Down to the wire: WVU men’s soccer wrestles in MAC standings with Bowling Green

Gold and Blue Nation

White-hot Mountaineers wrap regular season with eyes on MAC 2-seed

West Virginia men’s soccer concludes its roller-coaster regular season with a senior night meeting with defending MAC champion Bowling Green on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

There is more than just three points on the line in this contest as the postseason starts to creep in on the horizon. With Northern Illinois already locked up as MAC regular season champions, the fight is on for second place between the Mountaineers and the Eagles. West Virginia (10-2-4, 3-1-1 MAC) occupies that second spot as it stands, two points clear of Bowling Green (10-3-3, 5-1-2 MAC). With a win or a draw, WVU will take that second seed, but Bowling Green has the opportunity to jump the Mountaineers if they nab a road win.

WVU has found a strong bit of form in the homestretch, having won its last three games and scoring 10 goals in that stretch. With two Division II national championships to his name, coach Dan Stratford is quite familiar with what it takes to find that form heading into the postseason.

“You definitely need a little bit of luck, but you also need players that believe in what you’ve done throughout the regular season,” Stratford said. “I think you should feel like you can take a ton of confidence from what you’ve achieved up to that point in the season, which is absolutely the case for us this season with what we’ve done and the quality of competition we’ve faced.”

Stratford’s side has seen plenty of successes this season, ranging from a lengthy unbeaten streak to open the season to resume-building top-25 wins. Its recent form could lead into an important success, however, as they turn their attention to the MAC Tournament.

Before that run starts, WVU has to get past Bowling Green. The Mountaineers want revenge against the Eagles, having just faced them in the spring, falling 1-0 after they were unable to overcome an early deficit imposed by Jacob Erlandson. The forward is back for another year and leads the Eagles with 14 points (five goals, four assists) tying with Alberto Anaya.

Much of Bowling Green’s spring team is back for the fall, but the Eagles present a unique challenge when it comes to scouting.

“They are quite a unique team in the way that they set up as far as their formation and some of the things they do tactically,” Stratford said. “I’m yet to face anyone in my career that does it the same way they do, so it always means the scout is a little bit longer and the preparation takes a little bit longer on the pitch as well just to recognize some of the similarities we’ll have to make.”

Thursday night is senior night for the Mountaineers as they get set to honor their five departing members — defenders Aaron Denk Gracia, Kevin Morris and Nicholas Manno, Midfielder Pau Jimenez Albelda and forward Yoran Popovic. Stratford is keen on making sure that this won’t be the quintet’s final match at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.

“I think the ultimate message is, this doesn’t have to be senior night, this doesn’t have to be your last game at Dick Dlesk. What can we do between now and the end of conference play to make sure we’re here again in the NCAA Tournament and you’re leaving playing in an NCAA Tournament? Hopefully, a win at home to finish is always really, really important as well.”

Kickoff at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium is set for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

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