It’s far from time to say that the balance of power has shifted, but the showing of the Pac-12 in the 2013 NCAA soccer season is certainly turning some heads. The progress on the west coast was in plain sight when the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced and three of the top four teams were from the Pac-12.
As the tournament’s No. 2 seed and the Pac-12 champions, the University of Washington embodies the growth in the conference and on Sunday, they will put their 14-1-4 record to the test against Seattle University, who topped Creighton 2-1 in the first round of the tournament on Thursday.
However, the rankings don’t mean anything once the Huskies start the tournament.
“To think we won a conference where, in someone’s estimation, three of the top four teams in the country are a part of, it was a great season. It’s flattering and we have to think of it as a job well done,” Head Coach Jamie Clark said. “Now the regular season is over and it’s a cup competition. In a cup tournament, anything goes. It doesn’t matter if you’re ranked second or the last team coming in, if you don’t win, you go home.”
UW and Seattle U already met once this season, with the Huskies getting two second-half goals to top the Redhawks 2-0 on October 8. That was the last defeat for Seattle U, who went unbeaten in its next 12 matches at 9-0-3, including two wins in the conference tournament and Thursday’s match against Creighton, a Final Four team last year.
There is a budding rivalry between the two schools and Clark sees it as a positive for both schools.
“For the city of Seattle, I really love the idea of a Seattle U-UW matchup. Pete Fewing has done a fantastic job in that conference winning that tournament and also winning the regular season. They’re flying. They’re full of confidence and those city derbies are always going to be closely contested,” Clark said. “My goal every year is to put us in as many competitive environments as possible. If Seattle U-UW becomes one of those big matches around the country every year, it would be great on a number of levels.”
Clark is particularly confident in his team because of how they played in the latter part of the season.
Although the Huskies suffered their only loss of the season in those final five matches against Pac-12 foes, Clark liked the way his team played in those matches.
“There really was a lot of improvement from the first round of Pac-12 games to the second round of Pac-12 games,” said Clark, who has a 39-10-9 record in three seasons at UW. “The whole trend is that we’re playing better and we’re finding our rhythm, which is good because you can’t have one off day anymore.”
Garnering attention for the opportunities set up by the long flip-throw of senior defender Michael Harris, UW has had a balanced team all season and has seen standout play from some Sounders FC Academy products in the process.
At times they play direct, others they play through the midfield pairing of Christian Roldan and James Moberg and often they use set pieces – including Harris throw-ins – to generate scoring opportunities.
Sounders FC Academy alum Darwin Jones has been central to that diverse attack.
The junior forward has six goals and four assists and although he has been used sparingly late in the season because of a bothersome MCL, Clark has been able to use him in select scenarios that utilize his skills.
“Sometimes we get him out wide so we can get him isolated and others we put him up front because he draws the attention of two guys and it opens up more room for the midfielders,” Clark said. “In different games, there can be different roles for him. He’s bought into either one and he’ll create chances at both spots.”
On the defensive side, UW nearly had its season annihilated when preseason All-American goalkeeper Spencer Richey suffered a season-ending leg injury. But redshirt sophomore netminder Ryan Herman has been a presence even bigger than his six-foot-seven-inch frame.
With 14 starts, Herman has recorded seven shutouts and posted a 0.79 goals against average.
“It’s crazy to think that potentially we lost our marquee player four games into our season. It’s been a growing process with Ryan. He’s been absolutely brilliant, but he’ll admit that he’s been learning and growing with each game,” Clark said. “He’s kept us in some games, his distribution has been good and he’s been really level-headed, which you love to see in your goalies.”
Kickoff for Sunday’s match is scheduled for 5 pm PT from Husky Soccer Stadium.
SEATTLE OUSTS 2012 SEMIFINALISTS
Seattle University’s unlikely run continued on Thursday when the Redhawks toppled Creighton University in blustery conditions in Omaha, Nebraska in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Seattle fell behind in the 15th minute, but a pair of goals by Miguel Gonzalez – one in the 31st minute and the game-winner in the 72nd minute – advanced the Redhawks to the second round. Goalkeeper Jake Feener made three of his eight saves in a 90-second span in the final seven minutes of the match to hold off a late Blue Jays charge.
Seattle is coached by Sounders FC broadcast analyst Pete Fewing and Sounders FC Academy product Kyle Bjornethun played all 90 minutes in the victory, while Chase Hanson played 52 minutes off the bench. The Redhawks are now 11-8-4 after winning the WAC regular season and tournament championships.
STANFORD PAIR ADVANCES
Stanford University was 17 seconds away from ending its season in defeat to Loyola Marymount on Thursday night, but a goal by Zach Batteer kept the Cardinal alive with his shot from the middle of the box found the back of the net to send the match to overtime.
Stanford and LMU couldn’t find the net in the extra period and the match went to a shootout. Aided by a successful try by Sounders FC Academy alum Jordan Morris, the Cardinal won the shootout 3-2 to set up a second-round meeting with CSU-Northridge at 7 pm PT on Sunday.
Morris is joined by Aaron Kovar at Stanford and the duo both earned all-conference recognition for the 9-6-4 Cardinal.
DENVER FALLS IN SHOOTOUT
While Morris and Kovar advanced in a shootout, Jordan Schweitzer’s University of Denver Pioneers ended their season in one on Thursday. After playing to a scoreless draw with the Louisville Cardinals, Denver was undone by the 2012 quarterfinalists, losing 3-2 in the shootout.
U14 STANDOUT SHINES IN CALIFORNIA
While the Sounders FC Academy alums were battling in the NCAA Tournament, one of the youth development system’s youngest players was receiving accolades as well.
Sounders FC Pre-Academy defender Khai Brisco was named to the California Best XI after a weekend of action with the U14 Development Academy. The speedy left back was the only player from outside of California to be recognized by the USSDA for the U14 event. Also recognized were three players from the LA Galaxy Academy, two from the Chivas USA Academy and one from the San Jose Earthquakes.