HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s men’s soccer team didn’t have to sweat through much suspense on Monday afternoon during the NCAA Selection Show.
Players, coaches and fans had barely settled into their seats for the noon presentation when the Thundering Herd instantly heard its name called.
After its first-round bye, Marshall will take on Fordham at 1 p.m. on May 2 at Gillette Athletic Complex in Wilson, North Carolina, in the second round of the 2020 NCAA College Cup.
“If you want to win a national championship, you have to beat the best teams, so we’re really excited about being on this part of the draw,” Marshall men’s soccer coach Chris Grassie said.
While there was excitement surrounding Marshall’s draw for the College Cup, there was also a buzz of disrespect after the Conference USA champions were announced.
Marshall was ranked No. 9 in the United Soccer Coaches rankings last week, but was put in a quadrant with No. 1 Clemson, meaning — should the Herd top Fordham — the next matchup could be with the top seed in the tournament.
That didn’t sit well with many in attendance, but Grassie put such talk to rest.
“There’s a competitive nature to me and, I think, to us where we feel like we should’ve been seeded — given that respect — but that will just be a chip on our shoulder that we take with us as we move on to Fordham,” Grassie said.
Grassie said the one thing he doesn’t want his team or fans to do is look past the Rams, who come into the match without a blemish at 7-0-2 overall.
Like Marshall, Fordham also possesses one of the country’s better scoring sides.
Fordham scored two goals in all but one match this season (1-1 tie vs. UMass) and averages 1.89 goals per game. Marshall is right behind them at 1.85 goals per game, with many matches coming against nationally ranked competition.
“We really don’t want to look any further than Fordham,” Grassie said. “That’s going to be a tough game. This is the top 36 teams in the country, so every game is going to be tough now. It doesn’t really matter.”
Grassie said the attacking style of play from Fordham won’t change his team’s game plan much looking toward the NCAA tournament.
“Our game is very much based on our philosophy of play,” Grassie said. “We value possession of the football and we’ve created a ton of chances this year. We know, now, we’re starting to find our groove a little bit so it won’t change much about the way we prepare for them. We’ll obviously give them the due diligence they deserve and scout every game they’ve played this year.”
Grassie is familiar with Fordham coach Carlo Acquista after the two faced off in the Division II ranks while Grassie was at the University of Charleston and Acquista was at Adelphi.
Both have ascended to the Division I level and led their teams to success.
“I know Carlo from his time at Adelphi,” Grassie said. “We matched up when I was at Charleston, so I’m excited. He’s a friend so I’m excited to get with him again and, hopefully, we can advance.”
It is the second consecutive season that Marshall has made the NCAA tournament, also making it in 2019 as Conference USA champions.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said the 2013 opening of the new facility, along with the combined work of Bob Gray and Grassie over the last decade, has helped build Marshall into what it is today.
“Look at what has happened to Marshall soccer since we built that facility,” Hamrick said. “Grassie is a big-time, quality coach. We have excellent players and we’re top 10 in the country.”
This year there are only 36 teams in the NCAA field, which is down from the normal field of 64. There were 22 automatic qualifiers with 14 at-large bids.
Eight teams are competing in four play-in games, which are considered first-round matchups.
Should Marshall win its match with Fordham, the contest with Clemson would be played on May 6 at WakeMed Field Complex in Cary, North Carolina. That potential game time will be announced at a later date.