Battle of Baltimore ready to kick off

UMBC host to men's event with Towson, Loyola, Navy

College Soccer

August 29, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The idea was conceived eight years ago, when a collection of local college men's soccer coaches began bandying about the idea of playing an early-season tournament among their teams.

It will reach fruition Sept. 6, when the Battle of Baltimore soccer tournament begins with four schools - two that made last fall's NCAA Division I tournament - competing at UMBC Soccer Stadium.

"Hopefully, it'll generate some interest in the game here," said Navy coach Greg Myers. "A lot of the players know each other, and the coaches enjoy being around each other. When these teams play, it's always close."

A similar, less-formal event called the Mason-Dixon Soccer Cup occurred last September at Towson University, where Loyola took the title by beating the Tigers and Mount St. Mary's by identical 3-0 margins.

Five schools are committed to the Baltimore of Baltimore concept, but because of the four-team format, one will take a bye; Mount St. Mary's is sitting out this year.

In this year's semifinals, Towson will meet Navy and Loyola takes on UMBC, with the losers and winners meeting, respectively, for third place and the title on Sept. 8.

"It's essential to play each other," said Loyola coach Mark Mettrick. "We're excited about the future of this and, hopefully, it's going to grow. ... We have a responsibility to play each other on the field."

The Greyhounds lost eight seniors from last year's team, which advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division I tournament with a bye and an emotional overtime victory over the University of Maryland.

But the squad that was ranked 11th nationally last year must be considered a slight tournament favorite because of its history and the presence of sweeper Niall Lepper, the Scotsman who has been chosen Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year.

"Sure, we think we're going to win," Lepper said. "We'll start local and then go national. It should be interesting. These are four very competitive teams."

Towson also made the NCAA tournament, beating James Madison, 4-1, in the first round before losing, 3-0, to eventual national champion North Carolina and finishing with a school-record 16 wins and a No. 25 national rating.

Tigers coach Frank Olszewski was unable to attend yesterday's news conference because of commitments attached to the first day of classes, but he said in the team's preseason prospectus that "there has been a carry-over from last year in terms of the attitudes of our seniors. During the spring, our seniors would not tolerate complacency."

Always-tough Navy has lost an All-America goalie Brian Steckroth, but Myers has five to choose from for his replacement, with junior Matt Copare, the only one with college playing experience, in the lead.

The Midshipmen stress defense, scoring just 19 goals all last season. They have 10 seniors and are "pretty solid," their coach said.

"I guess the big boys in the city think they can come down and pound on us from down on the river," Myers joked. "But we think we'll be OK."

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