Neilsen scores four goals in two games to help the Pilots topple Gonzaga 2-0 and St. Mary’s 4-0
By Kyle Cape-Lindelin Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Freshly minted WCC Player of the Week senior midfielder Michael Neilsen has emerged as one of the leaders for the Pilots men's soccer team and as the one player teammates expect to score goals. After shutting out heated rivals Gonzaga 2-0 and St. Mary's 4-0 last week, Neilsen's four goals in two victories personify what the team is thinking: They are tired of losing.
"It's great seeing Mike take over like he is," junior forward Ricardo Carrillo said. "He's leading by example and showing that we are done losing. He's the one who's been stepping up."
UP has bounced back after a slow start, improving their overall record to 8-6-2. They now sit in fourth place in the WCC at 3-4-1 as they prepare to hit the road, hoping to exact revenge on Loyola Marymount on Nov. 4 and San Diego on Nov. 6. Both teams beat UP in close games at Merlo Field and victories in California will move the Pilots up in the WCC standings.
"We have a chance to turn our season around, and I think our guys are starting to believe in themselves and each other," head coach Bill Irwin said. "Now we got to take care of business away from home and continue giving ourselves a chance."
Neilsen and UP's defense first flexed their muscles against Gonzaga on Oct. 26 in a 2-0 victory with Neilsen scoring both goals. The Pilot's defense did not allow any shots on goal in what was their best defensive performance of the year to date.
Neilsen scored in the 18th minute off junior midfielder Joe Sleven's assist to give UP the lead they would never relinquish. Neilsen took a small touch on the ball, freezing GU goalkeeper Ryan Caballero before shooting in the goal.
The Pilots struck again in the 79th minute to pad their lead when sophomore midfielder Steven Evans sent a smooth pass through two GU defenders to Neilsen, who fired in the goal inside the far post to give UP a 2-0 win.
"It's been fantastic getting to knock these goals in and help my team win," Neilsen said. "I could only wish of this when I was younger, I've never scored like I have this year before."
The Pilots were able to amp up their offense another notch while keeping their defense strong as they hosted St. Mary's on Oct. 28 and grabbed their third straight win 4-0.
UP came out fast and aggressive with Carrillo hitting a goal to give the Pilots the lead in the fifth minute, shooting in a shot from 18 yards out.
"I'm just glad it got past their goalkeeper," Carrillo said. "It was cool. I was able to score so early, it got everyone excited and ready to play defense."
UP junior goalkeeper Justin Baarts held off three shots with some close saves to preserve the Pilots' lead at 1-0.
Neilsen found himself in the right place at the right time in the 31st minute when junior defender Colin Anderson sent in a shot that rebounded right to Neilsen, who buried the shot.
Both rivals showed their emotion throughout the game with four yellow cards being handed out: two for each team, including a red card ejection for St. Mary's Justin Grider for arguing with referees.
"It was definitely a physical, emotional game," Neilsen said. "We just focused on trying to keep our heads and let our opponent lose theirs."
Anderson served up his second assist of the game in the 55th minute after he fed Neilsen again. Neilsen showed off his ball-handling skills and sent in a shot from 18 yards away, barely hitting inside the far post. It was Neilsen's team-leading sixth goal of the season and gave UP a 3-0 lead.
"Mike knows he has to score like he's been scoring for us to be successful," Irwin said. "That's what we expect out of him and that's what he expects out of himself."
Junior forward Ben Hemphill capped off one of the best offensive games of the season for UP in the 78th minute when fellow junior midfielder Colin Barich fired in a shot that ricocheted off SMU's goalkeeper Doug Herrick. Hemphill was there to kick in the rebound untouched and give the Pilots a 4-0 victory.
"Our teams made a great turnaround. We've built off wins and made the most of our practice time to continue to improve," Irwin said. "I'm happy they're getting to see results from their hard work and now we need to continue getting these winning results."