U soccer team hits the road in search of MWC supremacy

The U soccer team (9-4-2) is in New Mexico today, where the Utes will play game one of a two-game road trip that starts in Albuquerque and ends in Laramie, Wyo.

The two games, against the Lobos (5-8-0) and the Cowgirls (7-5-4), will essentially define this season for the Utes and their hopes of a second straight MWC regular season title ride on the outcomes.

“Our focus is to go out and win both games of this road trip, and see where the conference results are after this weekend,” U head coach Rich Manning said. “We only have six games in our conference and we already took two dings, so we’re going to need some help to win the regular-season conference title.”

After losing to UNLV in their conference opener and tying the Aztecs in their second MWC game, the Utes got off to a tough start. They’ll need help from other conference teams, and victories this weekend to repeat as champs. But a long trip and two good teams stand in their way.

“This is as challenging a road trip as I’ve been a part of in my three seasons,” Manning said. “The travel is brutal and the weather is supposed to be bad in both cities, so this will be a good character builder.”

The forecast for today in New Mexico calls for high winds, and either snow or rain will meet the Utes in Laramie on Saturday.

The Utes will also have to contend with the Lobos and Cowgirls, who have looked good at times this season, especially on their home fields.

“New Mexico is very organized, good on defense with good goalkeeping,” Manning said. “[The Lobos] are a lot like UNLV and San Diego State. Odds are we’re going to have the ball a lot and the question is: Are we going to be able to stick one or two into the net?”

New Mexico has allowed 19 goals in 13 games this season, but has been stingy at home where it has allowed only six goals. The Utes have had trouble this season scoring on teams that crowd the box with nine defenders and a keeper, and need to buck that trend if they hope to succeed at all this weekend.

“It’s almost like Groundhog Day with some of the teams in this conference,” Manning said. “Wyoming has a good defense and is well-organized. They haven’t given up a lot of goals. We’ll have the ball a lot, we’ll have the territory, and we’ll see if we can score.”

Wyoming has allowed 17 goals in the year, three in MWC play, and like the Lobos, has a 1-2 mark in conference games.

“The difference between New Mexico and Wyoming is that Wyoming has a couple of forwards that are more individually talented then New Mexico’s forwards,” Manning said.

Junior forward Mercy Adetoye has scored five times this year and has added five assists to lead the team in that category. Senior forward Mari Gomes has seven goals on the season and also has two assists, making her the team’s leading point getter as well as the team’s leading scorer.

Wyoming has never beaten the Utes in 10 tries, but things have changed in Laramie over the past two seasons.

“The thing about Wyoming that’s new in the past couple of years is that they have gained a lot of confidence as a program,” Manning said.

The confidence they gained is primarily due to their recent MWC success. Prior to last season, the Cowgirls never won more than one conference game in a season. But last year, they came into Salt Lake City at 4-0 in MWC play before losing to the Utes and BYU.

Manning figures this will give the Cowgirls added motivation, but he also thinks the Utes will gain from it.

“When someone hasn’t beat you, and then they lose to you again, it can be very demoralizing for that team and very positive for the winning team,” Manning said.

The Utes begin play this weekend in fourth place in the MWC, but could be tied for first by Sunday if they win both games and get help.

“It’s very important for us to go out and win both games this weekend,” Manning said. “We need to put ourselves in position for the BYU game and just hope everything else works out for us.”

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