Missionary men take 2-3-1 mark into NWC soccer play

Monday, Sep 10, 2012

WALLA WALLA — Preseason is the time to learn, adjust and build character.

And Whitman College men’s soccer coach Mike Washington believes his team has achieved its preseason goals during a six-game stretch in which the Missionaries twice forayed deep into Southern California and played just one game on their home turf.

“Preseason is a time for us to look at different players and different systems, to see how we play when we are ahead and when we are behind,” Washington said. “And we have had all of those scenarios.”

The Whits open their Northwest Conference campaign this weekend when first Willamette and then Linfield invade the Missionary campus. The Bearcats are in town Saturday for the conference curtain raiser and the Wildcats come calling Sunday. Both contests kick off at 2:30 p.m.

“We’re getting back into what we know a little bit more,” Washington said of NWC competition.

“Our league is so tough,” Washington added. “And the big thing about our league is that you play two games a weekend and you can’t afford to be dropping points, especially at home.”

The Missionaries’ preseason schedule resulted in a 2-3-1 record that includes Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

Whitman led early in that match on junior Junpei Tsuji’s (Issaquah, Wash.) unassisted goal barely three minutes into the game. The Missionaries trailed 2-1 at halftime but knotted the score at 2-2 at 65:02 when Leland Matthaeus (Redmond, Wash.) found the net, also unassisted.

Chapman’s Maurice Alfonso, who had scored his team’s first goal in the 31st minute, scored what proved to be the game-winner with less than 14 minutes to play. Nick Valazquez’s goal put Chapman on top 2-1 late in the first half.

 Whitman outshot Chapman 17-15, but the home team proved more accurate with a 10-5 edge in shots on goal. Missionary goalkeeper Michael Bathurst (Portland, Ore.) was credited with seven saves.

“Chapman was another very good team,” Washington said. “The whole idea of playing five games in California is that it was the best possible preparation for league that we could get, and I think we got it.

“Chapman was well coached and well organized but also still beatable. We had the lead, fell behind and then tied it up again. And we had a shot at the go-ahead goal and it just didn’t happen.”

With the score deadlocked at 2-2, senior Jed Jacobson (Mercer Island, Wash.) had his shot deflect off the crossbar. Walla Walla freshman Marcos Medina retrieved the ball on the rebound and put it into the net, but the goal was disallowed because Medina was ruled offside on the play.

“Just a little bit later, they hit a breakaway when we were pushing to get the winner,” Washington said. “Our goalkeeper made a save and pushed it back into play, and one of their guys pushed it back in.”

It was the third one-goal defeat so far for the Whits.

“We’re not getting blown away,” the coach said. “When we’ve lost it’s been by a single goal. We have always fought back and showed a lot of character, which is what I wanted to see.”

While Washington admits he would be happier with a couple of more wins to show for his team’s efforts, he’s not concerned with his players’ mentality going into league play.

“We could have gone down there and won five matches and that could have made us too confident,” Washington said. “Then we could lose when it really counts, and then you are in trouble. I would rather be 50-50 in preseason, and I think we are close to that.

“From here on out the games will come fast and furious. And I think our preseason schedule has prepared us for them. I’m happy.”