The UTEP soccer team will kick off an important homestand by playing host to UAB (7 p.m. Friday) and perennial power Memphis (1 p.m. Sunday) at University Field this weekend. With Conference USA action starting to heat up, it is the perfect time for the Miners (7-6-0, 0-4-0), who had played five straight road games, to return home.
Including the match-ups against the Blazers (2-10-0, 1-3-0 C-USA) and the Tigers (8-3-0, 4-0-0 C-USA), UTEP will have four consecutive and five of its final seven games at University Field. It is 90-14-5 in the Sun City since 2002, including a flawless 4-0-0 in 2012.
There are some exciting promotions on tap for this weekend, with all fans who wear a jersey backward getting in free for the game against UAB. There will also be a mariachi band that will perform on site for Friday’s contest. Rudy’s Country Store And Bar-B-Q will provide free food as part of a pre-match tailgate on Sunday. Additionally, individuals who wear orange will receive free admission.
“We’re very excited to be back home after an extremely long period on the road,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. “We have had a rough stretch with injuries, sickness and bad luck. We are excited for the chance to turn things around this weekend. We are hoping for great crowds to give us support.
“We have a tough challenge ahead of us in facing two extremely talented squads. UAB beat us at their place last year, and they play high energy soccer. Memphis is again one of the elite teams in the nation, and we will have to play our very best against them.”
With seven games left in the C-USA regular-season slate, the Miners have ample opportunity to get things going in the highly-competitive league. A key for them will be finishing chances. UTEP has outshot the opposition by a count of 56-41 since the onset of league play, including 30-13 in the opening half.
The Miners, though, will once again be short-handed heading into the weekend. Mackenzie German, who had four goals through nine games, remains sidelined indefinitely with an injury. Also out is highly-touted freshman Aleah Davis, who has not seen action this season due to an injury as well. Junior Skye Schultz, who contributed a goal and four helpers through 12 tilts, missed the last game with an injury also.
While those individuals would certainly help the cause, UTEP does have plenty of talented players capable of making plays. It starts with senior Tess Hall, who leads the team in goals (six), assists (six) and points (18). The overall effort places her second in the league for points while tied for third in helpers and a share of fourth for goals.
Juniors Azia Nicholson (five goals) and Jade Babcock (three goals) have also displayed the ability to put away shots while senior Brittany Kindzierski sports two tallies. There are plenty of playmakers too, with Babcock, Martyn, and Nicholson each sporting three assists.
The defense has been steady throughout the season by posting three shutouts and keeping four other opponents to just one goal. UTEP has not allowed many chances but opponents have capitalized off free kicks and also three penalty kicks.
UAB opened up C-USA play on a high note with a 1-0 victory against Southern Miss (9/21/12) but it has dropped three straight since. The Blazers have been challenged on both ends of the pitch this year, with the opposition outscoring them by a count of 33-12 in 12 matches.
Offensively for UAB, the discussion starts with Johanna Liney. She has scored four goals while also registering an assist. Paige Hanks and Ashley Naumoff are the only other Blazers with multiple tallies.
Courtnie Northern has been busy, with the opposition peppering her with 76 shots on goal in 931:41 of action this season. She has come up with 46 saves and has also registered a shutout.
The Miners will have a huge challenge on their hands in facing Memphis, which has overcome a sluggish start to the season. The U of M was 2-3 through five games, with a -1 goal differential (10-11) but it has turned things around in a bit way since.
The Tigers have peeled off six straight wins since, with a +18 differential (24-6) during the streak. It is also on a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) in C-USA road matches, but that last loss was against the Miners.
Memphis sports the top-ranked offense in C-USA (3.09), and it is very deep across the board. Four players have scored at least four times on the year, with reigning C-USA offensive player of the year Christabel Oduro setting the tone. She has scored nine times while posting seven assists to pace the league in both goals and points. Tina Schryvers (six), Kylie Davis (five) and Taylor Isenhower (four) have been the other prolific goal scorers.
The U of M is also stout defensively, perhaps evidenced best by having almost as many shots on goal (97) as overall shots (98) by the opponents on the season. Christa Strickland has earned the bulk of the playing time in the net, making 23 saves in nine contests.