Looking to build on last season’s Elite Eight run, the No. 2 Washington men’s soccer team will face Portland in a northwest derby to kick off this season’s NCAA tournament.
Although the Huskies (14-1-2, 6-1-2 Pac-12) came up short of the Pac-12 title, their status as the second seed should provide them with confidence going into the NCAA tournament. Coming off a first round bye, Washington will host Portland, which beat Seattle U in a five-goal thriller to kick off its tournament run.
The Huskies and Pilots (11-6-1, 4-2-1 WCC) have already met this season, with UW claiming a 2-0 victory in Portland. Two goals in the span of 15 second-half minutes were enough for Washington to walk away with a victory.
“We see a big advantage in having played a team before, using our video and experience against them,” head coach Jamie Clark said. “Historically, we’ve done better in the second half of the Pac-12 for that reason. It’s obviously a rivalry game which has got a lot of history to it which brings its own baggage, but playing an opponent you’re familiar with is a positive.”
However, that loss for the Pilots came in the midst of a three game skid. Since that poor run of form, Portland has built some momentum, only losing once in eight matches.
Although Washington has not allowed a goal in its previous two meetings with Portland, the Huskies will have to find ways to disrupt a fluid attack which includes eight players with five or more points this season.
However, the Huskies’ defensive resilience in big games has been a strength, only conceding multiple goals in their two games against top-ranked Oregon State.
“They have a lot of interchangeable pieces up front,” Clark said. “It’s difficult to say that they have one guy that you can shut down. They rotate players up there, they have seven very talented guys. They just give you different looks at different times and you have to be ready for them all.”
The keys to the game for Washington will be to press high, and capitalize on set pieces. Although the Huskies have many options in attack, the most successful route to goal has been in dead ball situations, where UW has scored nearly half of its goals. Washington should find plenty of opportunities, averaging over six corners per game so far this season.
“Watching [their game against] Seattle U, when they were able to press and get the game into Portland’s half, they didn’t look very comfortable,” Clark said. “One thing to be careful of is that Portland is very good in transition, so we have to try and limit that. And again, like it or not, our set pieces will potentially alter the outcome of the game.”
The Pilots have had a successful season, winning 11 games, but their record in matches against ranked opposition has been mixed. In five meetings, Portland has won two and lost three. However, a 4-0 win against No. 15 Northern Illinois showcased Portland's capabilities at the highest level.
Although Sunday’s match will be tightly contested, expect the Huskies to control possession and take advantage of their aerial dominance. Washington should have the quality to beat Portland, but needs to remain focused to keep its season alive.
“We just don't want the season to end for our guys,” Clark said. “We have to play to allow ourselves another week to enjoy our team and we think we have a lot left in the tank, so every game we have to go out and earn it.”
The Huskies and Pilots kick off at Husky Soccer Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 21 at 5p.m.
Reach senior staff reporter Luka Kučan at email@example.com. Twitter: @luka_kucan
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