Whitman men ready for crucial weekend soccer homestand
WALLA WALLA — Whitman College can play itself back into contention for the Northwest Conference men’s soccer crown this weekend with home-field victories over two of the league’s three frontrunners.
“Absolutely!” veteran Whitman coach Mike Washington said when asked if this was a make-or-break weekend for his team, which is coming off an impressive 3-1 victory at George Fox Sunday in Newberg, Ore.
“The top four teams in the league are all playing one another and something has to come out of it,” Washington said of the weekend matchups. “Either we will wind up in a disastrous spot, or we will be back in the running.”
The University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University, both of them boasting unblemished 4-0 NWC records, are headed to Walla Walla. UPS will be in town Saturday and PLU Sunday, with both games slated for 2:30 p.m. starts.
And while Whitman is hosting UPS on Saturday, PLU will be in Spokane to take on Whitworth, which is also 4-0 in conference play. The Pirates entertain UPS on Sunday.
Whitman is 1-2-1 so far against NWC foes. The Missionaries are alone in fourth place, followed by Linfield and Pacific, both 1-3, Willamette 0-3-1 and George Fox 0-4.
While records suggest Whitman faces long odds against the undefeated trio of league leaders, Washington is encouraged by what he saw from his team over the weekend. Especially so in Sunday’s solid victory over the Bruins.
“Saturday was a bit disappointing because we lost the game based on our own effort,” the coach said of a 1-0 loss to Pacific University. “We made it hard against a team where we should have just kept it simple.
“Our work ethic is never a problem, but sometimes our work is misguided. We never put the game together Saturday like we wanted to.”
But after studying game films Saturday night, the Missionaries were a different team Sunday against a George Fox team that Washington thought was “better and more organized” than the team the Whits lost to on Saturday.
“Sunday was a true reflection of how we want to play and how we can play,” Washington said. “We scored three of the best goals I have seen in a long, long time in terms of the teamwork that went into them.
“It’s what we’ve been talking about and working on,” he said. “And it was a little bit of a revelation for our players to see that, oh, it’s that easy. We caused them problems defending us, and that is something we need to do more of.”
Washington remains convinced that his team is better than its 3-5-2 record overall might suggest.
“If you look at our results, we haven’t been beaten by more than a goal in any game,” he said. “We’ve had trouble scoring goals at times because we’ve had trouble with our movement and getting consistent rhythm. But it was there Sunday.
“I am still excited about this team and these games coming up. “This is a good team, not a bad team, just a bad start.”
George Fox drew first blood Sunday when Luke Hammer put the Bruins on the scoreboard with a short kick following Sawyer Meek’s corner kick with 18:28 on the first-half clock. But it was all Whitman after that.
The Missionaries answered with the tying goal seven minutes later. Senior Leland Matthaeus (Bellevue, Wash.) sent a cross from the left baseline to the middle of the keeper’s box, and sophomore Sean Williams (Walla Walla) sent it inside the far post for his first score of the season.
Whitman then took the lead at the 31:10 mark when junior Reid Shaw (Seattle), trying to turn in the box but finding himself surrounded by Bruin defenders, sent the ball back out to the top of the box for senior Andrew Clark (Pasco), who immediately returned it to the left corner for his first goal.
Whitman maintained its one-goal lead for the next 41 minutes before adding some insurance in the second half.
Junior Jesse Mirman (Northridge, Calif.) started the scoring play from the top of the box with a short pass to sophomore Logan Grime (Batesburg, Calif.) on the left side of the box. Grime quickly lined it across the middle to sophomore Jose Beleche (Walla Walla) racing in from the right, and he reversed it to the left corner for his initial goal of the season at the 72:12 mark.
“Although I try to focus on the team outlook, I always give credit to individuals when credit is due,” Washington said. “And is was special for Sean and Jose, two local players, to score their first collegiate goals. And Andrew Clark hasn’t scored many goals for us, either.
“But it was the movement that allowed them to be in some places we haven’t seen them in. All of the things that we did, we did as a team.”
The Missionaries held a 14-10 advantage in shots, including 6-3 in shots on goal, and 5-3 in corner kicks. Senior Michael Bathurst (Portland, Ore.) made two saves in gaining the win for Whitman, while George Fox goalie Elliott Davis made three stops.