EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Following a run to the Sweet 16 of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, SIUE men's soccer unveiled its 2017 schedule Tuesday.
Under third-year Head Coach Mario Sanchez, the Cougars will play an 18-game slate which features nine home games and the inaugural season in the Mid-American Conference. SIUE will face six teams that reached the 2016 NCAA Tournament, including two rematches from games the Cougars played.
"We're really happy with the schedule," Sanchez said. "I want to thank Dr. Hewitt and the University for the opportunity to join the MAC and the ability to bring in some top notch teams to SIUE. We did a really good job of balancing home and away. That shows how our program is growing that now we're getting teams to come here to Korte Stadium to play us. In the past, a lot of the time, we were the ones doing the traveling."
The Cougars will open the season with a pair of exhibition games. SIUE will travel to Omaha, Nebraska, for an exhibition Aug. 12 at Creighton. Creighton also advanced to the Sweet 16 last season and boasted wins over Tulsa and Kentucky in the tournament.
The first home match at Korte Stadium will be an Aug. 18 date with Northwestern in the final tune-up game before the regular season.
The regular season opens with a pair of home games against a duo of 2016 NCAA College Cup qualifiers in Michigan State (Aug. 25) and Syracuse (Aug 27). The Cougars faced Michigan State to open the 2016 NCAA tournament, advancing past the Spartans on penalty kicks. Syracuse reached the Sweet 16 before falling to North Carolina.
"I give Michigan State and Syracuse a lot of credit for putting their programs out there and traveling to play us," Sanchez said.
The Cougars also will play home nonconference matches with Memphis (Sep. 4), UIC (Sep. 30), Milwaukee (Oct. 3) and Butler (Oct. 10). SIUE met Butler in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament, ousting the Bulldogs in penalty kicks to move on to the fourth round. The meeting marks the fourth between the two teams in the last three seasons. Butler last played at SIUE in 2014, when the two sides played to a 1-1 tie.
"We have a really good relationship with Butler and one that we expect will continue," Sanchez said. Obviously with last year's postseason meeting, it's great. We are all looking forward to it."
SIUE will play road nonconference games at Lipscomb (Sep. 2), IUPUI (Sep. 9), Princeton (Sep. 15), Penn (Sep. 17) and Loyola (Sep. 23).
Loyola reached the NCAA second round in 2016 and finished at No. 21 in the RPI. The Cougars and Ramblers split a pair of meetings during the 2016 regular season, with each winning 1-0 at home.
"As a program that's who we need to play and that's who we want to play," Sanchez said of his nonconference schedule. "There are a lot of NCAA tournament-type teams. Those are the type of teams we will continue to play as we move forward with our nonconference schedules."
SIUE begins its first season in the MAC with a home date against Bowling Green (Oct. 7). That night also is the annual Homecoming game.
"The excitement level is through the roof," Sanchez said about joining the MAC. "To open up the MAC schedule at home and on Homecoming against a very good Bowling Green program is going to be exciting for all of us."
The Cougars will close the five-game conference slate with West Virginia at Korte Stadium (Nov. 4).
In between, SIUE will play road conference matches at Akron (Oct. 13), at Northern Illinois (Oct. 21), and at Western Michigan (Oct. 28).
"At one point last season almost every team was fighting for an at-large bid," Sanchez added. "This is why we made the change, because every team we face is battling not only for a MAC championship but for at-large bids."
The four-team Mid-American Conference tournament will be played at the No. 1 seed and begins Nov. 10.
"These are exciting times," Sanchez said. "We're looking forward to pushing ourselves. It's a very challenging schedule but one that we're ready for. I expect our guys to rise up and perform well."