Utes to face Falcons in a pivotal MWC road game

By and

Battered, bruised and recently beaten, the U soccer team (7-4-2) plays its first MWC road game today against Air Force (3-9-1) at 7 p.m. The Utes opened their conference schedule last weekend with a loss to UNLV and a tie with San Diego State.

“We were unable to put a complete game together and, unfortunately, couldn’t find the net,” U head coach Rich Manning said. “We had a tough couple of weeks and had some tired legs out there. We put a good week of practice in and look forward to getting back on track at Air Force.”

The Utes are looking to bounce back from the injuries and losses that have significantly shaken the team since their upset victory over UCLA, and the Falcons are just the opponent the Utes need to get back on track.

The U has won all five meetings against Air Force, including two in Colorado Springs, and last season the Utes beat the Falcons 4-0 at Ute Field. Air Force has shown no signs of climbing out of their perennial cellar position in the MWC. The Falcons opened their conference schedule with a 1-0 home loss to Wyoming last Friday and a 2-1 road loss to New Mexico last Sunday.

Junior midfielder Meredith Benson is the Falcons’ leading scorer with three goals, and the team’s leading helper is sophomore forward Brittney Perkowski, who has three assists to compliment her two goals.

Unlike the Utes’ last two conference opponents, who played a heavily defensive style, Air Force opens the game up by taking frequent offensive risks. This will test both the Ute offense and defense and will provide them with an idea of where they stand at this point in the season. After losing two defenders, including their best, Melissa Wayman, the Utes have had to move their best midfielder back to defender and this has created a lot of questions. Manning was pleased with the effort of his defense against UNLV and San Diego State, but neither team put forth a great offensive effort. The Air Force attack will test the Ute defense frequently because of their aggressive style of play.

“Air Force has been an enjoyable game in the past because they play hard,” he said. “They play with an attacking style and have some skillful players. It will be a game played at both ends of the field.”

However, this style of play also leads to more opportunities for the Ute attack, because it gives them more space to work with. Falcon goalkeeper Jennifer Drew has a 1.52 goals-against-average, and opponents have scored 24 goals against the Falcons in 13 games.

The Utes, however, are currently miring in a three-game scoring drought.

Despite the lack of production, Manning is pleased with how the team has been playing.

“We are disappointed with our start to Mountain West Conference play. However, we did some nice things in both games last week,” Manning said. “Against UNLV, we played with some good rhythm and created excellent chances, but were unable to convert. Against San Diego State, we played very hard and defended well.”

This is a pivotal game for the Utes, who need to re-establish themselves quickly if they hope to make the NCAA tournament, which is always one of their main goals.

The Utes will have to finish strong in conference play or win the conference tournament to have a winning case for the selection committee. A win against Air Force would be the first step.

[email protected]