For the first time since 2009, the Missouri State men’s soccer Bears are heading to the NCAA tournament.
Their opponent? The University of Denver Pioneers.
The Pioneers will come to Springfield on Thursday, Nov. 21, for a first-round, single-elimination game.
After spending over a month in the top 11 of the United Soccer Coaches Poll, a loss in penalty kicks to Loyola Chicago in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship on Sunday possibly prevented the Bears from being a top-16 seed in the tournament and getting a first-round bye.
Denver Pioneers at a glance
The Pioneers are 6-11-3 on the season, two of those wins coming in the Summit League Tournament this past weekend. They got into the tournament through an automatic bid they received for winning the Summit League Tournament title.
In the Summit League Tournament, Denver beat Oral Roberts 2-0 in the semifinal round and the University of Nebraska Omaha 1-0 in the championship game.
The Bears and Pioneers share two opponents in common. Denver beat Omaha 2-0 on Oct. 26 and in the Summit League championship game, and Missouri State beat Omaha 1-0 in double overtime on Oct. 1. Denver tied Tulsa 1-1on Oct. 22, and Missouri State beat Tulsa 2-1 in overtime on Sept. 14.
Denver is currently riding a three-game winning streak, having beat Purdue University Fort Wayne before the Summit League tournament. Denver had a season-high 34 shots, 20 of which were on goal, in that game.
Denver has scored 21 goals this season and given up 24. The Bears have scored 40 and given up 10.
Denver’s leading scorer is forward Judd Preston, who has scored seven goals this season. The Bears’ leading scorer, MVC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Bentley, has scored 14 goals.
The Bears have a statistical edge in the net as well. MVC Goalkeeper of the Year Michael Creek has a goals-against average under one and a save percentage of .788. Denver’s starter Will Palmquist has a goals-against average of 1.23 and a save percentage of .699.
If the Bears win on Thursday against Denver, their next game will be on Sunday, Nov. 24, at No. 9 Central Florida. UCF is 14-2-2 on the season. They lost to No. 8 Southern Methodist 1-0 in the American Athletic Conference tournament championship this past weekend.
UCF played several ranked opponents this year, including No. 4 Wake Forest, who they lost to 2-1 in late August.