The cupboard wasn't exactly bare at UMBC when Pete Caringi took charge of the Retrievers' soccer program.
Scotland native Robert Diver, the team's most complete player, had three seasons of eligibility left. Darius Taylor, the rangy sweeper from Meade, was looking to cap a solid collegiate career. Adding savvy were longtime teammates Jason Dieter and Pete Eibner.
Having played for Caringi at Essex Community College in 1988 and '89, Dieter and Eibner eased his transition at UMBC. They also helped the Retrievers take command of the East Coast Conference race yesterday, as both played major roles in a pivotal 3-1 defeat of two-time champion Towson State.
Dieter's restarts helped UMBC to a 2-0 lead, setting up Bobby Wagner in the last minute of the first half and Tim Ryerson six minutes into the second. Towson State's lone goal came on a penalty kick by Joe Layfield, and that's the only time the 1990 ECC Player of the Year was able to avoid the marking of Eibner.
The victory was the eighth straight for UMBC (10-2-1), tying a school record set in 1977, when the Retrievers were a Division II power. It also put them in control of the ECC race, where they are 4-0-1. Even if UMBC drops its Nov. 3 finale to Buffalo, it is in strong position to host the ECC tournament, an event Towson State has used the home-field advantage to win the last two seasons.
The Retrievers were hardly at full strength yesterday, as Diver was unavailable following his fifth yellow card of the season Monday, and leading scorer Shawn Miller and starting striker Rob Hoch were out with injuries. UMBC still had enough talent and inspiration to carry the game to the Tigers, as the Retrievers bore little resemblance to the team that lost 1-0 to Navy and 3-0 to William & Mary in its first five games.
"We have a lot of players who were learning my system, and I think that showed early," said Caringi, known for his attacking style at Essex and with the Maryland Bays, whom he guided to an American Professional Soccer League title in 1990. "What really helped is that Dieter and Eibner were here last year. They really made the transition easier for me."
Dieter and Eibner were teammates at Archbishop Curley, then helped Essex to the national junior college final in 1989, Dieter earning first-team All-America status. He led the ECC in points last season with nine goals and nine assists, and has six and seven, respectively, this season. His move to outside halfback added to UMBC's firepower. The marking jobs by Dieter also have been invaluable.
"Whenever the other team has a dangerous guy up top, it's my dTC job to mark him," Eibner said. "We've got so many tall guys who go up and create problems for the opposition on set plays, it's natural that I stay back."
At 6 feet 2, Eibner is hardly small, but he looks up to Taylor and Ryerson, both 6-5, and the 6-4 Wagner. Towson State coach Frank Olszewski worried about the Retrievers' dominance in the air on head balls, with good reason. The Tigers were preoccupied with Taylor when Dieter's corner kick sailed right by him in the 61st minute to a wide-open Ryerson.
Towson State (8-3-2) made it 2-1 three minutes later when Brian Bichy was taken down in the penalty area and Layfield, who had eight goals in the Tigers' last five games, converted the penalty kick. The Retrievers, who had a 21-13 edge in shots, dodged some Tiger advances, and with nine minutes left got an insurance goal, Rob Karas' penalty kick following a foul against Wagner.
The Tigers, who got 11 saves from Rich Pellegrini, are the only state team to appear in this week's South Atlantic Region rankings, but they are 1-1-1 in the ECC and still have some work to do to reach the postseason tournament. They are host to Central Connecticut Saturday and Brooklyn College Oct. 23.
Loyola (7-5-1) also scored an important regional victory yesterday, beating host Howard 1-0 on Tom Donahue's goal with 3:54 left in the second overtime. The Greyhounds are at nationally ranked Boston University Saturday.