Francisco Rivero/ Contributing Writer
If there’s one thing the men’s soccer team can say about their 2012 schedule, it’s that they won’t be seeing home field very often.
The squad will only see the confines of their home field seven times as opposed to 12 road games while they try to better their fifth-place finish from 2011. For Arena, playing only seven home games might be the best thing for this team.
“The experience and the challenge of playing so many road games is exciting,” Arena said. “Because our guys get the taste of what it’s like to play on the road and how to take care of themselves and prepare themselves.”
The start of the Panthers season begins with only two home games from their first 10 games. The first being the season opener on Aug. 24 against Bryant University. FIU then goes on the road for a five-game road trip with only two opponents being out of the state of Florida in Wisconsin on Sept. 7 and University of Illinois at Chicago on Sept. 9.
FIU then comes back home for their second home game on Sept. 16 to battle University of Missouri-Kansas City. This 10-game stretch will be an important time for FIU to rack up as many wins as possible before entering the toughest part of their 2012 schedule.
From Sept. 29 through Oct. 30 the Panthers will play a nine-game stretch where they will face eight teams that finished higher than them in the Conference USA standings last year.
“The rankings from last year don’t mean anything, it’s who wins at the end of the day. I’m excited that we are playing teams that did great last year but I feel this year everything is going to be different,” Arena said. “Every year is different. In fact, every week is different. There can be injuries for your team injuries for the other team, weather and even travel”.
However, this is also the part of the season that FIU will have the bulk of their home games starting with the team that came in first in the C-USA standings last year, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Arena understands the importance of this game but also understands why UAB had such success last season.
UAB, according to Arena, has a knack for recruiting good players and then developing them.
In their match with UAB last season, the Panthers played the Blazers to a double-overtime draw.
The game against UAB is part of a three-game home stand starting on Oct. 6 that precedes games against Howard University and Southern Methodist University.
The Panthers will then hit the road for a short two-game road trip against the University of Kentucky and Marshall University and then return home to play Memphis on Oct 27.
Last year, the Panthers took both Kentucky and Marshall to overtime, defeating the Wildcats 1-0 and losing to the Herd 2-1 in double OT.
After a final road game against Florida Atlantic University on Oct. 30, FIU will have its final home game against Tulsa on Nov. 3.
Although the 2012 schedule is filled with many road games and tough opponents Arena sees nothing but great things coming from playing against C-USA opponents.
“I’m very proud that FIU is in C-USA just because I think it’s one of the toughest conferences in the nation. There’s no easy game in our conference, every team is well coached and has great players”.
Arena also as high expectations for this year’s Panther team and expects nothing less than his players giving their all in each game.
“Our goal is to make the conference tournament, have a winning record and play a good brand of soccer”.
The last time that the Panthers qualified for the C-USA tournament the was in the 2007 season.