Monday, September 28, 2015

Whitworth men top Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran to lead NWC

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In the midst of the early stages of the conference campaign, the Whitworth men faced a tough weekend at home playing host to the two other sides in the Northwest Conference that were also 2-0-0 after the first week of play. The Pirates dominated the contest Saturday in a 2-0 victory over Puget Sound and then blanked Pacific Lutheran in a tight 1-0 match Sunday against the Lutes, who were picked to finish second behind the Bucs by the conference coaches.


Whitworth controlled the contest from the opening whistle against the Loggers and finished the day with a 14-1 advantage in shots, even after a second half in which a multitude of bench players were inserted.

Seven minutes into the match Karl Muelheims (Spokane, WA) unleashed a shot 20 yards in front of the right post that narrowly missed the target.

In the 14th minute of the contest Sam Engle got the ball on the left side and ripped a chest-high effort from about 25 yards that curled through a sea of players inside the area toward the far post directly at Muelheims, who deftly contorted himself to allow the ball to zip by him and into the back of the net.

"I think the first goal is one of our best goals," said Whitworth Head Coach Morgan Cathey. "I am excited to see how we got into that position, because I think the build up was really good and to get that many players in and around the box that have the creativity that we have in this team, I thought that goal was something special.

"It was coming - we played really, really well in the first 20 minutes. I just couldn't believe that our guys came out with that much freedom. That's something that we have been really talking about is can we play with that much freedom and confidence; and for them to come out today and do it, I was really excited. They can play with anybody, especially if they can impose the game the way they did the first half - I thought it was great."

Five minutes later Samual Jarrett nearly doubled the lead when a corner was knocked out of the box, but the Australian sent it back in with a shot from the right corner of the area that was just off the mark.

In the 26th minute the Pirates pushed the lead to two when a nice series of play up the right side finished with Aaron Yanagi connecting with Jonah Snyder, who scored on a shot from the right edge of the box.

With nine minutes left in the half the hosts nearly made it three when a ball that headed into the area came to Alfredo Omelas 13 yards out, but he mishit the ball as he attempted to volley it as it dropped.

Eleven players saw action beyond the starters in the match as numerous players deep on the bench came into the match in the second half. The Pirates control of the match dropped off slightly, but the visitors were still unable to get past the defense as Timmy Costa saw no shots in the period and finished his clean sheet with just the one save.

"I think, obviously, it's a team that their strength is they defend zonally and how they counter-attack; and they can do that well. But our strength is how we can keep the ball," Cathey said in comparing the two sides and Whitworth's control of the ball. "So even if it's our last player, I think we can go out in a game like that and still keep the ball. I think there were a couple things we should have done better towards the end of the second half. I think we started giving the ball away when we had better options, but great experience for our guys."

At the offensive end, Snyder nearly created a scoring opportunity in the 57th minute when he was fed up the left edge of the box, but the play unravelled at the end line. A minute later Eric Espinoza fired a shot from 24 yards just over the goal.

The Loggers would eventually get one dangerous chance with about four minutes left when a ball was delivered across the six, creating some anxious moments before it was cleared away.


Facing a fellow 3-0-0 side, Sunday's match-up with the Lutes, coming off a 2-0 victory at Whitman, was a showdown for sole possession of first in the conference.

It was a back-and-forth affair with the visitors presenting some dynamic in the attack and some challenges for the Pirates in breaking them down.

"Today, they didn't have their star player (Eddie Na) playing, and I think they adjusted really well even with him not in the game to really throw some numbers at us in the build-up, and it really unbalanced us," said Cathey. "We didn't know how we could really break their pressure, and I think we became very robotic in those things and we've got to be more intelligent, more creative about how we break their pressure, which is something that is great because now we get to work on it.

"Because, if anybody scouted the game today, they'll know this is what they can do that unbalances us. That was hard. So, it's good for our guys to be challenged in that way. But more than that, to come through shining and get the result from an early goal."

Before the Lutes could unbalance the Pirates, the Bucs had already grabbed the all-important opening and ultimately deciding goal just under three minutes into the match. A throw-in from the left side was quickly switched squarely through the middle of the pitch to the right side where Yanagi took it and drove straight forward toward the top of the box, dishing to Engle. On the run, the striker received the ball and fired a tough-angle shot past the keeper for his second of the weekend and fifth of the year.

"I thought the only goal today we had was really, really well done - great run from Sam and a great ball through from Aaron; and even better finish. I thought we maybe didn't necessarily deserve some of the things we got today. I thought we finished our early chance I think they outshot us in the first half."

The Pirates, though, statistically did have the advantage in shots 9-7 in the half and 14-11 in the game, but the visitors had plenty of opportunities to tie things up.

About nine minutes into the match a turnover led to Suwilanji Silozi driving to goal and shooting from the outer right corner of the six. Costa did well to knock it away at the near post for a corner.

Whitworth nearly doubled the lead with a pair of chances midway through the half. A cross from the right side found Snyder inside the six at the far post, but his header went over in the 17th minute.

Eight minutes later a low cross from Engle from deep on the left six was sent into the six, but Tyler Pangia put his shot over the goal.

With about eight minutes remaining in the half, the Lutes nearly tied the match up on a free kick opportunity from about 40 yards out on the right side. The ball was sent into the box, where Troy-Mikal Oliger chested the ball and volleyed a shot with pace from about 10 yards out in front of the left post. Costa made a nice save, popping the ball up into the air. He quickly reacted to leap and tip the rebound over the bar as it threatened to drop into the goal.

The visitors nearly tied it up again three minutes into the second half when Silozi drove to goal from about 30 yards out with a half-step advantage on David Starkovich. The Pirate midfielder, however, stuck with him and as they approached goal he dove in with a perfect tackle 13 yards out that knocked the ball away.

In the 70th minute a ball chest-high across from the left gave the Lutes another chance to pull even, but Bennett Bugbee's attempt to send the ball to goal directly off his torso from about nine yards went directly to Costa, who made four saves for the shutout.

In the 75th minute Snyder fired a shot from about 16 yards nearly doubled the Pirates lead, but goalkeeper Mike Arguello, parried it over. Two minutes later Eric Espinoza struck a shot from about 26 yards that snuck by a few players in the area only to hit the left post.

The missed opportunities left the door open for a late equalizer from PLU, which had a chance in the final seconds of the contest. A dangerous ball in the box was cleared away by Engle after the Lutes were unable to get a shot off.

"It was a battle, and sometimes you gotta come through those battles and come through shining. Hopefully, those refining fires will make us better throughout the year instead of us taking what happened today and think that 'oh it will be fine, we got the win'. Hopefully our guys will learn from that and really try to be the best they can be throughout this week."

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