Nationally-ranked Whitworth faces tough tests at home from PLU and UPS
by Korey Hope
The Whitworth men’s soccer team, ranked 11th in the nation, has yet to lose in NWC play as they came back from a 2-1 deficit with 30 minutes remaining to beat Pacific Lutheran last Saturday and tied 0-0 in a physical match-up with Puget Sound on Sunday.
“It was a positive weekend,” head coach Sean Bushey said. “We got four out six possible points and remain at the top [of the NWC].”
Along with the Pirates, Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound were undefeated in conference play heading into the weekend, setting up two all-telling matches to determine who takes the early-season edge.
The Pirates’ first game of the weekend was against Pacific Lutheran on Saturday. PLU advanced to postseason play on a head-to-head tiebreaker last year after the two squads shared the NWC regular season title.
This particular game, however, would prove to be extremely out of the ordinary for the Pirates based off the season so far.
The first goal of the game came via an acrobatic bicycle kick from freshman forward Samuel Engle in the 10th minute, his third goal in the last two games for the Bucs. Junior midfielder Andrew French crossed the ball into the back post, where fellow junior midfielder Mike Chavez headed the ball back across the front of the goal, finding Engle for the spectacular overhead bicycle kick finish.
“It was mostly instinctive,” Engle said. “Mike [Chavez] worked hard to get to it and made it possible for me to get the shot off.”
A bicycle shot is a rarity at any level of competitive soccer.
“He’s a soccer player,” Bushey said about Engle’s goal. “There’s only one way for that to happen, and that’s playing soccer for a long time. It was neat to see.”
Just 13 minutes later, PLU equalized with a nicely placed shot inside the far post from 18 yards out. It was the first goal surrendered by the Whitworth defense in the previous 953 minutes of play, and only the second goal against the Pirates all season.
In the 56th minute, PLU blasted a shot from 25 yards out past Whitworth senior goalkeeper Kyle Novak, putting the Pirates behind for the first time this season.
The Bucs struck back ten minutes later, when junior defender Will Wren dribbled the ball down the left side of the box and made moves past PLU defenders, allowing him to make an easy pass to junior midfielder Sam Selisch, who slotted the open shot into the far post corner for his first goal of the season.
In the 83rd minute of play, the deadlock was resolved. Freshman forward Karl Muelheims, after coming in as a substitute, won the ball and played it through to sophomore forward Robby Ubben. Ubben managed to chip PLU goalkeeper Joe Rayburn to seal the game-winner for the Pirates.
“I started my run early and the ball split the defenders perfectly,” Ubben said. “I saw the keeper come out so I flicked it over him and it worked out.”
The second match of the weekend brought University of Puget Sound to Whitworth, fresh off a surprising upset loss against Whitman.
The Bucs expected a tough, physical matchup, which is exactly what they got. In a game that saw 25 fouls and 19 shots on goal, neither side was able to breakthrough, and the match ended a 0-0 tie after two overtime periods, giving the Pirates their eighth shutout in ten games this season.
“[Andrew] Flint and Balin [Larson] are a great combination,” Bushey said of the Pirates’ defense. “Matt Bray and Colin [Shockman] played great as well, it’s certainly a group effort.”
The Pirates have one match next weekend as they host Whitman (4-6-2, 2-3-1 NWC) this Saturday, Oct. 6.
Contact Korey Hope at firstname.lastname@example.org.