Knockout blow

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

After a stellar season that saw several school records fall, the dream is finally over for the Utah women’s soccer team.

As the time ran out at the end of Saturday night’s 3-0 loss to Portland in the second round of the NCAA tournament, a growing uneasiness spread through the crowd at Ute Field. That the team’s season would end eventually was a given, but no one wanted to see the Utes go out on such a low note.

“They’re a better team than this,” said one fan. “I hope this isn’t how people decide to remember them.”

The Utes deserved better, especially considering the way they played during the game’s first 45 minutes. In a physical, well-played half, the Utes nearly matched the Pilots blow for blow, shutting them out and creating a handful of scoring opportunities of their own.

Utah’s back line, which had been manhandled by lowly Idaho State just two nights earlier, kept a muzzle on the Pilots’ forwards for the entire first period.

“In the first half I was happy that the game was a little bit choppy,” U head coach Rich Manning said. “I thought my team would gain confidence as the game wore on.”

Utah’s momentum didn’t last, however, and a goal scored by Portland’s Lisa Sari off a corner kick in the 48th minute quickly turned the game in the Pilots’ favor. Sari placed her header perfectly in the upper corner, leaving Utah keeper Ashley Mason without a chance of stopping it.

“I don’t think that (goal) was a result of us playing badly,” Manning said. “It was just a beautiful set piece. Maybe that got us on our heels a little bit or lifted their spirits.”

The Pilots’ first score left the Utes noticeably deflated, and it wasn’t long before Utah found itself down 2-0. Portland’s Rachel Rapinoe doubled the Pilots’ lead with a rocket into the upper corner that was set up by a well-executed counterattack.

“In general, I thought we just weren’t able to hold the ball well enough, so we were giving it away and had to defend,” Manning said. “I think we got a few people worn out. The second goal I felt was a product of a couple people being tired. Just some late tackles and poor decisions, but a wonderful finish there too.”

As the Utes became increasingly frustrated, their chances of evening up the score grew progressively slimmer. Utah’s attack struggled as passes arrived either a split second too early or a half step too late.

Portland, meanwhile, fired on all cylinders for the entire second period. Rapinoe struck again in the 70th minute, all but assuring the Pilots’ appearance in the third round of the tourney.

“As the game wore on, we got better and better chances,” Portland head coach Garrett Smith said. “The patience in the final third for us showed, and then the talent came out. It was a world class finish.”

Tyler Cobb

Hailey Marsh battles Portland’s Megan Sweeney for possession of the ball Saturday in the second round of the NCAA playoffs at Ute Field. The Utes lost 3-0.