In a breakout season, the Washington men’s soccer team is gunning for more breakthroughs.
Never has a Washington men’s team reached the round of eight in an NCAA soccer tournament. That changes if the Huskies, 15-1-4 and the tournament’s No. 2 seed, defeat unseeded Stanford (10-6-4) Sunday in a 5 p.m. third-round match at Husky Soccer Stadium.
A win would give the Washington men’s program, marking its 50th anniversary, back-to-back postseason wins for the first time in 21 tournament appearances.
The Huskies are certainly trending up. UW won its first conference title since 2000, its roster includes three Pac-12 first-team honorees (senior defender Taylor Peay, junior forward and Mount Rainier High grad Darwin Jones, and midfielder Cristian Roldan, the Pac-12 freshman of the year), and third-year coach Jamie Clark is conference coach of the year.
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The Huskies started the year ranked 23rd in two preseason polls. As the team’s ranking rose throughout the season, so did its confidence.
“There’s a belief within our team, and I think that will carry on all the way to the final four,” sophomore forward Josh Heard said last Sunday after scoring a goal and assisting on two others in UW’s 4-2 second-round win over Seattle University (UW had a first-round bye).
Heard laughed when asked if he was predicting a final four appearance for UW.
“National title,” he said.
With its only defeat coming on Oct. 27 in a 2-1 road loss to top-seeded UCLA and a fleet, effective offense (fourth nationally in scoring with 2.2 goals per game), Washington is entitled to some swagger. Is Clark OK with the notion UW has a target on its back?
“Yeah, it’s fun,” he said. “Guys have earned it. If you can play comfortably and confidently with it, it can go a long way. In the back of other teams’ minds, they do actually fear you and do think you’re good. Whether that’s the truth or not, there’s something to the mentality and the psyche of believing you’re going to win.”
Clark credits some of that confidence to his players’ rapid development.
“Mason Robertson (a freshman forward who has scored in UW’s last four games) has become one of the best target forwards in the country,” he said. “At the beginning of the year he was still a pup, getting his feet wet.”
And with the Huskies’ increasing skill on the field came higher expectations, even for a team that set a solid bar at the beginning of the season.
“At the beginning of the year we thought we could be a top-10 team,” Clark said, “but we didn’t think we were going to be the No. 2 seed.”
Sunday’s game will be streamed live on Pac-12.com.
• UW defeated Stanford in two regular-season meetings, 3-1 at Stanford on Oct. 3 and 2-0 at home Nov. 8. Clark is a 1999 Stanford grad. The unseeded Cardinal won a first-round match Nov. 21 on penalty kicks at home against Loyola Marymount, then defeated 15th-seeded Cal State Northridge 1-0 on the road last Sunday.
• Stanford keeper Drew Hutchins enters the match as the national player of the week. Against Loyola, he left the goal to join a last-minute offensive rush and wound up assisting on the game-tying goal in the 90th minute. After 20 minutes of overtime, he scored what became Stanford’s decisive PK, then returned to the net and made a match-ending save on Loyola’s final attempt.
• Stanford sophomore Aaron Kovar, a Garfield grad, scored the Cardinal’s game-winning goal in the 92nd minute of a 2-1 upset of fifth-ranked California on Nov. 13.
• Washington is 9-0-2 at home this season. If UW wins Sunday, it will host a quarterfinal match Dec. 7 and face either No. 7 New Mexico or unseeded Penn State. The final four, called the College Cup, is set for Philadelphia on Dec. 13 and 15.