PEORIA, Ill. - The Bradley Soccer team will begin the pursuit of a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament earlier than in any season in program history when the Braves open the 2012 campaign by hosting Eastern Illinois Aug. 24 at Shea Stadium.
The game against the former Missouri Valley Conference rival Panthers kicks off a 19-game regular-season schedule against teams from 10 different conferences that will include nine home games at Shea Stadium and four games against teams that participated in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Bradley also has been selected to host the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Men's Soccer Championship Nov. 7-9-11 at Shea Stadium, pending approval by the MVC Presidents' Council June 8.
"With 12 new players joining us this fall and the loss of such a talented class last year, the 2012 schedule undoubtedly will be extremely challenging," said Bradley head coach Jim DeRose. "The strength of The Valley again will feature extremely difficult matches, yet it will be necessary to challenge a young team that features only three seniors prior to MVC play.
"It has always been our philosophy to try and play a schedule that will allow us a chance to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and expose our players to challenging matches at home, in true road games and at neutral sites," DeRose added. "Additionally, we are always looking to establish new scheduling relationships across a wide geographic area and I believe we have successfully met all of these criteria."
Fans will get a preseason look at the Braves when Bradley hosts Dayton in a 7:30 p.m. exhibition game Aug. 14 at Shea Stadium before the team's 26th season at the NCAA Division I level kicks off with four consecutive home games. After the regular-season opener Aug. 24 versus Eastern Illinois, Bradley will host Western Michigan Aug. 26. Former Bradley associate coach Brad Ruzzo will bring his Mercer club to the Hotels at Grand Prairie Classic at Shea Stadium, where the Braves will play Hartwick (Aug. 31) and Nebraska-Omaha (Sept. 2) after Mercer plays each day.
Bradley will continue in-season tournament play by facing Cincinnati (Sept. 7) and Portland (Sept. 9) at the Evansville Aces ProRehab Classic, followed by matchups against Lipscomb (Sept. 14) and Belmont (Sept. 16) at the Belmont Bruins Classic, then will conclude a five-game road swing Sept. 21 by visiting San Jose State.
The Braves will host Northern Kentucky Sept. 29 before playing the first of their four games against 2011 NCAA Tournament participants, an Oct. 3 matchup versus defending Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament champion Northwestern at Shea Stadium. The Wildcats will become the first-ever Big Ten team to play a regular-season game at Shea Stadium, Bradley's home venue since 2003.
The Braves will begin their 6-game Valley slate by visiting defending regular-season champion Missouri State Oct. 6 and SIU-Edwardsville Oct. 10. Bradley will host Evansville Oct. 13 in the annual Homecoming game, then will host Drake Oct. 17 before beginning a stretch of three consecutive road games against 2011 NCAA Tournament teams: Oct. 20 at Creighton, Oct. 23 at Western Illinois and Oct. 31 at Loyola-Chicago.
Bradley has previously hosted the MVC Men's Soccer Championship in 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2010 and the Braves have reached the title match in each year they have hosted, while winning the 2010 championship in penalty kicks against SIU Edwardsville. The top six teams in the regular-season standings will qualify for the 2011 tournament, which will begin with first-round games for seed 3-6 Nov. 7 at Shea Stadium. The top two seeds will meet the first-round winners in semifinal action Nov. 9 and the championship game will be played Nov. 11.
Led by the senior trio, Bradley returns 13 lettermen from the 2011 squad that produced a 15-6-2 overall record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Soccer Championship, where the Braves dropped a 3-2 decision in double overtime at Louisville.