TU Soccer an Underrated Commodity in Tulsa

GTR Sports Writer

PLAYING TOUGH: Tulsa soccer plays a tough schedule and defeated Stanford, the number-one team in the nation, earlier this season.

Courtesy The University of Tulsa

Sometimes unappreciated by the public and overlooked by the media, there is nothing wrong with the University of Tulsa men’s soccer program that winning the championship won’t cure.

 The most successful men’s team sport on campus has produced 242 victories in 23 seasons under head coach Tom McIntosh, including 10 conference championships and 10 tournament appearances. However, the Golden Hurricane is still waiting on the golden moment when TU soccer becomes a household word.

McIntosh, a true believer, says he and his program are dreaming of the day they finally reach the pinnacle.

 “We always put ourselves in position to win our conference championship,’’ says McIntosh, whose team has won three straight American Athletic Conference tournament titles. “That goes a long way for our program to take the next step to get to the College Cup and win the national title.’’

The Hurricane has played in league tournament championship games nine times in the last 11 years, earning the program national respect among coaches. Seventeen players have been drafted or gone on to play professionally since 2004, and Tulsa reached a No. 2 national ranking in 2010.

 TU was named national Team of the Week in September after beating Santa Clara and top-ranked Stanford on the road. The performance earned a No. 20 ranking, the Hurricane’s first time in the polls since 2014. Except for the team’s die-hard fans, there was little in the way of fanfare.

“Sometimes the university in general seems overlooked athletically and maybe a little academically,’’ says McIntosh. “We’re in the middle of the country and Oklahoma doesn’t get much publicity. Our program is overlooked, but we always play a difficult nonconference schedule. Some things we control and some we don’t, but very few programs in the country can say they’ve done what we have on a consistent basis.’’

McIntosh says his team does have support within the university, but various factors limit soccer’s visibility and appeal to prospective fans.

“Oklahoma is a big football state for high schools and colleges and we fall in the same time period,’’ he says. “We have to play a lot of Saturdays and that leads to limited press coverage. The end of our season comes at the beginning of basketball. We ( soccer coaches) are working on trying to play the same amount of games but spread them over the fall and spring semesters. It would be better for the athletes if we did that.’’   

 Standing 4-5-1 in mid-October, McIntosh says he’s disappointed in his team’s 2017 record, but the strength of schedule is second among 205 soccer playing schools. Tulsa has fallen to a No. 39 rating, but like any sport and any team, victories make everything brighter.

“Very few teams have gone to the places we’ve played,’’ says McIntosh. “We understand that our road is more difficult than most. The schools play in the No.1 conference and play all their nonconference games at home. All the teams in their league are good.

“We used to have to play guarantee games, but teams never returned them. We don’t have to do that anymore. Big teams come here like Virginia and Creighton, but fans don’t turn out like they should. Arguably, along with tennis, we have the highest ranked opponents come to Tulsa than any other sport.’’    

Despite the tough slate, McIntosh says his current team is a good one and still has a chance to make some noise when postseason tournaments roll around.

“I think we’re pretty well balanced,’’ says McIntosh, who noted that nine different players have scored goals this season. “We don’t have a guy who scores tons of goals, the guy who carries the load, but we’re balanced and deep.

“We’ve played 24 different players and this is one of my more competitive teams. We are a very good passing team and pretty athletic overall. Our chemistry is very good since we came back for fall camp. We have guys on the team who have won three conference championships, so we have experience.’’

Maybe so, but the one experience McIntosh’s players don’t have is tasting the champagne of a national title celebration. He says the solution is simple. Win more games.

“We need to have a little bit more regular season success. That would put us in position (for an at-large berth),’’ says the coach. “Teams with high rankings play at home, and we want to put ourselves in positon to play a few more home games.

“That would give us a chance to rest. A lot of times in conference tournaments you end up playing on Fridays and Sundays. The tournaments are out of town and you have to fly and travel. You’re on the road on Thursdays and sometimes your team can be exhausted. If you do a better job in the regular season you get another home game or two. If you get past the second () round it evens out, everybody gets a week between games.’’     

To worry about that, Tulsa has to get there first. McIntosh says his team’s 2-0 victory over No. 1 Stanford infused confidence and displayed how TU can compete with the top teams. However, a sub .500 record won’t qualify for play. He says teams must have an rating in the low 20s.

“We control everything we need to do in order to achieve our goals,’’ McIntosh says. “We have a lot of things going for us as far as strength of schedule, big wins and no bad losses. Every team on our schedule, except one, is a team that will be considered for the tournament.

“Now we have to improve our record. We’ll probably have to get two or three games above .500. We need to get to the point where we can compete for the national title. We’ve achieved some good things but not the ultimate.’’     

If anything will force Green Country to sit up and take notice of University of Tulsa soccer, sweeping the College Cup should be the answer.  

Updated 11-08-2017

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