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Welcome to soccer in Conference USA, which stretches from Norfolk to Albuquerque.

Yes, somehow Old Dominion University’s Monarchs play in a soccer conference with the New Mexico Lobos. Oh, I almost forgot. The conference is also home to the Kentucky Wildcats and the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Go figure.

So far in conference play, ODU has won one – at Tulsa, which was ranked No. 9 in the country – and lost one in overtime – against Kentucky. The league race looks wide open and there is so much to learn about the league itself.

Just ask ODU men’s soccer coach Alan Dawson. Well, I asked him for you.

“It’s just a totally new experience for us,” Dawson said. “Take Tulsa. We’d never played against Tulsa in the history of our program and with the NCAA rules today, we can’t go see them in person so we’re relying on scouting reports, what we can learn about them by talking with others on the phone, and what we see on video.”

Ah, video. Every game is taped by someone and posted on the Internet these days, so you at least get an idea about an opponent. But in the matter of Tulsa, it took the Monarchs “a whole half to figure out what they were doing and how they were playing.”

Then came Kentucky, a program the Monarchs had had success against in the past. ODU had a 3-0-1 career mark against the Wildcats, but what the coaches saw on video and what they saw in person were two different things.

“Size and speed are tough to gauge on television,” Dawson said. “I thought Kentucky was smaller than we’d anticipated. Conversely, Tulsa was not as athletic as we had expected.”

If it sounds as if I’m telling you to skip watching soccer on television, I’m not. In fact I’m imploring you to do just the opposite, particularly this Wednesday.

If you haven’t made it to the pitch to watch the Monarchs yet this season – and even if you have – there’s a chance to see them on play a nationally televised game Wednesday when they travel to Charlotte to take on the 49ers. The game will be shown locally on Cox Channel 11.

At the least, the game will give the Monarchs a look at the pitch where this year’s Conference USA Tournament will be played. The 49ers are hosting the tournament the second week of November.

With Tim Hopkinson and Ivan Militar leading the way, these Monarchs have the firepower to make some noise in a league that is heard across three time zones. And they need to, because only the top seven in the league advance to the Conference USA Tournament.

According the Dawson, the Monarchs need to start building some momentum, beginning with the Charlotte game.

“The loss to Kentucky broke what momentum I thought we had,” Dawson said. “Now we need to reclaim some momentum and that’s going to be a challenge because Charlotte is very good, ranked as high as No.2 in one poll, and then we have to play a very, very dynamic UAB squad.”

Dawson figures playing a ranked Charlotte squad is motivation enough. But the fact that it will be on television is “extra motivation for our players.”

Or at least … it should be.


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