Fordham hopes to have another reason to celebrate at North Carolina Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University SID)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Fordham University’s run through the NCAA Division I men’s soccer tournament has been nothing short of astounding.

“It’s been a great time for us,” said senior midfielder-forward Jannik Loebe.

Traditionally, seeded teams win at home and go deep in the competition.

But the Rams (14-5-3) have gone against the grain. They’ve beaten the odds and some superior teams on the road as they prepare for the Elite Eight confrontation at third-seeded University of North Carolina (16-3-1) in Cary, N.C. Saturday at 6 p.m.

It will be their third road game against Atlantic Coast Conference foes in 14 days.

Talk about running the gauntlet.

“What an amazing feeling to have taking down two ACC schools back-to-back,” junior goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu said. “That’s a great feeling to have.”

Just consider what the Bronx-based school has accomplished the past several weeks:

Fordham was selected as an at-large team as it was eliminated in the Atlantic 10 semifinals.

Not only were the Rams were awarded a berth, they were given a first-round home game against St. Francis Brooklyn and overcame a pair of deficits to record a 3-2 extratime triumph Nov. 16, the programs first NCAA win.

Then came two historic wins in ACC territory.

The soccer team isn’t only making history for itself, but in men’s sports at the school in general. The Rams are the first Fordham men’s side to reach the final eight of a national championship tournament. The previous best was the 1970-71 basketball team, which reached the final 16 of the 1971 NCAA tournament.

“It’s something special,” head coach Jim McElderry said. “I have spoken to a lot of my colleagues, other college coaches and that’s probably been the biggest thing they’ve talked about. Not so much advancing in the NCAA tournament, but they’ve just been impressed on how we’ve done it, being on the road, especially in the first game.”

That was at 11th-seeded University of Virginia, a 1-0 victory Nov. 19.

“Winning at UVA was something that doesn’t happen too often,” McElderry said. “They win the majority of their games in the NCAA tournament at home because they usually do so well. A lot of teams have lost there. So that was a big deal for us to win, 1-0. We felt we played well, battled hard, scored a good goal through the run of play. It wasn’t a set piece or a penalty.”

Then came Saturday, Nov. 25’s game at sixth-seeded Duke University in Durham, N.C., which resulted in an 8-7 shootout win after playing to a 2-2 draw. Fordham twice equalized in that match.

“They’ve had the best season they’ve had in seven or eight years,” McElderry said. “Again, it was a daunting task for us. And that game was rollercoaster, a little bit different from the UVA game.”

Playing on the road hasn’t fazed Fordham at all. In fact, the Rams have won more games away from Jack Coffey Field. They’re 8-2-2 on the road, 6-2-2 at home and 0-1-1 on neutral fields.

“We’re pretty comfortable,” junior midfielder-forward Janos Loebe said. “Myself and a lot of other players on the team we like to travel. When we travel, we stay in a hotel and we practice on their field. It’s all about soccer. For two or three days, it’s all about this game. If you’re staying at home, you have to go to classes and there’s game day.”

Added brother Jannik Loebe: “It is a funny thing. We have a mentality in our group that we think we are better on the road.”

North Carolina, which has reached the Elite Eight for the eighth time in the last 10 years, brings its own unique challenges. To put it into proper perspective, the Tar Heels boasts not one, but two MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalists — senior forward Alan Winn (10 goals, two assists) and sophomore midfielder Cam Lindley (season program record 12 assists).

“In terms of top to bottom talent, it will be the most talented team we play,” McElderry said. “They have a really good mix of technical players and good athleticism It’s a real big challenge for us. We’ve played a lot of really good technical teams and a lot of really good athletic teams, but this group has a good combination of both. They also have experience. They have been to the NCAA tournament every year. They really have it all.”

But the Rams are confident they can continue to do pull off one more upset in ACC country.

“We are kind of like the underdogs right now and we [will] try to prove to the NCAA that Fordham can be considered a soccer school,” Nuhu said. “We don’t want people to look down on us. We have a good team. we want to go to North Carolina and show it on the field. They’re one of the best. They’re probably expecting them to win. We’re just going out there and give all we can.”

Janos Loebe agreed.

“We don’t have to hide from anyone right now,” he said. “I’m confident in my group, in my players. We are confident we can win this game. It’s just one game. Anything can happen. I’m positive it’s going to be a very, very tough game for us but also for UNC.”

Jannik Loebe noted that Fordham lost a non-conference match at Duke earlier this season, 3-0, but he and his teammates learned some things about themselves.

“We got the feeling that we could keep up with them,” he said. “Then going through the season, having a good season, playing well, we were pretty organized at the end so we knew we were pretty hard to beat. So, it was a struggle to win against us. It was the confidence that we had. Right now, we’re glad to show everyone how it is and that we can beat schools like that, too.”