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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Soccer Log

Connecticut clash could be a cruncher

By all conspicuous counts, the fine line between the second place Connecticut Huskies and the third place Providence Friars is, well, at its finest as the Battle of Southern New England goes into renewal Wednesday at UConn’s Morrone Stadium.

For starters, there is the unalterable rule that awards a Big East quarter-final bye to the top two dwellers of each division. If the current picture stood as is for the next month, it would only add to the Huskies’ luxury given that they happen to be this year’s hospitality provider for the conference final four round.

And the voltage on the Storrs campus is only bulking up. Junior striker O’Brien White –whose 26 points more than double any of his associates (though four of them have at least cracked double digits)- just nabbed the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week honors, a title immediately preceded by none other than PC’s productive and emotional leader, Ryan Maduro. Thus far, Maduro and Jonathan Medcalf’s 11 notches apiece remain their team’s only runaways.

For blue and white buffs, the Hershey’s syrup on all of that is the fact that the whole team has been simultaneously advanced to the #1 slot in the both latest Soccer America and NSCAAs respective Top 25 rankings. That honor is owed largely, if not exclusively, to a four game winning streak and glittering 11-1 overall transcript that has seen an aggregate 26-5 scoring edge. Not much else can be asked by a fan base that saw its team bow out quickly last year when it was defending the 2005 conference title.

Providence, who has yet to win or lose consecutive games in the conference season, owns 7 points in the standings compared to their increasingly blistering rivals’ 15, although the Friars currently have a game in hand. The next three playoff spots in the Blue Division currently belong to West Virginia, Seton Hall, and Georgetown, all of whom are but one digit behind the Friars. PC’s recent 2-0 road loss to the Hoyas was the newest factor in shaping that frame.

At this rate, it would most likely take either a couple of busted tires for the Huskies or a surprise Vesuvius-esque uprising on the Friars part to reverse each team’s roles come playoff time. Even an upset on Wednesday night, or the fact that UConn has but one more home tilt afterwards, may not help lead to such a scenario.

But on the other hand, save for a friendly at #5-ranked Boston College next Tuesday, Providence is only looking at divisional rivals for the six remaining games on their agenda. One will be the home finale October 28 against first place Notre Dame, who is also #3 nationally in the eyes of Soccer America. The rest of the run will be a plain endeavor to, at best, preserve home field advantage in the preliminary round.

The Huskies have already seen and conquered the Hoyas (1-0 Sept. 15) and the hard-up Pittsburgh Panthers 4-0 last weekend. With four lower seeded Blue pool dwellers still to come, they offer the Friars, the team (most marginally) closest behind their tail an attempt to make a slamming statement on their affairs with the other scrambling squads.

Even if it means settling for the arguably liable situation of thrusting themselves all through the soil towards moral satisfaction, the still swaying, .500 Friars just might fix a hardcore standard for those grinding in the stretch drive.

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