Soccer must settle for No. 5 seed

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Prior to Saturday’s match at Wyoming, U soccer coach Rich Manning had only seen one of his players red-carded in six years. That number shot up to three following a crazy game that saw two players ejected and one suffer a knee injury. After all was said and done, the Cowgirls sent the Utes home with a 4-1 defeat.

A win would’ve given the Utes the No. 2 seed in the Mountain West Conference tournament, but the Utes didn’t even come close in their bizarre season finale.

The journey home from Laramie, Wyo., was likely long and somber. Not only did the Utes drop to the No. 5 seed, they might have to enter the tournament without three key defensive players.

Amanda Sanchez and Melissa Crespo were sent off the pitch with red cards and won’t be available for Wednesday’s tournament game — a rematch with Wyoming. Nicole Cardon went down with a knee injury and is questionable for the tournament.

Both red cards involved plays in which the offending Ute player fouled Wyoming after the ball went over the heads of the Utah defense. The referee judged that Wyoming had a clear path to the goal in both incidents, and by rule, he had to eject Sanchez and later Crespo from the game.

“There’s still a little disappointment and shock right now,” Manning said after the devastating loss.

That’s understandable. Just a few weeks ago, the Utes were riding high on a 13-game unbeaten streak. But the season took a troubling turn when the Utes were blown out at TCU. Utah’s slump seemed like ancient history last Sunday after the Utes earned a 2-1 decision over a very good San Diego State team. But the trip to Wyoming — at least briefly — derailed the Utes’ comeback.

After a scoreless first half, the game took its first unfortunate turn when Sanchez was sent off with 35 minutes to go. Five minutes later, Wyoming took the advantage. But the Utes battled back, despite being a man down. Kiley Jones evened the score with a header after free-kick specialist Katy Reineke chipped a free kick into the box from 30 yards out. Wyoming answered back, taking a 2-1 lead. With 15 minutes to go, it was Crespo’s turn to be issued a dreaded red card. Down to nine players, the Utes gave up another two goals in the final minutes.

“The two red cards really changed the game and put us in a tough situation,” Manning said. “We fought hard but weren’t able to salvage a result.”

The Utes will have to insert backups into the lineup for Sanchez and Crespo. Both players have been key in Utah’s back line throughout the season.

As if the loss to Wyoming didn’t bring enough hardship to the Utes, there might still be one more consequence for the loss. Manning believes that the defeat cost the Utes an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Utah will need to win the conference tournament to ensure an automatic berth, something Manning and the Utes still feel is within the realm of possibility.

“We are certainly capable of winning the conference tournament,” Manning said.

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Lennie Mahler

The Utes fell 4-1 on the road against Wyoming this weekend. Melissa Crespo and Amanda Sanchez were both dealt a red card during the game.