DePaul Confronts No. 6 USF, No. 22 St. John's---On the Road
CHICAGO - For the DePaul men's soccer team, the season has come full circle.
The Blue Demons opened 2009 slate on the road and will finish up the regular season traveling to No. 6 USF and No. 22 St. John's in a bid to qualify for their fourth consecutive BIG EAST Championships.
In between, this group of scrappy and talented athletes learned how to cope with life away from the friendly confines of Wish Field.
They will once again rely on a road-warrior mentality in confronting a pair of nationally ranked teams in hostile environments.
"We have developed a blue-collar ethic on the road, and that will help us out," said DePaul senior defender Patrick Hopkins. "We're excited about the opportunity being presented to us."
DePaul (8-7-1, 5-4-0 in the BIG EAST) is on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. Either a win or a tie this week or a Cincinnati loss or tie puts the Blue Demons into the postseason. DePaul is also in the mix of teams looking to host a first-round game.
The top two teams in the BIG EAST's Red and Blue Divisions receive first-round byes. The third and fourth-place teams host first-round matches against the fifth and sixth-place teams. DePaul is currently fourth in the Red Division.
"Having to play our final two games on the road, that's a tall order," said junior forward Alex Mangan. "But it's something we all know we can do, and play well."
Upon concluding this trip to Tampa and Queens, N.Y., DePaul will have played 11 of its 18 games on the road. So far, the Blue Demons have a respectable 4-4-1 record away from Lincoln Park.
"I first realized this was a good road team after we beat UC-Irvine, which was ranked No. 8 in the country at the time," said DePaul coach Craig Blazer about the 3-2 comeback victory Sept. 11 at the Marquette Invitational in Milwaukee.
"There was also the way we played at Pittsburgh (1-0 win) and West Virginia (2-1 overtime loss). We did well at Cincinnati (1-0 overtime win) and at Loyola (2-2 double-overtime tie).
"We developed a belief that we could overcome early mistakes in games on the road. We have played enough quality minutes on the road that we feel like we can do it again this week."
DePaul remains committed to a defense-first philosophy, but also possesses an offense that has scored 26 goals---second in the BIG EAST to Louisville. The Blue Demons scored 13 goals in 20 matches last year.
"We realize defending is paramount, and we are not going to give goals away," Blazer said. "But this year, we have the capability to come back because of our offense. If we fell behind last year, we weren't able to come back and win a game."
The Blue Demons trailed UC-Irvine 2-0, Marquette and Cincinnati 1-0 before rallying for dramatic victories.
They don't want to fall behind either USF or St. John's. South Florida is riding a four-game winning streak, and the Bulls have outscored their opponents 10-3 in that span. Including a 1-1, double-overtime tie with St. John's, USF hasn't lost since Oct. 7.
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella anchors a formidable defense that has only surrendered 10 goals in 15 matches. Attinella has six shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.65.
St. John's goalie Derby Carrillo is just as stingy as Attinella, yielding 10 goals in 15 matches. Carrillo has logged more minutes guarding the net and has a 0.59 goals-against average.
USF has outscored its opponents 23-10 and outpointed them a whopping 80-30. St. John's owns a 16-10 edge in goals and 85-71 in points.
"It won't be easy, but the opportunity is there for us," Blazer said. "We have a chance to finish with a winning record for the third year in a row---and that's never been done at DePaul."