With 10 of its 17 opponents being participants of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the Marshall University men’s soccer team will arguably play its toughest schedule under the tenure of head coach Bob Gray in 2011.
The Thundering Herd plays its first exhibition match just four days into training camp when MU hosts Division II University of Charleston at Sam Hood Field on August 13th. The Herd has three exhibition matches in all, with the other two coming against VMI on Aug. 17thand the University of Pittsburgh on Aug. 20th.
The regular-season starts in Dayton, Ohio, for a match with Wright State on Aug. 26th. The Herd then has matches against Xavier and East Tennessee State before playing two of its biggest non-conference games in program history against teams who finished Top-10 nationally in 2010.
On the 9th of September, MU will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to take on the University of Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a College Cup Final Four appearance from a year ago and finished the season ranked seventh in the nation. Marshall then travels down the road two days later for a contest with the Michigan State Spartans. MSU lost in the round of 16 to North Carolina (5-4 PK’s) in 2010 and finished ranked No. 9 in the nation.
“These games are huge for us,” Gray said. “These are two elite teams and it is ambitious on our part. It is something we have wanted to do for a long time.”
The Herd’s other non-conference opponents include Florida Atlantic, Oakland, Shawnee State and Winthrop.
Turning its attention to Conference USA action, the Herd will host national powers Tulsa and SMU, along with Memphis and UAB, while its road contests are at UCF, FIU, Kentucky and South Carolina.
Marshall opens C-USA action in Miami, Fla., against the FIU Panthers on Sept. 23rd, before hosting Memphis on the first of October. Four days later, MU travels down I-64 to face UK, and then turns around on Oct. 8th for a home match with SMU. The Mustangs lost in the Elite 8 of the College Cup in 2010 to North Carolina (4-2 PK’s) and finished ranked sixth in the nation.
The Herd then travels to Columbia, S.C., to face yet another NCAA Tournament participant from a year ago in the South Carolina Gamecocks on Oct. 15th. It is back home for UAB on the 22nd, before playing its final contest at Sam Hood Field against Tulsa on the 29th. MU closes out the regular-season on the road at UCF on Nov. 5th. Four of the final five C-USA opponents Marshall will face appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season.
“Last year Conference USA was the third ranked conference in the RPI,” Gray said. “Four teams made the NCAA Tournament and each of them won at least one game. Conference USA is always tough. Hopefully we can be one of the four teams that makes NCAA’s this year.
“Based on the time frame, if everything goes according to plan, this will be the last year at Sam Hood Field and we would love to send it off in the right fashion. It has been a great field for us and we will miss it, but we are looking forward to the new stadium.”