Whitman men eye climb up NWC ladder after weekend sweep

Monday, Oct 22, 2012

WALLA WALLA — A weekend sweep of Pacific and George Fox universities has considerably brightened Whitman College’s possibilities in the Northwest Conference men’s soccer standings.

Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Pacific, which was preceded by a nearly identical 2-0 triumph over George Fox on Saturday, wasn’t enough to move the Missionaries up the conference ladder. But the sweep has put the Whits within striking range of the two teams directly above them.

Whitman is now 4-5-2 in conference play. The Missionaries are in sixth place in the eight-team league and have left Pacific (2-9-0) and George Fox (2-9-0) foundering in their wake.

Willamette University holds down fourth place with a 5-5-1 record and Linfield is sandwiched in fifth place between the Bearcats and Whitman with a 5-6-0 mark. And it just so happens that Linfield and Willamette are the next two names on the Whitman schedule.

The Missionaries will be in McMinnville, Ore., to take on the Wildcats Saturday before moving over to Salem, Ore., to face Willamette on Sunday. Victories in both games would vault Whitman into fourth place.

“It sure makes things interesting,” Whitman coach Mike Washington said of last weekend’s developments, which saw Willamette and Linfield lose on Saturday only to rebound Sunday, with the Bearcats downing third-place University of Puget Sound (5-2-4) 1-0 and Linfield taking down second-place Pacific Lutheran University (7-3-1) 2-0.

“All of a sudden we’ve got a chance for third or fourth place,” Washington said. “UPS and PLU both lost over the weekend to the teams we are playing next, so it opens things up.

“And if we can win out, we’ll finish with a winning record,” he added, momentarily looking ahead to the team’s Nov. 3 season finale at home against first-place Whitworth (9-0-2). “That’s the real target.”

Senior Leland Matthaeus (Redmond, Wash.), who scored Whitman’s first goal and assisted on the second on Saturday, continued his strong play Sunday with a first-goal assist. Junior Junpei Tsuji (Issaquah, Wash.) scored the goal with a scissor kick at 17:21 of the first half.

“That was a quality goal,” Washington said of Tsuji’s leaping effort. “He got both feet off the ground, aligned himself with the goal and kicked it in with both feet still in the air.”

Matthaeus’ strong weekend was the result of a coaching decision to move him from a more central position on the field to the outside, Washington said.

“He’s very fast,” the coach said. “But playing him central, he got clogged down and was easier to defend. By moving him to the outside, we isolated him one-on-one with a defender and that made him stronger as a player.”

Sophomore Joe Virdon (Richland) tallied Whitman’s second goal unassisted at 27:25 of the first half. Although Virdon wasn’t credited with an assist on Saturday, his shot hit the crossbar and came directly to Matthaeus, who tapped in the score from point-blank range.

Pacific, which was outshot 12-4 in the first half, held an 8-3 advantage in the second half but could not penetrate the Whitman goal. The Whits’ Michael Bathurst, a senior form Portland, Ore., and Pacific’s Michael Summers were each credited with four saves in goal.

If anything, the Missionaries performed better Sunday than they did in Saturday’s victory, Washington assessed.

“I thought our passes were crisp and the ball movement and tempo were really, really good,” he said. “We followed up nicely after Saturday’s game. We are now accomplishing what we set out to accomplish, which is controlling the game the way we want it played and not the way others want it played.

“We are obviously disappointed in our record because we thought we had the talent to make a good run at it. Having the talent and applying it are two different things.”