ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A home contest against the defending NCAA Division II National Champion is among the highlights of the Eckerd College men’s soccer schedule as announced by head coach Cristian Neagu last week.
Eckerd will open Neagu’s second season at the helm hosting Warner (Fla.) University on Sept. 5 at 7:00 PM as part of a five-match series of non-conference contests. Eckerd then heads to Georgia for two matches in three days, visiting Clayton State (Ga.) on Sept. 10 followed by the University of North Georgia on Sept. 12.
The team returns home for two more non-conference matches, hosting Webber International (Fla.) on Sept. 16 at 4:30 PM and Florida Tech on Sept. 19 at 7:00 PM.
With a young team and a lot of newcomers, Neagu looks to use the non-conference schedule as an opportunity for his side to jell. The squad will also get a chance to get accustomed to playing together in a pair of exhibition contests, the first of which takes place in St. Petersburg on Aug. 23 against Southeastern (Fla.). Neagu will add a second contest on either Aug. 26 or 29.
“We are such a young team with the addition of 15 new players,” he said. “We are hoping to bring the group together and get as cohesive as we can in preparation for our conference games.”
The Sunshine State Conference schedule is always difficult, and this year will be no exception. The Tritons open the SSC slate at home against Florida Southern on Sept. 23 at 7:00 PM and follow with two more home contests against Rollins (Oct. 3) and Barry (Oct. 7).
In the middle of those matches, EC will travel to face Sunshine State Conference newcomer Embry-Riddle (Fla.) on Sept. 26 in Daytona Beach. The Eagles are in their second year of candidacy to NCAA Division II as they depart the NAIA and remain a provisional member of the conference.
Following the Barry match, the Tritons will visit another provisional SSC member in Palm Beach Atlantic on Oct. 10. Neither contest against PBAU or ERAU will count in the conference standings.
“We played Palm Beach Atlantic last year and they have a very good program. Embry-Riddle was an NAIA powerhouse,” Neagu said. “Those two teams are going to bring a high level of quality to what is already a very strong conference. There’s no easy game in our conference.”
The regular season closes with a road-heavy schedule starting with the visit to Palm Beach Atlantic as five of the final six matches will be played on the road. Eckerd travels across the bay to face the University of Tampa on Oct. 14 before hosting defending NCAA Division II National Champion Lynn University on Oct. 17 in the final home match of the regular season.
The path gets no easier afterward, with trips to Florida Tech (Oct. 21), Nova Southeastern (Oct. 24) and Saint Leo (Oct. 29). The Tritons close the season facing three of the top four teams in last year’s Sunshine State Conference standings, although Neagu figures every game to be a test once the SSC schedule begins.
“There will be a lot of teams competing for the top spots in conference this year,” he said. “A lot of the teams are very close. Every game is going to be a tough game, no matter who we are facing.”
The conference tournament opens on Tuesday, Nov. 3, with the higher seeds hosting the quarterfinal round.