Get ready College Cup, here come the Huskies, and they certainly seem ready for the big stage.
After getting so close the past two years, the Washington men’s soccer team defeated Saint Louis 2-0 behind a pair of Gio Miglietti goals Saturday evening at Husky Soccer Stadium to earn the program’s first berth in soccer’s version of the Final Four.
As the final seconds were counted down, the record crowd of 3,619 (capacity is 3,500) started chanting “Final Four,” and fans went on to the field after the final whistle to help the Huskies celebrate.
“What a game, what a performance,” Washington coach Jamie Clark said. “Even though we weren’t playing perfectly at the beginning of the game, we seized our moments and soccer is about capitalizing on those moments. Goals change games and we got ahead.”
Washington had lost in the Elite Eight in the past two seasons, but those games were away from Seattle and against teams — Georgetown and Pittsburgh — that were higher seeds than UW.
But Washington (17-1-2), as the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament and the top-ranked team in the country in the power rankings, were determined to make amends.
“I wanted these guys to be their more than anything,” Clark said. “I just didn’t want it to get to be a weight on their shoulders. … It was starting to get that way, where, are we ever going to get past this stage ever? So a huge weight off the shoulder, and it took these guys to make it happen.”
Being at home certainly helped and now they head to Cary, North Carolina, for a national semifinal match Friday against Georgetown. The time has not been announced.
The other semifinal will be No. 8 seed Clemson against No. 4 seed Notre Dame.
The Huskies scored their goals in the first half despite being outshot 9-5.
UW scored on its first shot on goal when Saint Louis goalkeeper Patrick Schulte made a mistake. His clearance pass was blocked by UW’s Nick Scardina and it bounded right to Miglietti, who easily beat Schulte, who was out of the goal.
“Jamie said all week, we’ve got to believe and take chances, and Scardina did that … and it happened to go straight to me, and I just one-timed it toward the goal and it went in,” said Miglietti, a junior forward.
Three minutes later, Miglietti accepted a great pass from sophomore midfielder Christian Soto, who fired a close-range shot past a diving Schulte.
“That was definitely a pretty pass, and I was waiting for it,” Miglietti said.
This was the Huskies’ fourth trip to the quarterfinals since Clark took over before the 2011 season, also reaching that spot in 2013. He said if his team got enough chances, it would break through.
Finally, it happened.
“We did it together, and it was great,” Soto said, who felt a lot more joy than relief.
Said Clark, “You want it to be 100 percent joy, but when you’ve come short a few times, there is a little relief, too.”
Saint Louis (16-1-4), which entered the match as the only unbeaten team in the country, has won a record 10 national titles. But the last of those came in 1973, their last appearance in the College Cup was in 1997, and this was their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2014.
The Billikens had a slight edge on most of the stats, including shots, shots on goal and corner kicks, but UW won the stat that mattered.
Sam Fowler made three big saves for the Huskies, the top defensive team in the country.
“Sammy had to come through with a couple of big saves, especially in that first half,” Clark said.
Saint Louis won 4-3 over Duke to advance to the Elite Eight, but a two-goal deficit was too much against the Huskies, even though the visitors never let up.
The Huskies will soon focus on Georgetown (18-2-1), but Saturday night was a time to savor the win before looking ahead.
“We’ve had a lot of great teams and a lot of great coaches … and they never got (to the College Cup),” Clark said. “To see how many people were really happy for the program means a lot.”