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FIU World Football Also Opening C-USA Play This Weekend

Ladies first, on Friday night against Old Dominion, getting a 2-1 win on two goals by fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva. Leiva's got six of the 11 goals scored this season for 6-4 FIU. I'm not sure how she wasn't a preseason All-Conference USA pick, but she'll be a postseason one. When Charlotte comes to Camp Mitch Sunday afternoon, they'll find an FIU team that's won four of its last five, with only one goal allowed by freshman goalie Nevena Stojakovic.

The gentlemen hope to follow up Saturday night in the other FIU football game against Alabama-Birmingham. A record of 3-3-1 describes erratic, especially with two of the three wins coming against teams ranked at the time, Michigan and San Diego State. That'll help FIU's RPI should the Panthers need to get into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, which is likely. Conference USA's loaded with Chompers.

 

FIU coach Scott Calabrese inherited this schedule, but said, "As I start to design future schedules, that's going to be important. We have to have a good RPI. Winning Conference USA with New Mexico, Charlotte and Old Dominion, which are all Top 25 teams, there's no guarantee you'll win the tournament."

Also, "the good thing is when you play really good teams and you make mistakes, you know about it immediately. They don't let you get away with things," Calabrese said. "You find out a lot about your team which, when you look at the non-conference schedule and what it's purpose is to prepare you for your conference. So far, we've made major strides in that direction."

Calabrese knew FIU possessed the technically talented kind of players that could play the possession, attacking game he wanted to play. He just had to season them with defensive responsibility. 

"I think we take less risks at the back (than the start of the season)," he said. "That was evident in the Florida Gulf Coast game (Wednesday's 2-1 win). There were times this season where we would try to play a pass in an area if we lose the ball, the risk of losing the ball is much greater than the return of just possessing it around the back. We still have that tendency, but we're starting to move away from it."

The obvious offensive focal point is senior forward Quentin Albrecht, last week's Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week (the conference apparently lost his video highlights before their weekly TV show, depriving fans from seeing Albrecht's bicycle kick winner against San Diego State). But when I asked for two players FIU needs strong games from each night he named redshirt freshman Donald Tomlinson and junior Danny Gonzalez.

"(Tomlinson) is doing such an importand job in our midfield and doing it so well," Calabrese said. "He is our anchor, playing the (Sergio) Busquets-(Claude) Makelele role where he breaks up the play, he plays simple and quickly, he gives other players the opportunity to go forward because he accepts his role as a holding midfield player. He has been a really important part of what we're doing and he's not the guy you notice. Unless you're the coach.

As for Gonzalez, he said, "We're trying to play a possession-oriented style, attacking soccer and he's able to do all those things and he couples it with an exceptional work rate. He's the box-to-box midfielder. If you want to control the middle of the park, which ultimately gives you your foothold in the game, those two players need to play well. So far, they have been."

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