NCAA Soccer – The First XI for October 26, 2013 – (18) Portland vs (27) BYU

(18) Portland vs (27) BYU – 10:00 PM

Portland will look to continue their run towards a WCC title when they host and hope to take down title rivals BYU on Saturday night at Merlo. The Pilots come into this one having won ten in a row, though BYU will be the highest ranked club Portland’s faced since they were beaten at home by Wake Forest all the way back at the beginning of September. The Pilots have score multiple goals in all but one of those games while also having kept four clean sheets in the past six and having not conceded multiple goals in six as well. The win over San Diego on Thursday night was more scrappy than anything else, with Ellen Parker and Noelle LaPrevotte netting each side of half-time to see the Pilots through. Forward duo Danica Evans and Micaela Capelle finished with just three combined shots on goal, though Portland’s role players stepping up effectively again saved the day against the Toreros. It’s safe to say that Portland’s going to face more of a test down the stretch these final few weeks though, as the club is yet to face its biggest title rivals this season in the form of BYU and Santa Clara. The Pilots are probably still stinging a bit from Saturday’s opponent coming to Merlo Field and winning last season en route to the league title. While the Cougars have solidified their NCAA Tournament position, they’ll still be looking for a marquee win to boost their national seed credentials, meaning Portland’s going to have to up their game coming into this one. The back half of UP’s non-conference slate, combined with the godawful bottom half of the WCC this year means the Pilots are still struggling for a foothold in the race to a national seed. A win here would certainly help their case.

Sometimes, sheer competence can be enough to push you over the line, and BYU’s won five of six, while many potential bubble rivals have crumbled, meaning the Cougars are in great shape for an at-large bid going down the stretch. The defending league champs would probably like to aim for a national seed and to retain their WCC crown, but that’s going to take four wins from four in the final weeks of the season in all likelihood. Given BYU’s form in the second half of the season though, you wouldn’t rule it out, especially with the last three back in Provo against some of the league’s lesser sides. That puts a lot of emphasis on Saturday night’s showdown in Portland, where BYU will try to pull off the rare feat of beating the Pilots in back-to-back meetings at Merlo after last year’s 2-1 win. The defense has been impenetrable against league foes as of late, conceding just two goals in the five WCC matches they’ve played thus far. Of course, those two did come on the road against Santa Clara, hinting at some vulnerability against top teams for this Cougar defense. That defense also did concede in five in a row at one point earlier in the year, showing the somewhat fickle nature of that rearguard. The offense is what it is, not quite explosive but generally good enough to get the job done in league play this year. After being shutout in four of five during a dire non-conference stretch, the Cougars have now scored in six straight, including three with multiple goals, though they haven’t scored more than two goals since the stunning comeback against Oklahoma in September. BYU struggled to put away Gonzaga on Thursday but did see Marissa Nimmer’s early goal stand up in the end. With two veteran, canny bosses and no shortage of options in attack for both sides, this could be one of the weekend’s most intriguing showdowns.

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