Even with the UE men’s soccer program’s history – twoFinal Fours and 11 NCAA tournament appearances overall – it’s never won a regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championship since joining the league in 1994.
“So really, as proud of a tradition as there is, this is really uncharted territory for us,” said coach Mike Jacobs.
The Aces, who took the MVC conference tournament title in 1996 and finished runner-up on two other occasions, can earn a share of the league’s regular-season crown at 7 p.m. Saturday when they host nationally-ranked Creighton at Arad McCutchan Stadium.
A win would tie UE (9-6-1, 3-1-1) and Creighton (13-3-2, 4-0-1) record-wise as well as give the Aces the No. 1 seed in the MVC tournament with the head-to-head tiebreaker.
With a loss, UE slides to either third or fourth in the final league standings, depending on results of other matches this weekend, and misses out on a quarterfinals bye in the MVC tournament this week in Peoria, Ill.
Senior captain and forward Jesse Sharp and senior reserves Robert Randant and Gavin Chura get the Bluejays, ranked 16th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, in their last collegiate home match.
“To finish like this, with the opportunity to play a big game in front of a big crowd, in a de facto regular-season championship game is pretty exciting,” Jacobs said.
Fans can use a ticket stub from either the men’s or women’s basketball exhibitions earlier Saturday to gain free admission to Saturday’s men’s soccer match.
UE last beat Creighton, a perennial MVC power, in 2004.
Senior midfielder Jose Gomez leads the Blue Jays as a top returner from a team that in 2011 advanced to the College Cup semifinals, soccer’s version of the Final Four. Gomez has 16 points total this season to tie teammate Timo Pitter, and TopDrawerSoccer.com named Gomez its national player of the week on Oct. 15 after he posted six points – on four assists and a goal – in consecutive road matches.
“He’s definitely one of the top playmakers in the country, and for us a lot of what they do goes through him,” Jacobs said. “He accounts for a lot of their offense.”
Freshmen Faik Hajderovic (five goals and five assists) and Mark Anthony Gonzalez (four goals and one assist) lead an even-keeled UE offense. Nine different Aces have scored goals this season.
Sophomore Eric Teppen has started every match in goal for UE. He has a 1.31 goals against average with 64 saves and five shutouts.