Missionary Offense Rallies, Wins 4-3

News Release Date:
Saturday, October 27

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. — When Linfield College scored three goals in a span of 17 minutes to take a 3-1 lead with 19 minutes to play, Whitman College’s hopes of winning Saturday’s Northwest Conference men’s soccer match here appeared bleak at best.

Junpei Tsuji, Jr.

The Missionaries had, after all, scored as many as three goals in an entire match exactly once in their previous 15 games, that coming Sept. 23 in a 3-1 victory at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.

But with Linfield’s grass field deteriorating by the minute beneath an incessant Willamette Valley rain, Whitman’s offense caught fire.

Sophomore midfielder Joe Virdon from Richland scored back-to-back goals in a span of five minutes to tie the game at 3-3. And 10 minutes later junior midfielder Junpei Tsuji of Issaquah, Wash., punched in the winning goal from 10 yards out with just a minute and 42 seconds remaining in regulation play and the Missionaries escaped with an unlikely 4-3 victory.

“It was very exciting, and a very nice day,” said Whitman coach Mike Washington, who clearly wasn’t referring to the inclement weather conditions.

“It was a nice comeback to a game that we were ahead in much of the way,” the coach said. “It was a game that we controlled a little bit early on. But it was always going to be a high-scoring game because of the weather.”

"Poor footing is always advantageous to the offense and detrimental to the defense," Washington explained. And Linfield’s pitch was a mess that just got worse as the game progressed.

“It’s a grass field and there was lots of rain,” Washington said. “There was standing water on several areas of the field. It became very hard for defenders to keep their feet when the offensive players changed directions.”

Still, Washington wasn’t sure enough time remained on the clock when Linfield’s Domenico Del Prete scored his second goal of the game at the 71:09 mark for a 3-1 Wildcats lead.

Leland Matthaeus, Sr.

“The scary part for us was that we haven’t scored that many goals,” Washington said. “I was a little worried when we got down 3-1.”

The determined Missionaries quelled his fears.

Virdon’s first goal, assisted by senior Leland Matthaeus (Redmond, Wash.), came at 73:16 and drew Whitman within 3-2. His second, with an assist from junior Reid Shaw (Seattle), was scored with 78:24 on the clock and knotted the game at 3-3.

Then, with time running out, senior Andrew Clark (Pasco) cleared the defense, directed the ball to Tsuji, who then penetrated the Wildcats box and booted the game-winner with 88:18 showing.

Linfield never threatened over the final 1:42.

“Three goals in 15 minutes,” Washington said. “That was great desire on the part of our guys to want to win the game. It shows the character of these kids, and I am pleased for them that they got their reward for buckling down. They never gave up, which is really good.”

Junior Cooper Schumacher (Seattle) scored Whitman’s initial goal 16:39 into the game with an assist from Walla Walla sophomore Jose Beleche. The Missionaries maintained that 1-0 lead through the first half and nine minutes into the second half before Del Prete’s first goal drew Linfield even.

Danny Snelgrow, with an assist from Jake Baker, scored at 64:02 to put Linfield on top. And Del Prete’s second unassisted goal gave the Wildcats a more comfortable two-goal advantage at 71:09.

It wasn’t comfortable enough.

Whitman outshot Linfield 21-13 and held a 9-5 advantage in shots on goal. Linfield goalkeeper Grant Loriaux was credited with five saves while Whitman’s Michael Bathurst, a senior from Portland, Ore., stopped a pair on Linfield direct shots.

Whitman evened its NWC record at 5-5-2 and improved to 7-8-3 overall going into a Sunday game at Willamette, where more rain is in the forecast.

“We will be playing on turf at Willamette,” Washington said. “That will be better than Linfield, where the field was nearly unplayable.”

With Sunday’s match at Willamette and next Saturday’s home match against first-place Whitworth University all that remains on Whitman’s 2012 schedule, a winning record is still within the Whits’ reach.

“That’s what we are talking about and what we are trying to do,” Washington said. 

“Whitworth lost at Willamette Saturday and still has to win one more, or tie twice, to wrap up the league championship. And Whitworth plays at Linfield Sunday, so that could be interesting.

“Everything is still up in the air,” Washington added. “Could we finish third? Possibly. But fourth is a more realistic goal, and that’s what is best to shoot for. That and a winning record.”