Men’s soccer sets sights on conference title after historic season

The Panthers begin their quest for conference championship Friday, Nov. 10, at 4:30 p.m. in Norfolk, Virginia.

Paul Marie takes a shot for FIU men’s soccer during a 4-0 win over New Mexico on Oct. 21 at FIU Soccer Stadium. Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics

By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

It’s been a special season for FIU men’s soccer. Head Coach Kevin Nylen doesn’t deny that.

The Panthers (11-0-4) finished the regular season as one of two unbeaten teams in the entire country and ranked No. 8 in the nation according to the latest United Soccer Coaches top 25 poll. Their 15-game unbeaten streak is the longest since 1991, when the Panthers went 18 straight games without a loss.

FIU also claimed the program’s first Conference USA regular-season title with a 6-0-2 record in league play.

But that’s over now, and the Panthers are singularly focused on the C-USA tournament, hosted by Old Dominion at the ODU Soccer Complex in Norfolk, Virginia.

Head Coach Kevin Nylen took over the program this season after serving as an assistant coach since 2012. Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics

“It’s behind us now,” said Nylen, who was named C-USA Coach of the Year earlier this week. “The guys have been great and need to continue to be great.”

With the No. 1 seed, the Panthers earned a first-round bye and will play the No. 4 seed Charlotte 49ers in the semifinals on Nov. 10 at 4:30 p.m. The match can be watched live on NCAA Soccer’s Facebook page.

In their lone meeting with Charlotte this season, the Panthers earned a 2-2 draw against the 49ers in late September at FIU Soccer Stadium.

With almost two full weeks between the end of the regular season and Friday’s match, the squad enters the tournament well rested and prepared to continue its winning ways.

Their high-powered offense, led by junior forward Santiago Patino, will look to pick up where they left off after finishing with the most goals (46) of any C-USA squad. Patino was showered with accolades from the conference this week, earning C-USA Player of the Year and Offensive MVP honors while receiving the Golden Boot for his conference-best 15 goals.

The team knows the path only gets more difficult as the stakes are raised, but are prepared to meet the challenge the same way they have all season.

“Everyone wants to beat you and every game gets harder,” Patino said. “But we’re just focusing on doing what we need to do so we can get the results we want.”

A victory on Friday afternoon would send the Panthers to their third straight conference championship match. FIU won their first C-USA title and an NCAA regional berth in 2015, but fell in the title game in 2016.

Regardless of what happens in the conference tournament, FIU will likely get an invite to the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship tournament. The Panthers will find out during the 2017 selection show Nov. 13.