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Home-field advantage has been key to West Virginia’s tournament run

MORGANTOWN — There’s no question that the hottest ticket in town belongs to the West Virginia men’s soccer team. 

When tickets were made available Monday morning for the Mountaineers’ NCAA Tournament quarterfinal round match against Loyola Marymount, the entire allotment had sold out in just over five and a half hours.

“The energy and environment that was created from a packed stand made a huge difference,” WVU coach Dan Stratford said over Zoom on Tuesday. “They truly were a 12th man and we’re incredibly excited that we already sold the game out in a short span of time.”

The tickets going fast shouldn’t have come as a surprise as Saturday is the Mountaineers’ final opportunity to play at home this season. A win would advance them to the College Cup semifinals in Louisville, Ky. next Friday.

The WVU men had never sold out Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium before this season but now have done so four times this year, including three games in a row.

“I’m hoping that we’ll break another attendance record,” Stratford said. “Going comfortably over 3,000 would be incredible and I hope we give everyone something to cheer about and a reason to jump in their cars and drive to Louisville next week.”

WVU (16-2-4) was guaranteed home-field advantage for the first two rounds of play due to being the No. 5 seed in the tournament, but James Madison’s upset of No. 4 Georgetown ensured that the Mountaineers wouldn’t have to leave Morgantown until the final four.

“It makes a huge difference and I’m hoping for an incredible environment and atmosphere again on Saturday,” Stratford said. “We’re undefeated at home this season. For me, that has to be more than coincidence, there has to be a real correlation there.”

WVU has advanced to the quarterfinals with two one-goal victories, 1-0 over Louisville and 2-1 against Vermont last weekend. Stratford said he could feel the home crowd help his team prevail both times.

“There were some struggles last weekend against Vermont, I think the start of the second half was a little sloppy,” he said. “It got to that hour mark and we had something resembling a period of play that looked like us and the crowd getting back into the game really kind of carried us through the next 30 minutes.”

Junior Max Broughton scored the eventual game-winning goal for WVU in the 82nd minute against Vermont. Stratford said he could really feel the influence the home crowd had on his team as they were defending the 2-1 lead late in the contest.

“We get the eventual winner with about nine minutes to go and the energy, the enthusiasm, the lift, you could tell the crowd was an incredible piece of that, an important piece of that,” he said. “The energy levels of us were lifted. We were more alive in the last 10 minutes than we were maybe at any other point in the game.”

The other aspect of home-field advantage is the team hasn’t had to leave Morgantown in three weeks. When WVU made its run to the quarterfinals in 2021, the team had to travel from Morgantown to Tulsa, Okla., back to Morgantown and then to Washington D.C. in the span of two weeks.

“They get good night’s rest in their own room for the remainder of the week,” Stratford said. “We know where we eat and when we eat and who’s providing the food. All of those familiarities will be in play again on the weekend.”

The Mountaineers will kick off against Loyola Marymount at 2 p.m. Saturday from Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium for the final time this season. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.