The Washington men’s soccer team has already clinched the best finish in the program’s 50-year history. Now, the Huskies are out to prove they are the best team in the nation.
Washington, the No. 2 overall seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, is one win from a trip to the College Cup (soccer’s version of the Final Four) in Philadelphia. The Pac-12 champion Huskies (16-1-4) host No. 7 seed New Mexico (13-5-2) on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
Although they last met five years ago, New Mexico and Washington are very familiar with one another. When New Mexico finished as national runner-up in 2005, Jamie Clark was an assistant and Jeff Rowland an All-American forward for the Lobos. Rowland is now an assistant under Clark at Washington.
Clark has guided the Huskies to an undefeated record at home this season despite using a lineup laden with freshmen and transfers. New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein, who provided Clark his first coaching gig in 2002, commended the recruiting UW did in the past year.
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“I think they have 11 potential professional players on the field,” Fishbein said. “A lot of people consider them to be one of the best teams in the past 10 years.”
UW is statistically the best defensive unit in the Pac-12 for a third straight season, but an array of new attacking players was the difference this year as Washington earned its first conference title since 2000.
The Sounders FC development academy is where Clark found many of his recruits, including junior-college transfer Darwin Jones, who spent time training with the Sounders’ first team last year. Jones and freshman Cristian Roldan lead the Huskies in scoring with seven goals apiece.
Washington scored the most goals of any Pac-12 team during the regular season, and defender Michael Harris had a hand in many of them — literally. The senior’s signature flip throw-in has led to 10 of Washington’s 45 goals this year.
Washington could have trouble creating chances against New Mexico, which shut out both of its first two NCAA tournament foes. The Lobos, led by 6-foot-3 senior defender Kyle Venter, give up less than one goal per game on average.
Said Rowland: “They’re the No. 7 seed for a reason.”