For the second year in a row, the Florida Southern men's soccer team will be in Boca Raton to start the Sunshine State Conference Tournament with a quarterfinal match at Lynn University. Kickoff for Monday night's match is 6 p.m. The Moccasins are again the No. 6 seed, and the Knights are again the No. 3 seed. The winner advances to the semifinal round to face No. 2 seed Barry on Thursday in Miami Shores at 4:30 p.m. The SSC has adopted a slightly different format this year with the higher seed hosting every game.
The other side of the bracket has No. 4 seed Nova Southeastern hosting No. 5 seed Florida Tech, also on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. That winner will move on to play Palm Beach Atlantic on Friday at 7 p.m. The SSC Championship Game is Sunday at a time to be announced, and the winner receives an automatic spot in the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament.
Florida Southern brings a 12-4 overall record and a conference record of 6-4 into the tournament. Now in their second year under head coach Jason Carlson, the Moccasins are having their best season in 17 years and are one shy of tying the school record for wins set by the 1999 team that finished 13-5-2. The Mocs also returned to the national rankings for the first time since 2010 and go into the conference tournament ranked seventh in the United Soccer Coaches South Region poll. Lynn, which was last year's Division II national runner-up, is ranked No. 4 in the same poll and along with Florida Southern, is receiving votes in the national poll.
The Moccasins have played a loaded schedule this year, facing six different nationally ranked teams, the most in school history. One of those was Lynn on September 15 in Boca Raton when the Knights were No. 15, and the Moccasins came away with a 2-1 win in overtime. Junior midfielder Christoph Gums gave Florida Southern a 1-0 lead 8½ minutes into the game, and the Mocs held that advantage until the Knights equalized in the 76th minute when Tomer Bitton headed in a corner kick from Max Herbert. In overtime, each team had just one shot, and the Mocs scored on theirs. Ian McIntosh found James Meehan on a counter-attack, and Meehan slotted a shot past Roberto Bazzichetto for the game-winner in the 96th minute.
The Knights out-shot the Mocs in that game, 14-6, but sophomore goalkeeper Benny Yusufoglu made five big saves to keep Lynn in check. That earned him the SSC Defensive Player-of-the-Week award, and Meehan was the league's offensive player-of-the-week. That win was part of Florida Southern's school-record nine-game winning streak to start the season, and helped the Mocs climb to as high as No. 8 in the national poll, the highest ranking in the program's history.
Meehan leads the team with nine goals and 20 points, with four of those goals game-winners. The sophomore forward is the first Moccasin with a 20-point season since Zach Hofstetter in 2011, and the first newcomer since Asa Pepia in 2002. He's also tied for the SSC lead with three multi-goal games, and only three players in the league have scored more goals this season. Gums is right behind Meehan on the stat sheet with 17 points on five goals and a team-high seven assists. He's tied for second in the SSC with those seven scoring passes after tying for the league lead last year.
Senior midfielder Pablo Gallo Arias has been a big part of the offense too in the best season of his career, putting up three goals and four assists for 10 points, while junior forward Ian McIntosh has totaled eight points on two goals and four assists.
Defensively, the Mocs have allowed just 15 goals in 16 games for a 0.93 goals against average that currently stands as the third lowest in the team's 62-year history. The Mocs have had only three previous seasons with a GAA under one. Their nine shutouts this year are second in the Florida Southern record book and only two away from the top mark set in 1997.
The back line for most of this season has been comprised of fifth-year senior Daniel Moore, junior Foster Appiah, redshirt sophomore Jake Starling, and junior transfer Claus Lehland. Another junior transfer, Anton Lindbom, has started four games and played significant minutes as a reserve. They've helped the Moccasins allow only 8.6 shots per game, just behind the team record of 8.5 set in 2001.
Between the posts, Yusufoglu is enjoying one of the best seasons any Florida Southern goalkeeper has ever had. Starting all 16 games, his 0.94 goals against average is nearly identical to his average from last year (0.92) when he became just the third Moccasin goalkeeper to ever finish a season under 1.00. He's now played enough minutes in his career to qualify for the top spot on Florida Southern's career list. Yusufoglu has nine shutouts this season to lead the Sunshine State Conference, and ranks third in both GAA and save percentage.
The Moccasins also went to Boca Raton as the No. 6 seed last year where they took the eventual national runner-up Knights to overtime before losing 1-0. Alun Webb gave Lynn the game-winner on a free kick with 54 seconds to play in the first overtime period. That sent Lynn to the semifinals for the seventh year in a row. Florida Southern's last trip to the semifinals was in 2006. The Moccasins were the No. 3 seed that year and advanced with a 2-1 victory over Nova Southeastern.
A No. 6 seed has upset a No. 3 seed four times in the SSC Tournament, most recently in 2016 when Eckerd defeated Florida Tech, 3-1. One of those six seeds was Florida Southern in 2003, which came out on top of Rollins after 16 rounds of penalty kicks (16-15). Oddly enough, only one No. 5 seed has ever beaten a No. 4 seed.