ROCK HILL, SC—The 2013 Big South Men’s Soccer Championship begins this week and Winthrop will be the eighth seed as it heads to Conway, SC to take on top-seeded Coastal Carolina, Tuesday evening at 6 p.m.
The Eagles finished the regular season with an overall record of 11-6-1 but were 5-5 in the Big South. Prior to the start of league play, the Eagles were forced to battle injuries to several players over the course of 3-4 weeks and had to fight until the end just to ensure a spot in the championship with a win over UNC Asheville.
This will be the first time in the program’s history the team will be the eighth seed in the tournament as the Big South proved very competitive throughout the season. Winthrop had just one fewer win in league play than second-seeded High Point. Winthrop finished with 15 points while the Panthers finished with 20 points. Longwood finished third with 19 points followed by Gardner-Webb (18 points), Radford (17 points), and Campbell (16 points).
Winthrop enters the contest with Coastal Carolina on a two-game winning streak and having shutout its last two opponents and not allowed a goal in the last 226 minutes and 23 seconds. That is a result of the Eagles getting healthy defensively as the backline has all four starters from the season opener back. Winthrop also welcomed back junior goalkeeper Guilherme Avelar as he returned against Radford after a three and a half game absence. Avelar has not allowed a goal in the last 210 minutes and 14 seconds that he has played.
The Eagles spent a lot of the season ranked among one of the best offenses in the nation and this matchup will feature the best two offenses in the Big South. Not only did Winthrop perform well offensively, but despite the many injuries to its backline it finished third in the league with a 1.03 goals against average. It’s not often an eighth seed leads a conference in scoring and is ranked third defensively.
In 2012 the Eagles went through a similar pattern and were able to work their way through to the championship game and advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles went through the No. 3, No. 2 and No.1 seeds to reach their fifth NCAA Tournament in school history. However, being the eighth seed presents a bigger challenge as only twice has the eighth seed in the Big South Championship won its first round game. Elon upset Coastal Carolina in 2000 and eventually lost 2-0 in the title game while High Point upset UNC Asheville in 2001 and fell in a shootout in the semifinals.
The regular season meeting favored Coastal Carolina 3-1 when the Chanticleers were sixth in the country, but the Eagles hope to a tougher opponent this time around. Winthrop played the first meeting without starting central defender Kyle Kennedy and lost starting left back PIetro Bottari and Avelar at the half due to injuries. The Eagles also played without its leading scorer Max Hasenstab as all are expected to be in the lineup.
Coastal Carolina is 14th in the country as of Sunday as it enters the game with an overall record of 14-4 and 9-1 league mark. The Chanticleers are coming off back-to-back wins to end the regular season by defeating Campbell 5-2 and winning at Longwood 4-0. The Chants only blemish on the league record came on Nov. 2 at UNC Asheville in a 1-0 loss despite a 25-3 shot advantage.
This will be the 10th time Winthrop and Coastal Carolina have met in the Big South Championship and just the third time in the opening round as that series mark is tied at 4-4-1. The Chants lead the all-time series 25-17-3 and have won four of the last five meetings. Winthrop holds a 3-5 record when facing a Coastal Carolina team that is ranked in the Top 25.