Oct. 21, 2005
PORTLAND, Ore. - The fifth-ranked Santa Clara women's soccer team (13-3-2, 3-1-0 WCC) held their own against the No. 2 Portland Pilots (15-0-1, 3-0-1 WCC) for much of tonight's match at Merlo Field in Portland, but Christine Sinclair's two goals proved decisive in the Pilots' 3-1 victory in front of a standing-room only crowd of over 5,000.
"I was happy with the first half, though a few things happened on Portland's first goal that we talked about not letting happen, but we had five shots to their two, including an easy chance that hit the crossbar," said head coach Jerry Smith. "We felt that we were being the more dangerous team at halftime so we kept the same tactics in the second half."
In the end, though, it was the play of Sinclair, a Canadian National Team star, who made the difference in the match.
"Sinclair was the difference tonight," Smith added. "She's the deadliest goal-scorer I have seen in my 19 years of coaching here."
The first half saw two battle-tested teams playing to a stalemate for the first 30 minutes of the match. Each side saw limited opportunities, Santa Clara's best chance coming in the tenth minute as an Elyse Shelger shot from nearly 30 yards out was on frame but deflected away by Pilots keeper Cori Alexander.
Portland, having ventured to the cusp of the Santa Clara box multiple times without anything to show for it, stepped up its attack about the 25-minute mark as Lindsey Huie's point-blank attempt was stuffed by Julie Ryder. But Santa Clara would not be so lucky 10 minutes later as Huie sent a cross into the Bronco box towards Sinclair. Unable to one-time the pass, Sinclair, the NCAA's leading scorer, gathered it up and moved in, finding a window and lining a low shot through the Santa Clara defense that found the far lower-corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead.
Behind the wildly ecstatic Portland fans, the Pilots continued to attack, almost doubling their tally two minutes later but again the net-minding prowess of Julie Ryder turned back another point-blank attempt, this time from Megan Rapinoe.
Recovering from this sudden flurry, the resilient Broncos swung their way back into the fight. Invigorated and determined, Santa Clara began penetrating the Portland back line, beginning with a saved shot from Meagan Snell in the 40th minute. Keeping up the pressure, Elyse Shelger nearly equalized but saw her 44th-minute attempt bounce off the crossbar, seemingly ending Santa Clara's best chance to tie the match up.
Yet just when much of the sold-out Portland crowd began to loosen up and settle back as the last minute of the half ticked away, the Broncos landed a staggering blow that silenced the Portland faithful. Marian Dalmy, advancing from her back line position looking to make one last rush, found not only some daylight towards the Pilot goal, but also an unmarked Tiffany Roberts. Rising above the fray, Roberts' header looped its way over Alexander and found the back corner of the net to knot things up at one goal apiece with 37 seconds left in the half.
"It's always a good sign when you can equalize against a good team like Portland, especially on the road," noted Smith.
As the second half got underway, the teams fell back into the stalemate which had dominated the first 20 minutes of the match. This instance of maneuvering only lasted a short while, though, as eight minutes into the second half Sinclair got behind the Santa Clara defense again and finished off a pass from Lisa Sari to put the Pilots back into the driver's seat, 2-1.
Santa Clara repeatedly attempted to get back into the Portland zone but the Pilots kept up the offensive pressure, preventing the Broncos from organizing a steady flow of attack. The Broncos managed to direct a ball towards goal off of a free kick in the 76th minute, but didn't get enough on it and Alexander made the stop.
The teams traded possession for the next couple of minutes until a Portland break put the Broncos into a bind. Huie got behind the Bronco defense and received Angie Woznuk's pass a split-second before Ryder's sliding attempt could smother it. Left with an empty goal, Huie fired home the Pilots' third goal of the match.
With their backs to the wall, Santa Clara broke out and advanced deep into the attacking third in the 86th minute. Despite finding some open space, Tina Estrada's blast was blocked before it could reach the goal, and after another blocked Bronco attempt the Pilot defense cleared away Santa Clara's last major threat.
Each team managed eight shots in the match, with Santa Clara putting three on frame to Portland's five. Julie Ryder made two fine saves in a losing effort.
"Julie is a class goalkeeper and has always made big saves for us," Smith said after Ryder's effort in goal. "The last two games here at Merlo Field prior to tonight Julie has been the difference for us in winning those games."
The Broncos travel north to Spokane to take on the No. 22 Gonzaga Bulldogs Sunday afternoon. Kick-off is set for 1 p.m.