, drawing the then No. 12 ranked Bulls 0-0 on Oct. 16 in a tightly contested game. The Tigers are one of only two AAC teams to come away with a result against USF this season, the other being SMU in a 2-2 draw.
Both Memphis and Tulsa enter Saturday’s without a win in recent games. The Golden Hurricane has a loss and a draw in its last two games, with the most recent win being a 2-0 victory over Temple on Oct. 17. The Tigers on the other hand have two draws and a loss in their last three, and last won Oct. 13, 2-1 over Georgia State.
Memphis’ most recent loss to UCF offered a glimpse into what the Tigers need to take down Tulsa and other tougher teams in the conference, but the challenge is going to be whether they can keep it up for a full game.
“The first half was the best we’ve played all year, but we didn’t reward ourselves with a goal, and unfortunately they reversed it on us and it was one of the worst halves I’ve seen us play in the second half, they got their one goal and beat us 1-0,” Mulrooney said. “If we can play the second half how we did the first and play a full 90 minutes we can compete with anybody.”
Sophomore forward Chandler Klemm has two goals and three assists this season.