The scenario for the Ashland University men's soccer team is straightforward. Earn a win or a tie in Friday's (Oct. 27) game against Tiffin at Ferguson Field and the Eagles are into the GLIAC Tournament. A loss ends their season.
"We're at home and we don't play any game to get a point," said AU second-year head coach Oliver Slawson. "We're going to try and win the game. If we win it, great. If we get a point, good. If we lose, we'll learn from it and address it, and it shows that we need to get better for next year."
The Eagles (7-8-1, 2-8-1 GLIAC) are tied for sixth place in the GLIAC standings, matching Northern Michigan (4-10-2, 2-9-1 GLIAC) with six points. A simple draw against the Dragons Friday breaks that tie and sends AU through to the postseason.
Ashland is coming off a 3-3 tie to Northern Michigan last Friday, which was followed up with a 4-0 defeat to No. 18 Saginaw Valley State, which is tied with Northwood atop the conference.
The shutout against the Cardinals was the first time since Oct. 4 the Eagles had been held under two goals. AU boasts the third-highest scoring offense in the GLIAC with 29 goals scored. That's a huge upgrade over where the Eagles were a year ago when they finished their first season as a program with just 18 goals.
"We've been able to move the game forward going to the other team's goal," said Slawson. "We've scored the third-most goals in the conference, and if it's not the best, it's one of the best Division II men's soccer conferences. To score the amount of goals we've scored has been very pleasing."
The Eagles have used those goals to build leads in several games this season, but has had trouble maintaining those advantages. The Eagles gave up a pair of two-goal leads earlier this month, but came back to win those games in overtime. AU built a 3-0 lead at Findlay and held on for a 3-2 victory.
"You have to respect who we've played. Every team in our conference has appeared in a national tournament – NAIA or Division II – other than Northern Michigan, which is also a new program. It's because we're playing very good teams," said Slawson.
It is the ability to score goals, though, that has Slawson confident that his team can compete with anyone, even in a conference as deep as the GLIAC.
"Our oldest players are sophomores and you can't teach experience, you can't teach confidence," said Slawson of his second-year program. "What I hope they're getting out of this year is the knowledge that they've got the tools to beat anybody, because we've scored goals."
The Eagles will now try and get at least a result on Friday against a Tiffin team that knocked them off, 4-1, in Tiffin on Oct. 4. Ashland dominated play for much of that game, but the Dragons (7-6-3, 5-4-2 GLIAC) scored three times in the final 15 minutes to lock up the decision. TU is playing to get to the No. 3 seed in the GLIAC Tournament.
Kickoff on Friday is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Ferguson Field.