October 19, 2005

No. 5 Broncos Head For Showdown With No. 2 Portland

Oct. 19, 2005

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Although there are eight women's soccer programs in the West Coast Conference, every WCC title has been won or shared by only two of those schools. Those two very same teams' paths intersect once again this Friday night at 7 p.m. as the No. 5 Santa Clara Broncos (13-2-1, 3-0-0 WCC) and the No. 2 Portland Pilots (14-0-1, 2-0-1 WCC) clash in front of a packed house at Harry A. Merlo Field in Portland.

Never mind the fact that the two teams are annual guests at the NCAA Tournament, or that the Broncos and Pilots have each claimed a national title in the last four years. Whether it's the NCAA Championship match or their annual WCC tilt, the two squads never disappoint when it comes to providing the drama and suspense one would expect from two elite squads.

"[Friday's] game has all the elements of a fantastic game: sold-out crowd, beautiful stadium, television, and two top-five teams that have a wonderful history in terms of a rivalry," said head coach Jerry Smith, who went on to explain the importance of matches such as Friday night's which simulate a playoff of Final Four atmosphere for the team. "In our conference, often times the Portland game enables us to simulate a playoff environment, and if we're going to win NCAA playoff games we're going to have to play well in games like Friday. We talked as a team about what a great opportunity Friday will be to see how we're going to measure up to the pressure and the atmosphere that's going to exist at the College Cup."

With a sold-out crowd expected at 5,000-seat Merlo Field, the Broncos will certainly have the chance not only to gauge their performance in a tension-packed match in a foreign environment but also to knock off another highly-regarded team this season. Like then-No. 1 Notre Dame, who the Broncos defeated 2-1 on September 9, the second-ranked Pilots feature an explosive offense, this one led by Canadian National Team member Christine Sinclair, who is currently tops in the NCAA with 27 goals and 61 points in 15 games.

Santa Clara's back line, led by the central defense duo of junior Lauren Zealear and freshman Danielle Potts, is more than capable of limiting the Pilot attack. Along with co-captains Micaela Esquivel and Marian Dalmy, and the versatile Catherine Sigler on the wings, the Bronco defense has not allowed a goal in the last 516:01 of action. For her part in this effort Zealear earned a spot on Top Drawer Soccer's National Team of the Week, her second such honor this season.

Not to be overlooked in this defensive dominance is the play of Preseason All-American goalkeeper Julie Ryder. Her sixth shutout of the season last Friday against Saint Mary's brings Ryder's career tally to 27, tying her for third in the school record books with Wendy Johanson ('90). Ryder also carries a 0.45 goals-against average, good for second in the WCC, and is unbeaten (2-0-1) in three career starts against the Pilots.

"The first thing to stopping any great attacking team is to not give away the ball," Smith commented. "In our last several matches, a big reason why we've had shutouts is because our team's been able to keep the ball better. Julie has played well for us against Portland and we know that we'll need her to make some saves in the game Friday night."

On the offensive side of things, the ubiquitous Jordan Angeli will lead the Santa Clara attack against a Portland defense which has allowed only five goals all season. Angeli leads the Broncos and is second in the WCC with ten goals, and along with Tina Estrada and Meagan Snell will seek to test Pilots keeper Cori Alexander.

In the past four years the two schools have met six times, with all of those meetings being decided by less than a goal and three of them going at least to double-overtime. The Broncos have a 4-1-1 edge in those tightly-contested matches over the Pilots. Two of those matches have come in the NCAA Tournament, in 2002 the Pilots prevailed 2-1 in double-overtime in the NCAA Championship match, while in 2003 Santa Clara earned a measure of revenge by taking the conference meeting 2-1 in double-overtime before eliminating Portland in the third round of the NCAA Tournament by winning 4-2 on penalty kicks after the two squads played 110 minutes of scoreless soccer.

"I think it is two pretty evenly-matched teams and in that type of game everything you do has to be very good," added Smith. "It will be a tight game, the score will be relatively low, so everything matters: limiting your mistakes, turning the ball over. It's all the little details that are going to make a difference in the game."

Following Friday night's showdown in Portland the Broncos will travel to Spokane to conclude their Pacific Northwest trip against No. 22 Gonzaga Sunday at noon. The Bulldogs (10-3-2, 1-1-1 WCC) earned their first-ever national ranking earlier this week as they debuted at No. 22 in the Soccer America poll. Guided by former Broncos standout Shannon (Douglas) Stiles ('93), Gonzaga is coming off of a weekend which saw them upset then-No. 10 Pepperdine and play to a scoreless draw against Loyola Marymount behind the efforts of WCC Player of the Week Ashley Haugen. A senior goalkeeper, Haugen posted two saves against the Waves before making five against the Lions to maintain the tie.

Friday's match will be televised on tape-delay Monday, October 24 at 7 p.m. Live stats will be available on www.santaclarabroncos.com against the Pilots, and fans may follow Sunday's action beginning at noon on Gametracker.