Coming into its game against No. 14 Akron, the No. 23 Washington men’s soccer team was riding a nice little two-game winning streak characterized by dominant first halves. On Sunday, the Huskies got off to yet another commanding start in the opening half and got the goals they needed to take them to the finish, defeating the Zips 2-0.
“[Akron’s] a very good team and they wear you down, and on a Sunday that’s especially worrying,” head coach Jamie Clark said. “I’m very happy because we came out with the right attitude. Early second games and weekends we struggle, so this was to show that we could compensate for the weekend.”
Akron has made it to the Final Four in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments, but the UW put on an all-around clinic that the opposition had no answers for. Although Washington dominated in only one statistical category, winning the shooting battle 12-6, the Huskies (5-1) clearly controlled the pace of play. Clark made it a point to constant swarm Akron ball-handlers make it incredibly difficult for the Zips(1-3-1) to get any type of rhythm on offense.
Akron senior midfielder Marco Micoletto, who scored the team’s lone goal in Friday night’s loss against Seattle University, could only manage two shots against the UW back line. Sophomore forward David Egbo, the only other Zips player to score a goal this season, did not even attempt a shot.
The Huskies pressed the issue early, sending long through balls up the field and aggressively getting out on the counterattack. This effort was quickly rewarded in the sixth minute when the UW won back possession in midfield, junior midfielder Jaret Townsend weaved his way through the defense, and made a beautiful through pass to redshirt senior forward Kyle Coffee, who easily scored on a one-on-one with the keeper for his fourth goal of the year.
Townsend got his own goal five minutes later. Similarly to the first, Townsend dribbled his way to the top of the 18-yard box, but this time fired a shot towards goal that took a deflection and found its way past the keeper for the Dawgs’ second goal of the game, and his first of the season.
“We’re just starting right,” Clark said on his team’s recent first-half starts. "I think it’s more mental than anything. We’re good enough players and we’re focused, it’s just beginning to have a bit of pure instinct early.”
Akron was not without its chances early, as it looked to sprint past Washington’s pressing defense and create advantageous numbers up the field. Micoletto had a great chance to score the first goal of the game for the Zips off a quick counterattack, but the shot sailed just wide of the left post.
Unfortunately for the Zips, though, this was the best chance they got to score all half. Most of the first half action took place in Akron’s half, mainly its last third, as midfielders like Townsend fellow junior midfielder John Magnus, and sophomore midfielder Blake Bodily made a habit of taking the ball away from perplexed Akron players.
Junior midfielder Corban Anderson had a great chance to score his second career goal and Washington’s third, when he received the ball deep in the box, but he lost balance on the shot and it rolled harmlessly out of bounds. Redshirt junior midfielder Joey Parish, who has been on a roll as of late, had a good shot opportunity himself in the 41st minute, but his shot just outside the box sailed wide right.
Although Washington couldn’t get the third goal, this game marked the eighth straight contest in which the UW scored two or more goals in a game, the longest stretch since the 1990-91 season.
“[Two] seems to be the magic number,” Clark said. “Inside a program you truly know whether you’re confident or not and we were confident. We knew a couple guys had the ability [to score lots of goals], now it’s a question of actually doing it, and those are two different things. But those guys with ability are older guys and they know the consequences of not doing it, and I think that drives them.”
The Huskies did not let up on the pressure defense to start the second half, as the forwards continued to creep further and further up the field, even on mundane goal kicks, in an effort to keep the Zips from gaining any offensive momentum.
After a while, Akron gave in and started to imitate Washington’s defensive mentality, surrounding ball handlers with defenders and attempting to force changes in possessions. The two teams seemed to cancel each other out because of this; only seven combined shots were taken in the second half, with none on goal.
Akron made a few threatening runs in Washington’s third as desperation kicked in, but senior defender Quentin Pearson and the rest of the back line held firm and allowed redshirt junior goalkeeper Saif Kerawala to post his fourth clean sheet of the season.
The UW may currently sit at No. 23 in the rankings, but after the two performances the team put on tape for the voters this weekend, expect Washington to get another major jump in the polls come Tuesday, much like the one that got them up to No.3 two weeks ago.
Reach reporter Chris Angkico at email@example.com. Twitter: @chrisangkico