The Missouri State men’s soccer team is now 15-0 with one game left on the regular season schedule. The Bears are No. 12 in the NCAA Division I Soccer Committee rankings and regular season Missouri Valley Conference champions.
The team does not see this season as a Cinderella effort, however.
For a team that has had their previous two seasons end in either penalty kicks or overtime during the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, this year is a result of the foundation built then.
“This is what we expect from ourselves,” associate head coach Michael Seabolt said. “If you look at it from a far distance, you could say, ‘Oh, they didn’t make the NCAA tournament,’ but internally, we look at what we’ve accomplished. 2017 we won the league; 2018 our season ended on penalty kicks. We talk about it all the time — this is not an exceptional run, this is a continuation of what we want for the program.”
Things have come together this year to allow that foundation to shine through. Senior forward Matt Bentley transferred to Missouri State last spring and has a team-leading 12 goals this season. In 2018, the Bears had three players score three or more goals. This season they have five, with seven others scoring either one or two goals. Their defense has allowed the sixth fewest goals in Division I with nine.
The offensive outburst has come from two factors: the first being the addition of Bentley, the second is a commitment to finish near the goal.
“Last year, we were getting these chances, but there were times where we would leave goals on the table,” redshirt senior Ian Jones said. “We call them scrappy goals, like goals that don’t look the prettiest but still go in.
“This year we’ve set up so many of those. In past years, we would take three or four chances to get one goal then sit back and defend. This year I never feel like we won’t score at least one goal.”
Defensively, this season has been an improvement over previous years, although not as obvious as the change on offense. With nine goals allowed through Nov. 3, they have allowed four less than they did in 2018.
The word for the Bears’ defenders has been “ownership.”
“The guys are taking ownership of what they have to do individually, which translates to what we do collectively,” head coach Jon Leamy said.
Opposing teams have found the back of the net more recently against the Bears with six goals in the last four games, but Leamy said he believes the strides the team has made on offense more than covers the increase in opponents’ scoring.
The Bears secured the No. 1 seed in the MVC tournament with an overtime victory over Valparaiso on Oct. 30. The tournament will be held in Chicago this year on the campus of Loyola Chicago, where the Bears beat Loyola 2-1 in Sept. All six MVC teams will get a bid. The Bears’ most likely opponent will be the 2-13-1 Evansville Aces who have gone 0-9 in MVC play this year and have lost to Missouri State twice, 4-0 and 2-1.