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Big East conference champions arrive in Seattle for second round cup match

Big East conference champions arrive in Seattle for second round cup match

Ilijah Paul goes up for a header during the Washington match against Central Arkansas on August 30, at Husky Soccer Stadium. Paul and the Huskies kick the second round of the postseason Sunday. 

With accolades continuing to pile up following a championship regular season, the No. 2 Washington men’s soccer team turns its head to the postseason second round, where it will host play-in winner Creighton on Sunday.

“For the guys it’s no different,” head coach Jamie Clark said. “They enjoy new challenges, and new faces, but the beauty of this team is they’re not caught up in the rankings or whose-who.”

After winning the Big East championship against Georgetown, the Bluejays (10-4-6, 3-3-4 Big East) triumphed 2-1 over Missouri State on Thursday, Nov. 17, to reach Seattle. With 10 wins on the season, the Bluejays were an obvious bid for the tournament, alongside blue blood conference member Georgetown.

“They’re the bravest attacking team I've seen in a long time,” Clark said. “They ask you a lot of questions, which is really really fun, and it will make it a real challenge.”

The Huskies (15-1-3, 7-1-2 Pac-12) begin the second round off their first loss of the season — after 18 matches unbeaten — with several regulars well-rested and prepared to partake in the most demanding stretch of the year. 

Following the conclusion of the season, seven Huskies were named to all-conference Pac-12 teams, but sophomore Ilijah Paul grabbed the headlines after being named Pac-12 offensive player of the year. Paul’s 11 goals led the league and the conference champions, but Clark is more excited about what’s to come from an already proven side.

“If we’re decisive and make plays in high-pressure situations, it usually goes our way,” Clark said. “Easier said than done, but it’s a style of play we want, where guys are making these moment-to-moment, brave plays.”

Along with Paul, both junior Christian Soto and sophomore Kalani Kossa-Rienzi were named to the Pac-12 first team. Soto started nearly every match this season and, alongside Kossa-Rienzi, dictated the tempo from the middle of the park.

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“As a team, we’re pretty confident right now,” Kossa-Rienzi said. “We think and we know we should be back in the spot we were in last year, we’re not looking too far into the future right now, day-by-day, game-by-game.”

Washington’s command of the opposition begins and ends with the backline, and after resting the entire game against Oregon State, senior captain Gio Miglietti returns to the lineup after leading the line alongside sophomore Nate Jones this season. Both center backs were recognized for their efforts and named, somewhat quizzically, to the Pac-12 second team.

With nine clean sheets, and having allowed multiple goals only twice this season, the UW defense is 10th best in average goals against and tied for first in goal differential nationally. Meanwhile, Creighton stands first in goals scored with 55 in 20 matches, setting the stage for a meeting between two premier sides on both ends Sunday evening.

“You kind of have to just go into every game thinking it’s gonna be your last,” Kossa-Rienzi said. “If you don’t leave it all out there, then you’re probably gonna be disappointed.”

The Huskies will start their journey back to the College Cup final Sunday, Nov. 20, with kickoff slated for 5 p.m. at Husky Soccer Stadium.

Reach reporter Rajan Hans at @RajanHans14

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