The FIU men’s soccer team made a historic run in last year’ NCAA tournament. It set a new standard for the program. It was a quantum leap for the Panthers, who hadn’t advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 since 2003. One key move was the decision to turn to former starting goalkeeper, Matthew Levy, last fall during an intense penalty shoot-out. Success soon followed.
The Panthers made their 12th NCAA tournament appearance in men’s soccer last season after scoring regular season and tournament championships in the American Athletic Conference. This year, the team has a record 5-2-2. They’re currently on a three game win streak after coming out victorious against the University of South Florida.
In a sit-down interview with Caplin News, Levy, who is playing professionally in the UNL League 1 for the Charlotte Independence this year, reflected on last season’s tournament run, reminiscing about his approach to being ready at all times. He detailed how his ups and downs and how that prepared him to lift the Panthers to the Sweet 16 and keep their Championship hopes alive.
This tournament run proved the Panthers set the standard for future FIU teams’ success. The team has their eyes set on advancing well past the Sweet 16 this year after the tournament bracket is decided November 13th.
The red hot Panthers have two matchups this week. One against the University of Alabama on October 4th at 8:00 p.m. EST in Birmingham. Then the Panthers come home to FIU Soccer Stadium to face Southern Methodist University at 7:00 p.m. EST. Both matches will be on ESPN+.
Q: Tell me about last season’s tournament run and what that meant to you.
A: I never got to play in a full 90 minute game but I was a part of the penalty shootout to help us get to the Sweet 16 and that was the biggest and best moment of my soccer career. Last time I was in the NCAA Tournament with Jacksonville we went to penalties and I guessed every single penalty wrong and I think it’s because I put a lot of pressure on myself and I didn’t feel like I was prepared for the penalty shootout. So when the penalty shootout happened at FIU and I knew I was going to be the one going in for the penalties, I approached it completely differently. I felt like I was 100% prepared for what was going to happen and I had so much confidence in myself. I knew if they scored a penalty it wasn’t over. I knew in the back of my mind that we were going to win and it was just a matter of time. That whole experience was unbelievable.
It had a big impact on the school as well. There were a lot of people out there while it was
raining and people started to appreciate the fans that came out so much throughout the weather that we had there, it was horrible. People were still showing up filling up the extra bleachers. I think it was super important to the school also because we hadn’t gone to the Sweet 16 since 2003 so it was something they couldn’t do the year before I got there. They only reached the second round and it was super big for the coaching staff and really good for the team. I wish the best for the next group of guys next year. Hope they go even further and they can use last year as an example. We did not complete all our goals, our goal was to get three trophies last year and we only got two so hopefully next year they can out do what we did last year.”
Q: During or after the tournament last season, are there any significant takeaways that improved you as a person/player/teammate?
A: What made me a better teammate was the fact that I wasn’t playing in the beginning. I ended up winning the starting spot then ended up losing the starting spot and then after I lost the starting spot, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the starting spot back no matter what happened. So I told myself I have to be ready for anything no matter what, I just had to do whatever I could to support the starter and while supporting him also keep myself ready for whatever happened for example the penalty shootout. I took every game day as if I was going to play, I got prepared the same way I would as if I were the starter. I think knowing I wasn’t the first choice for the coaching staff helped me become a better teammate for the guy in front of me and I was there to push him in training.
In training, I’d do my best to out-perform him every single practice even though I knew there was no chance they would pick me for the starting spot. I just wanted to keep him on his heels like hey if you mess up I’m right here to take your spot. So that was the mentality I had even though I knew no matter what I did that they wouldn’t really pick me. It was a struggle to get into that mentality at first but once I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t play unless something terrible happened. I had to make sure I was ready no matter what because you never know what could happen. In practice I was able to outperform him in the penalty kicks that we trained on so that’s how I got picked to do the penalty kicks and it ended up working out.
Matthew recently signed an extension with the Charlotte Independence, a member of the USL League One (United Soccer League).
The FIU Panthers men’s and women’s soccer teams play this Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPN+. The women’s team goes up against Western Kentucky in Bowling Green and the men’s soccer squad take on the University of South Florida in Miami as the Panthers host Childhood Cancer Awareness Night at FIU Soccer Stadium.