One of just 25 squads in the country to garner the distinction, the Marshalltown Community College men's soccer team received votes in the latest NJCAA Poll released Wednesday.
Based on their performance that evening, the Tigers (10-4-2, 7-3-1) may have earned a spot in the top 20.
Pushing No. 9 ranked Iowa Central (13-1-2, 8-1-2) to the brink for 110 minutes, MCC battled to a 1-1 draw with the Tritons.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
MCC’s Bruno Liozzi is tackled from behind by a Triton as he advances the ball Wednesday. The Tigers rallied to tie No. 9 ranked Iowa Central 1-1 in their regular season home finale.
"We knew how we needed to play against (Iowa Central). The team is growing and we're peaking at the right time. We proved it today," said Tigers coach Rafael Martinez.
"I'm very pleased with the performance. I'll be honest, I think we deserved the win."
Despite playing at a deficit for roughly a third of the match, MCC looked more the part of the ranked squad throughout. Creating more scoring opportunities, the Tigers held a 14-6 advantage in shots and a 5-3 edge in corner kicks.
Picking up from their previous meeting, which included five red cards and seven yellows, physical play pervaded the pitch from the start as a total of 39 fouls were called, 22 against Iowa Central.
Four yellows were handed out as the Tigers' Jose Damanceno and Philip Zeon were written up, while the Tritons' Connor McKenna and Iowa Central coach Ben Taylor also were carded. A warning was issued to both coaches late in the first half and several were given to players on both sides throughout the heated contest.
"There are always going to be calls in your favor or for the other team. You just need to stay focused on what the game plan is and give your best. I think my players did that," said Martinez.
"I was very pleased that we kept our composure throughout the game. I think it proved in the overtime that we were the better team and at least today we were."
MCC controlled much of the play in extra time as Marcus Boehler and Bruno Liozzi each had some quality looks late in the second overtime, though the Tigers were unable to manufacture the golden goal.
Ben Hutchings put the Tritons on top in the 31st minute, lofting a free kick from 35 yards out into the upper netting over Tigers' keeper Alfredo Piedra who appeared to slip on the play.
"I think (Alfredo) just fell. Some of the players were asking if it was an indirect kick, but he just fell," said Martinez.
"I told our guys, (Iowa Central) is a very good team and I respect them completely, but their goal came from an accident. I think with the game, our play and our chances inside the six (yard line), it proved to me that we're a really good team," said Martinez.
Bringing a burst of energy off the bench, Boehler provided the equalizer in the 74th minute rebounding a point-blank shot launched from Javier Lopez just outside the goal area. Deflecting off Triton keeper Fernando Cortes' chest, Boehler tracked down the ball, steadied himself and fired it into the net.
"We've practiced for that with our midfielders moving forward to that space. Javier took a great shot and you have to give credit to Marcus and the rest of our players, because they follow the rebound like we have practiced," said Martinez.
"I'm pleased with the fact that what we're working on is showing up on the field. As a coach you couldn't ask for anything else."
Cortes made three stops in goal for the Tritons, while Piedra came up with one save.
Already clinching third in the ICCAC, the Tigers close the regular season on the road against Indian Hills (5-9-4, 3-7-1) Saturday at 3 p.m. MCC won the previous affair over the Warriors 3-2 in overtime at home Sept. 25.
Taking No. 4 ranked Iowa Western down to the wire in a 3-2 loss Oct. 6, the Tigers' lone home defeat (5-1-1) of the season, MCC once again showed it can compete with the best Wednesday.
Regardless of where the rankings place MCC, Martinez and his squad don't need a number to identify the quality of ball they're playing. Their recent play against a pair of top-10 ranked foes is more than enough proof of what the Tigers are capable of.
"We've proved that we are at their level, with all the respect. I think that it can happen. We just have to play together and with this attitude," said Martinez.
"I told the guys, 'With this attitude, we can go far'."
The Tigers open regional play at home Tuesday at 4 p.m.