EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Third-seeded SIUE men's soccer begins the postseason Friday with the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal against second-seeded Akron. The Zips are ranked seventh nationally by the United Soccer Coaches Association. The tournament takes place at Western Michigan's WMU Soccer Complex. Kickoff is slated for 10 a.m. CT.
"As they say, 'win and move on,'" SIUE Head Coach Mario Sanchez said. It's pretty straight forward. We made it real clear. The goal is to win Friday and give ourselves an opportunity to play Sunday."
The winner will face the winner of the second semifinal between top-seeded and fourth-ranked Western Michigan and the No. 4 seed West Virginia in Sunday's championship.
"As inconsistent as the season has been, at the end of it all we are still where we want to be, which is in the semifinals of the conference tournament and we have an opportunity to get to the NCAA tournament," Sanchez said. "You hope that the nonconference schedule we played and playing Akron previously has prepared us for this opportunity."
Sanchez said nobody has to be reminded of the importance of the match.
"Everyone knows what's at stake, he said. "We almost have to take a step back as coaches and allow the players to go out there and just compete. It's not about tactics at this point. It is just about competing for 90 minutes or overtime or penalty kicks."
The Cougars' head coach said that getting to the conference tournament is a success for his team.
"For us, in the first year in the MAC, making the conference tournament is an accomplishment," Sanchez said. "The MAC is one of the top five or six conferences in the country. It's not like we've qualified in an easy conference."
He added that the Cougars are in a good place as the postseason begins.
"We're healthy, and we have Jorge (Gonzalez) back," Sanchez said. "This is an opportunity for our guys to let it go, push themselves and challenge themselves against one of the top teams in the country with the opportunity to move on to Sunday and then go from there."
SIUE faced Akron in the regular season, falling 3-1 Oct. 13 in Akron, Ohio. Sanchez said that having faced Akron already this season should help the Cougars.
"We learned the speed at which they play," he said. "It's one thing to see it on video, but I know the guys have a better appreciation for their ability to play at a very high tempo on both sides of the ball. They close down very well with high intensity. They move the ball very well and their movement off the ball is good. I put them up there among the top four teams in the country."
Sanchez said SIUE won't change its approach to playing the Zips.
"Most teams play Akron very defensive and very hopeful that maybe Akron doesn't score and you get out with a 1-0 win," he said. "We're taking the opposite approach. We want to be the aggressive team. We want to be aggressive and step to them defensively. We know that's a big challenge, and they're good enough to get themselves out of pressure. I still think that is the best way to approach it, and that is what we're going to do."
The Cougars faced Western Michigan at WMU Soccer Complex just two weeks ago, and Sanchez said that also will be helpful.
"Absolutely it is a positive that we have played there," he said. "It allows us a little more comfort. (The field) is a little bit isolated, and it gets windy. It is a very nice grass field. We know the locker room. We're even staying in the same hotel. It's why teams like playing at home, because you get that comfort level."