In 2017, FIU men’s soccer had one of its most successful seasons since its run to the College Cup final in 1996. During his first season at the helm, head coach Kevin Nylen guided the Panthers to a long unbeaten streak at the start of the season, capped off with an NCAA Tournament appearance and victory before being eliminated at the hands of Duke in the second round.
In 2018, some seniors have departed, but a significant part of that team returns with even higher expectations.
The 2017 Panthers finished the regular season with an 11-0-4 record, the only perfect regular season in FIU history. The only other team to finish undefeated in 2017 was Indiana. The program was recognized as the NCAA Team of the Week in mid-October. For the first time since 1996, FIU had a player named to the All-America team, and in fact, it hat two (then-junior forward Santiago Patino and senior midfielder Paul Marie).
The team reached as high as No. 8 in the United Soccer Coaches poll, before a loss in the C-USA semifinals and their second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament.
The 2018 squad will miss those senior contributors, including Marie, who was selected 12th overall in the 2018 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. But coach Nylen intends to replace strength with strength.
Two of Nylen’s 2018 signees, Alessandro Campoy (56th) and Doral Academy product Matias Barraza (87th) were included in the TopDrawerSoccer.com list of the Top 100 freshmen in the nation.
Among the returning players, the senior Patino and junior Joris Ahlinvi have been named to the preseason MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. The Hermann Trophy is the highest individual honor in American collegiate soccer.
So what are the natural goals for FIU this season? Obviously, a national title is everyone’s goal, but it should be clear this is a team that should claim the C-USA tournament title in the fall, as well as make a deeper run into the Collegiate Cup playoffs. The C-USA coaches at least expect as much, as FIU was picked to lead the 2018 conference in their vote before the season.
The Panthers will kick off their 2018 campaign with a chance at revenge, as they will travel to take part in the John Rennie Nike Invitational in Durham, North Carolina and face off against No. 10 Duke. They will stay in North Carolina to play Elon on Aug. 26 at noon. The home opener will take place on Aug. 31 against Stetson at 7 p.m.
FIU intends to capitalize on the excitement around the team. Among the initiatives it has launched, the home opener will be the first Fútbol Friday. With Fútbol Friday, FIU is attempting to create a unique experience in collegiate soccer in Miami. For $20, ticket holders will have a special VIP area at the FIU Soccer Stadium (just north of Riccardo Silva Stadium), a prematch meet-and-greet with Nylen, an FIU soccer scarf, appetizers and drinks.
For more information about the team or tickets to games, you can visit FIUSports.com.