Oct. 17, 2006
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - This Thursday night, for the entire national television audience to see on Fox Soccer Channel, the two juggernauts of women's soccer, the two teams that have captured three of the last five national championships, will square off in their annual donnybrook as the No. 4 Santa Clara Broncos host the No. 5 Portland Pilots at Buck Shaw Stadium in an 8 p.m. kickoff.
Tickets for the showdown are available by calling (408) 554-4660 or by clicking here. The first 500 fans to enter Buck Shaw Stadium this Thursday night will also receive a free Santa Clara Broncos Seat Cushion presented by Pepsi.
No. 4 Santa Clara (11-3-1, 1-1-1 WCC) heads into Thursday night's clash looking to vault back to the top of the West Coast Conference standings, currently sitting fourth with four points, while No. 5 Portland (12-2-2, 2-0-1 WCC) shares the conference lead with Pepperdine at seven points. Since 1992, the first year that the WCC crowned a women's soccer champion, the winner of the annual Santa Clara-Portland match went on to capture the WCC title.
"This, to us on our level, is comparable to the feeling NFL players get when getting to play on `Monday Night Football,'" said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith on the nationally-televised battle. "It increases the intensity and excitement about the game. First of all you are playing the defending national champions and second of all you're playing your biggest conference rival."
"The best soccer teams in the world play on Fox Soccer Channel, so as I said to our team, that day's lineup on TV is probably going to be Barcelona FC, Manchester United, AC Milan, then Santa Clara Women's Soccer," Smith continued. "The atmosphere is going to be absolutely electric and the players couldn't be anymore excited about the match."
The Broncos hold a 13-10-2 edge over the Pilots in the all-time series, which dates back to 1984, and a 4-2-1 mark against the Pilots since the 2002 season. 10 times the decision has been decided by a single goal, and on eight occasions the match between the two schools has gone into overtime, most notably in the Round of 16 of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. That day, the teams played to a scoreless draw for 110 minutes before the Broncos advanced 4-2 on penalty kicks at Portland.
"We're very evenly matched, and probably since 2000, the games have been tight, and a lot have gone to overtime," Smith noted. "It's a wonderful rivalry, both teams play a similar style, and I'm proud that we have a winning record against the Pilots because that's one of the programs in the country that we have complete respect for."
Since Santa Clara's national title run in 2001, which started the current stretch of three titles in the last five years between the two clubs, the schools have met twice in the NCAA Tournament. Besides the scoreless tie in 2003, the two teams met the previous year in the national final in Austin, Texas, in which the Pilots and Broncos battled to a 1-1 draw through regulation before Portland's Christine Sinclair scored the winning goal at the 3:27 mark of the second overtime.
"We'd probably give all of the wins we have against Portland back for that 2002 National Championship game as a win in our books," Smith added about the All-WCC final.
This year, the rivals will face off with new faces leading each respective side. Junior forward Meagan Snell (second in the WCC with 10 goals and 22 points) and freshman forward Kiki Bosio (second in the WCC with eight assists) take up the mantle left by such Santa Clara legends as Mandy Clemens, Aly Wagner, and Leslie Osborne of leading the Bronco attack into the 2006 battle against the Pilots, who, in the absence of injured WCC assists leader Megan Rapinoe, counter with the conference's leading scorer in freshman forward Michelle Enyeart (13 goals, 32 points) to uphold the legacy of past Pilot stars Tiffany Milbrett, Shannon MacMillan, and Christine Sinclair.
In net, Santa Clara keeper Meagan McCray represents the WCC's best, sitting atop the conference leaders with seven shutouts and a 0.52 goals-against average. Right behind her is Portland's Cori Alexander, whose 0.54 goals-against is a close second, while her four shutouts are tied for fourth in the conference rankings.
"The difference between this match and going into Portland matches in the past is that we'd talk about how to shut down a Christine Sinclair, or how to limit the touches of Angie Woznuk, but now from our perspective, our girls haven't seen Michelle Enyeart play, for example, and there's a little less certainty about how we're going into the game," Smith said of the new faces and stars in the rivalry. "It will be interesting to see how this thing unfolds, and I'm sure that the Portland team is looking at Meagan Snell and her performances this season in a certain way."
Following Thursday night's match, the Broncos will host the Gonzaga Bulldogs (8-6-1, 2-1-0 WCC) at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Buck Shaw Stadium.