For the first time in program history, the men’s soccer team hosted the NCAA tournament from Nov. 15-16.
Even though it hosted, the team wouldn’t have entered into the tournament if it were not for some very beneficial circumstances.
After losing in the ASC tournament final to Hardin-Simmons on Nov. 9, it looked like the season was done for the Comets. Senior forward and captain Omar Jaroun said he thought he had played his final game.
“We definitely did not expect to get the bid,” he said.
The day after the result, however, the NCAA released its men’s tournament field, which not only had UTD seeded in the tournament but also listed it as a host for the first two rounds. Pomona-Pitzer, Trinity University and Hardin-Simmons were all guests for the two-day event.
Head coach Jason Hirsch said there were a number of factors that contributed to this fortunate outcome. The fact that Trinity’s women’s team was already hosting the first two rounds of the women’s tournament on its turf and that UTD had put in a bid to host played heavily into the decision to hold the tournament here, he said.
Along with that, the Comets had beaten Trinity earlier in the season and went 1-1-1 against Hardin-Simmons, something which Hirsch said might have played into UTD’s favor.
“I’m happy and excited we got it, I don’t really care how,” he said.
After taking down Pomona-Pitzer 2-0 in the round of 64 and earning the program’s first ever win in the NCAA tournament, the stage was set for the Comets to take on the second ranked Trinity Tigers, who overcame Hardin-Simmons 2-1 in their first match.
The Comets came off to a slow start against the Tigers, who looked crisp in the first half. Trinity dominated offensively, taking 13 out of 17 shots before halftime. UTD couldn’t keep up with the pace defensively, giving up a goal in 22nd minute.
On the offensive side, the Comets struggled to get the ball to the net, taking only 3 shots in the period.
At the half, Hirsch made adjustments to help the team combat this issue.
“We changed the formation,” he said. “We went from a 4-2-3-1 to a diamond in the midfield — four in the midfield, two up front. It worked against them earlier on in the year. Once we made the switch, it got much better.”
In the second half, the Comets looked like a completely different team on offense. They more than doubled the shots they put up in the first period, taking seven after the half.
Still, UTD could not seem to catch a break against Trinity’s defense. In one instance, what looked to have been a goal in the 65th minute was called back due to a ruling of offsides. Several other shots the Comets took came close but failed to find the back of the net.
The conditions on the field didn’t help the team’s chances. The pitch was soggy from the rain it had received over the course of several days, causing players to visibly struggle with their footing. Adding onto this was the bitter cold and the evening’s strong breeze.
“The weather came into play big time,” said junior forward Roman Rodriguez. “Especially when you’re on the bench and you’re freezing. You’ve been sitting there for 30 minutes and you come in and you’re cold, you’re not warm enough … it catches you off guard, honestly.”
As the clock winded down, the Comets could only look on as the Tigers celebrated on their home field, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen with a 1-0 victory. It was the third time that UTD had lost to Trinity in the NCAA tournament.
The team was only one or two plays away from changing the outcome, Jaroun said.
“It’s just one of those things, the ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight,” he said.
Even though he was disappointed over the loss, Hirsch said he thought the season was still a good one.
“I’m upset right now because of the what could have beens,” he said. “We had some chances to score and didn’t put them away and gave up a soft goal in my opinion, not something that (Trinity) really created but a mistake in the back — a slip. So it’s disappointing, but it was a great year.”