Fired up after halftime, Portland Pilots finish off UC Riverside, advance to 2nd round of NCAA men’s soccer tournament

Nick Carlin-Voigt doesn’t believe it was his return to the sideline that sparked the University of Portland men’s soccer team in the second half on Thursday. The Pilots have been a second-half team all year, he noted, plus the sub-40 degree temperatures made it difficult to get warmed up.

Whatever the reason, Portland came out of halftime aggressive in its matchup against UC Riverside in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It didn’t take long to pay off.

In the 47th minute, UP leading scorer Brandon Cambridge drew a foul. While the ensuing free kick sailed wide of the net, the Pilots quickly regained possession when senior Greg Tracey intercepted a Highlanders pass. Tracey found Jacob Babalai, and he delivered a perfect pass through the legs of a Highlander defender. The ball hit Gurman Sangha just outside of the goal area, and Sangha coolly poked the ball into the back of the net.

The team’s second goal of the match gave the Pilots the cushion they needed in a 2-1 victory. The win moves them to the round of 32, where they will face No. 8 seed Oregon State on Sunday in Corvallis.

Carlin-Voigt called Sangha’s goal “huge,” as it allowed him to prioritize defense for much of the second half.

“It was a rush of emotions,” Sangha said. “I was like, oh, we’re 2-0 up. It gave the team more confidence, and we finished it off well.”

UP had to overcome some unusual circumstances to win a postseason contest for the second year in a row. The Pilots didn’t have Carlin-Voigt on the sideline for the first 45 minutes of the match. The seventh-year head coach served a suspension due to what a Portland administrator termed “administrative sanctions by the NCAA.”

The players said it was strange not to have their coach present, especially for an NCAA Tournament match. But Babalai said the coaching staff prepared the team well and the veteran squad had no trouble leading itself.

“We’ve had him for the whole time I’ve been here, kind of weird not having him,” Babalai said. “But everyone just came together. We knew what we had to do, so in the end it didn’t change anything.”

It sure looked like business as usual for the Pilots offense, which netted its most goals during the regular season since 1999. Although UC Riverside entered Thursday having surrendered just two goals across its recent four-game winning streak, the Pilots found plenty of room to attack.

After getting two shots on goal in the first 10 minutes, UP finally got a ball past Highlanders goalkeeper Carlos Gonzalez in the 17th minute.

Senior Carlos Nava lofted a free kick into the box that Babalai headed into the back of the net. Carlin-Voigt said it was good to see his team execute a set piece, opportunities that he said are particularly important during the postseason.

“Nava played a great ball straight on my head,” Babalai said, “and I had the easy part.”

The Pilots got five total shots on goal during the first half, compared with just one for UC Riverside, but they went to the locker room with a one-goal lead. Sangha said the team felt like the gap should have been larger. That led to a fiery halftime speech.

“The coaches in the halftime talk really riled us up,” he said, “and we were more energetic coming in because of the talk, and we knew what it took.”

After building a lead with its offense, UP held onto the victory thanks to its goalkeeper.

The Highlanders finally found some openings in the Pilots’ defense late in the match. After getting just two shots on goal in the game’s first 69 minutes, they had four in the final 21.

George Tasouris, UP’s fifth-year senior and team captain, came through with a few dazzling saves. His best came in the 70th minute, when he laid out to stop a low bullet from Christian Ceja with his right hand.

Tasouris finished the match with five saves. Aleksander Vukovic finally slipped a ball past him in the 89th minute, but by that point it was too late for the Highlanders to overcome their two-goal deficit.

“If there’s a better goalkeeper in the country, I haven’t seen him,” Carlin-Voigt said of Tasouris, who was named Co-Goalkeeper of the Year in the WCC. “I’d take that guy to battle every day. He’s my captain, and he means so much to me.”

Portland Pilots players celebrate after they beat UC Riverside 2-1 in a first-round NCAA men's soccer tournament match at Merlo Field in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Portland Pilots players celebrate after they beat UC Riverside 2-1 in a first-round NCAA men’s soccer tournament match at Merlo Field in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.Evan Luecke/University of Portland Athletics

After the match, Carlin-Voigt and his team stopped by the “Clive’s Army” student section to thank their supporters, several of whom went shirtless despite the frigid weather.

Talk quickly shifted to the Pilots’ next test. Carlin-Voigt beseeched the students to make the drive to Corvallis on Sunday as UP looks to avenge a 3-2 loss to Oregon State on Oct. 14.

As if there wasn’t enough on the line with UP trying to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2009, they’ll face the team both Babalai and Carlin-Voigt called “our in-state rival.” Sangha said the Pilots have “a chip on our shoulders” from last month’s loss.

This time, Carlin-Voigt wants to make sure his team doesn’t save its energy for the second half.

“They’re a good program, but so are we,” Carlin-Voigt said of Oregon State. “And they got the better of us in the first half, and we were better in the second half. … So we got to go recover. We’re playing short rest, which is why I really wanted that bye, but we’ll get the guys turned around. We’ll enjoy it tonight and then we’ll start getting prepared tomorrow.”

— Mitchell Forde for The Oregonian/OregonLive

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Lazy Cork
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart