Dan Stratford is not shy about what his goals for West Virginia men’s soccer are.
“I’ve made no bones about it, we’re an aspiring top-10 program and we have every intent of being there as quick as possible.”
During a press conference Monday, the second-year head coach said the program’s move to Conference USA in 2022 will only help the Mountaineers achieve that goal. C-USA announced the addition of WVU as a member affiliate Monday afternoon.
Talks of the move began in late January between himself, WVU athletic director Shane Lyons and CFO Simon Dover. Stratford said he was on board almost from the very beginning and felt that he ended up having a lot of say in the decision.
WVU has enjoyed success as a program since joining the MAC in 2012. The Mountaineers made seven conference tournaments and two national tournaments in 2018 and 2019. Stratford made it a point to say that the move was not a reflection of anything negative about the MAC.
“We were very happy with our home, pretty content being in the MAC, it’s provided a great home for us for nine years,” Stratford said. “It really wasn’t a case of them doing anything wrong or any element of disgruntlement towards the MAC. I think it was more of looking at the trajectory of Conference USA.”
Stratford said he sees C-USA as the second-best men’s soccer conference in the country, behind the ACC. The league sent three teams to the national tournament this season, including the eventual national champions in Marshall. WVU went 6-3-1 this season, 4-3-2 in conference play, with wins over Charlotte and Marshall, who both made the National Tournament. Despite this, WVU did was not selected for the tournament. Stratford said he felt moving to C-USA could help avoid situations like that in the future.
C-USA also added Coastal Carolina as a member this season. The addition of WVU will give the league 10 teams, WVU, Marshall, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, UAB, and Old Dominion as well as affiliate members Coastal Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky.
The number of conference teams is another benefit of the move, according to Stratford. The MAC only had six men’s soccer teams, meaning each program had to schedule many non-conference games to make a full season schedule.
“If we’re going to be a top-10 program, we’ve got to be playing the likes of those teams,” Stratford said. “We already were in non-conference and now we get to in the conference every year.”
Stratford also said he liked the change in climate the move will bring. He highlighted that the team will now travel to states like South Carolina and Florida every season and play on more natural grass fields instead of playing in the cold weather of Michigan and Illinois.
Stratford, a former WVU player, was on the WVU coaching staff when the program first moved to the MAC in 2012. With that experience in mind, he said the move into C-USA thus far has been as smooth as possible.
The Mountaineers will play one more season as a member of the Mid-American Conference in 2021 and then make the transition to C-USA in the fall of 2022.