MORAGA, Calif. -- The Saint Mary's men's soccer team opens the second half of West Coast Conference play this week with a pair of home games against Southern California rivals Loyola Marymount and San Diego.
The Gaels host league-leading LMU Friday at 3 p.m. in Saint Mary's Stadium, then welcome the Toreros Sunday afternoon in a 2 p.m. kickoff. Sunday's match is preceded by an 11 a.m. women's match against Gonzaga. To purchase advance tickets, visit the Tickets link on SMCGaels.com or call the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx (4689).
Saint Mary's enters Friday's match with a 4-6-4 overall record and a 2-2-2 mark in league play. The Gaels are in fifth place in the league standings, but are just one point away from a 3-way tie for second-place behind Loyola Marymount.
"We've positioned ourselves to still have the opportunity to compete for the conference championship," said SMC head coach Adam Cooper. "We still have work to do and we'll need a little help along the way. Five of our six league matches have gone into overtime, which shows a bit about the parity in our conference and what little margin of error there is. I expect all six of these final games to have a playoff intensity"
Saint Mary's opened the season with a pair of home wins over Air Force and LIU Brooklyn. Since then, the Gaels have required overtime in eight of their last 12 matches and have played into a second overtime on five occasions. Two weeks ago, the Gaels lost on a 110th minute score at LMU then, two days later, played another 110 minutes in a draw at USD.
"Our team has become stronger as the season has progressed. We've had to adapt to (Rafael Sanchez) and (Forrest Solis) being injured. That has caused us to move some things around and guys have stepped-up when they've needed to. Our team has gotten deeper over the last six games because of injuries. There hasn't been a lot of rest between games, especially when we played four games in 10 days or four in eight days like we are about to."
Like most of the rest of their WCC counterparts, Saint Mary's has not played a match since its scoreless road draw at San Diego on October 20. Cooper's side utilized the break to work on fundamentals, maintain its fitness and recover from some nagging injuries.
"Having the break impacts our team a little differently every year," said Cooper. "This year, I think it helped us. It is hard going two weeks without a game, but this year it was good to let guys rest and heal. We had a few minor issues we needed guys to get fixed, so it was probably good for us to have a weekend off."
LMU enters Friday's match with an 8-3-2 overall record and a WCC-leading 4-1-1 mark against league opponents. The Lions are undefeated at home, with a 5-0-1 record, but are just 3-3-1 away from Sullivan Field. LMU is currently in the midst of a 3-match win streak but, like Saint Mary's, has not played a match in nearly two weeks.
"LMU is in the driver's seat for the WCC title right now," said Cooper. "It is their conference to win or lose, in a way. They are very talented and experienced. They explosive offensively and have a lot of versatile guys who can beat you one-on-one and can combine to beat you. LMU knows it is in the driver's seat so I'm sure that will motivate their team. They know that if they win games early in the second half of the conference season, they can wrap up the title.
"We lost with just :49 seconds to go in the second overtime on the road at LMU, so we know we can play with them and we know we can beat them. It is a matter of our team coing with the right mentality and intensity and taking advantage of opportunities."
Following Friday's match, the Gaels remain at home to host the University of San Diego on Sunday, November 3. The 2 p.m. kickoff will also feature the program's ceremonial "Senior Day" activities prior to the game - honoring seniors Justin Howard and Jesus Landeros with their families prior to kickoff.
The Gaels will conclude their home schedule on Wednesday, Nov. 6 against longtime Bay Area rival San Francisco in a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.