The FIU men’s soccer team, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year but started this season with three consecutive losses, is back on track.
FIU (4-5) has scored nine goals in its past two games, both road wins.
On Saturday, FIU defeated New Mexico 4-2, winning at Albuquerque for the first time in school history. FIU is also unbeaten in 16 straight Conference USA matches.
“Early on, we played some really good teams, and results didn’t go our way,” said FIU coach Kevin Nylen, whose team has lost to a pair of ACC powers, Duke and Virginia.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“We are seeing progression in multiple areas. We knew it was going to happen. We just didn’t know when.”
The “when” started to happen on Saturday as FIU rallied from a 2-1 deficit and got two goals from Santiago Patino, the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year.
Patino leads the league and is in the top 10 nationally with eight goals this season.
Nylen said Patino and winger Joris Ahlinvi (four goals, two assists) are two of the best players in the country.
“If I’m looking at how teams are playing us,” Nylen said, “everyone knows who Santi and Joris are. But if teams want to focus all their attention on those two, we have a lot of guys who can break down opponents. The key is for our attacking group to be unselfish.”
Nylen said it’s not always about statistics. You have to watch the games to see how players such as Andrew Booth, Matias Barraza, Caleb Franke, Errol Spence and Talla Faye have kept possession and helped create chances for teammates.
Still, there’s no denying that seeing Patino score those eight goals in just nine games has been impressive, especially since he’s a marked man every time he steps on the pitch.
“Santi gets fouled more than anyone in college soccer,” Nylen said of Patino, a 6-1, 190-pound senior from Orlando who has 33 career goals. “He’s so strong that he doesn’t go down easily, and he doesn’t draw as many fouls as he deserves. I feel for him.”
While FIU’s offense has been clicking of late, the Panthers defense has been allowing too many goals to suit Nylen, who has rotated senior goalie Hugo Fauroux of France with Daniel Gagliardi, a junior from St. Thomas Aquinas.
Last season, Fauroux started 17 games, and Gagliardi opened just once. But the Panthers are 3-0 this season with Gagliardi, and Nylen said he will continue with the rotation, deciding on the starting goalie depending upon the matchup.
“We have two top-level goalies,” Nylen said.
Regardless of who is in goal, this will be a big week for FIU, which plays host to Florida Gulf Coast (4-3-1) on Wednesday and seventh-ranked Kentucky (8-0-1) on Sunday. Both games kick off at 7 p.m.
Kentucky and FIU are tied atop the Conference USA standings at 3-0.
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s volleyball team (10-6, 3-1) lost 3-1 at North Texas on Sunday for its first league defeat of the season. On Friday, FIU ended rival Florida Atlantic’s 10-match win streak with a 3-1 win. FIU held FAU to a .000 hit percentage in a 25-10 fourth-set win.
▪ The women’s soccer team (0-12-1) got its first result of the year, tying Louisiana Tech 2-2 on Sunday. Rayquel Berry, a freshman from Coral Reef, scored both of FIU’s goals.
▪ FIU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have held their first practices as the seasons loom in November.
▪ FIU’s baseball team, which just added former All-American Tommy Duenas as a volunteer assistant coach, opens fall practice on Oct. 6.