Panthers drop Conference-USA Opener to UAB

Both the football and men’s soccer teams faced off against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Saturday and unfortunately, for Head Coach Scott Calabrese, the soccer team did not come away with the victory.

UAB senior forward, Darion Copeland, broke the hearts of the Panthers (3-4-1, 0-1-0)  as he broke the 2-2 tie netting a 90th minute, go-ahead goal lifting the Blazers (6-2-1, 1-0-0) over FIU, 3-2.

The loss to the top-25 ranked Blazers marks the first time this season that the Panthers faced off against a nationally ranked team and lost. The previous two times, the Panthers overcame the tough competition, defeating Michigan and San Diego State, respectively.

Senior forward and captain, Quentin Albrecht, had a great game despite the Panthers’ defeat, netting two goals throughout the match. Albrechts two goals marks the second straight game the captain finds the back of the net two times.

The University jumped out ahead early with Albrecht’s goal in the 19th minute of the match. Redshirt-freshman Donald Tomlinson dribbled past UAB defenders and crossed a beautiful ball into the box, finding his captain alone with only the keeper to beat for an easy finish putting the Panthers up 1-0.

The early Albrecht goal would be the only goal of the first half as it was FIU who dominated possession in the first 45 minutes, creating several more opportunities as the half continued on. The Panthers led the first half with an 11-5 advantage in shots, but were not able to capitalize again until later on in the game.

At the start of the second half, it was clear the Blazers were not ready to drop their conference opener as they pushed higher up the pitch and pressured the Panthers with more intensity. The Blazers kept knocking on FIU’s footsteps and eventually equalized the game with Alex Clay’s goal. The redshirt-senior midfielder tapped in a rebound for the first goal of the second half.

With the game leveled at one apiece, the Panthers were able to regain the lead in the 60th minute when Albrecht, the German native, found the back of the net for his second goal of the night. Albrecht fired a shot from outside of the 18-yard box beating redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper, Joe Kuzminsky.

The game remained in the hands of the Panthers until about six minutes before the end of the second half, when UAB’s Diego Navarrete, a senior forward, tied the game back up. Navarrete was able to put a foot on the ball off of a set-piece and redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper David Mitchell was not able to make the save.

UAB did not stop there, continuing to apply pressure and create chances to complete their comeback victory on the road. With just over 30 seconds to play, UAB broke the tie and gave the University their most heartbreaking loss of the season thus far, falling in the final minute at home in their conference opener.

Copeland found the back of the net and sent the Panthers and their fans home with a sour taste in their mouths, as they knew they let one get away from them. What at one point felt like it would be yet again another win over a ranked opponent, ended in a bitter defeat in the last minute of the game.

The loss drops the Panthers to under .500 for the season and a 0-1 conference record in their Conference USA season opener.

Even in a loss this close, several positives can come from this game where FIU had their striker and leader on the pitch, Albrecht, continue his great play. Albrecht playing in top form will be essential if this team wishes to get back to above .500 and compete in their conference.

Eight games remain on the Panthers’ schedule, seven of which are conference opponents. The loss will be tough for FIU to rebound from, but with the bulk of their schedule being conference games, the chance to make the C-USA tournament and maybe even the NCAA tournament is still alive for Calabrese and his team.

Next up for the Panthers will be a quick trip over to Albuquerque, N.M. where they will face off against the New Mexico Lobos. The Lobos have a record of (5-2-1) and are ranked fifth in the nation, assuring another difficult task ahead for the Panthers team.

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