Final Third on the MAAC Pitch: Mountain Hawks are regular season champions… so far

This is a column that takes a look at all of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s soccer teams throughout the course of the ’15 season.

The non-conference matches have come and gone. Conference play is finally here. This is when the win-loss record begins to matter

Monmouth University, Marist College, Siena, Iona and Saint Peter’s are the current top five seeds in the MAAC, in that order. Although the teams mentioned are in the upper-echelon, the conference is tightly contested based on the margins of wins; losses; and draws. In the words of the recently passed Yankees legend Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

The teams at the bottom have been faced with loss after loss with a couple of frustrating draws sprinkled in. One of those is Niagara, led by second-year head coach Eric Barnes, who said his squad was tested during non-conference but now feels prepared and complete, in terms of his roster.

“We haven’t gotten the results that we would like,” he said, “but we’ve been dealing with a couple of injuries. We should have everyone back and healthy by conference, so that’ll be helpful. The guys have really stuck together even with the results. They’ve bought into what we’re trying to do, so we should be good to go going forward.”

Meza running the ball down field against Lehigh on Sept. 2. Photo taken by Kevin Furhmann.
Meza running the ball down field against Lehigh on Sept. 2. Photo taken by Kevin Furhmann.

Manhattan is similar to Niagara in that its games haven’t gone the way that it’d like them to go. Jose Meza, Manhattan midfielder/forward, said the 2-2 draw with NJIT on Sept. 20 showed when the team controls possession, allows time, creates chances and lands shots on goal it can reach its ceiling.

“This was our best game,” he said. “That’s going to help us moving forward to be a lot better and it gives us a lot of confidence. The wins are going to start coming, and hopefully we’ll get those goals that we need. We should be heading in the right direction.”

It’s important to note that this season, in particular, the MAAC is unique. Every four years every team qualifies for the tournament. The goal is to finish as one of the top five seeds to earn a first-round bye because the teams seeded No. 6 and below will have to win four games in five days. A next to impossible feat.

The playoffs take place at Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla, meaning there’s no home field advantage to play for as it is in any other season. Seeding; management of substitutions; and depth are vital, if those are accomplished Cesar Markovic, Siena’s head soccer coach, said there’s a possibility for a Cinderella story, or anything for that matter.

“Maybe the records of a lot of the teams aren’t the greatest,” he said, “but we’ve played a lot of games against some tough top-ranked opponents. The MAAC is up for grabs. You have your usual suspects but you also have some teams that can surprise people from the bottom. The preseason poll is worthless, it doesn’t mean anything. The first or second conference games don’t exactly decide everything. If you check back around game five or six, that’s when you really start to see who’s shaping up and what’s happening.”

“Whichever team has the most depth,” Barnes said, “and can sustain their level of play over the course of the tournament is the one that probably comes out on top.”