As the calendar flips towards September and students pour back onto campus, the University of Portland men’s soccer team poises itself for another season. Following a successful 2018 season when they posted a 12-4-3 record, expectations for this year’s squad are high.
Portland finished last year with a solid run into the NCAA tournament, beating UCLA before traveling to Kentucky where their season would end in shutout fashion, losing 4-0. The showing from last season, however, earned the Pilots the 20th overall ranking in the country in the coaches preseason poll.
“We have never started a season ranked. I tell the guys it does not matter,” head coach Nick Carlin-Voigt said. “It is for the press and people outside the program. All that means is that you had a good year last year.”
The ranking is a reflection of the accomplishments of last year's team. The major difference between this year and last is the departure of three key players.
The Pilots lost Lionel Mills, a three-year starting defender who brought security and experience to a strong backline. This season, the slack is going to have to be picked up by experienced players like seniors Esteban Calvo and Francesco Tiozzo.
The second biggest loss comes with Kienan Weekes, who was outstanding in his one year as a starter, including three clean slates in conference play. The battle at goalkeeper for this season is one of the larger mysteries of the preseason. In the first exhibition of the year against No. 22 Oregon State, goal-keeping duties were split between junior Nico Campuzano and senior graduate transfer Josh Lagudah.
Lagudah had an impressive showing last season for Loyola Chicago, earning Missouri Valley Conference Goalkeeper of the year award. Campuzano has been with the Pilots and flirted with the starting role last year before losing the competition to Weekes.
The biggest task comes in filling the hole left by one of the most prolific goal scorers in the NCAA: Benji Michel. Michel signed a homegrown contract with the Orlando City Lions of Major League Soccer in December. He produced 31 goals in his three-year stint with the Pilots, including 11 in his final season.
“When you take 30 plus goals out of your program it is impossible to have one guy step up and do all that,” Carlin-Voigt said. “What I tell this group is that it has to be scoring by committee.”
Portland still brings plenty of experience to the pitch. The return of senior wingman Rey Ortiz, named to the 2019 MAC Hermann trophy watchlist, highlights the roster. In 2017, Ortiz started all 17 games for the Pilots and racked up 13 assists, complemented by six of his own goals. Last year was difficult for Ortiz as injuries only allowed him to play in eight games, but still earned all-WCC honors. Portland went 1-2-2 during the games Ortiz did not start.
Following their run into the NCAA tournament, Portland has scheduled a slate of tough games. They won both of their preseason matchups, taking down No. 22 Oregon State 3-0 on Aug. 18 and Utah Valley 1-0 on Aug. 23.
Portland is looking to gear up for what is going to be a tough conference. The toughest games in West Coast Conference play will come against the University of the Pacific and Saint Mary’s University, who were undefeated for 14 games before tying the University of San Diego in double overtime. Both teams won 12 plus games and finished first and second in the conference.
“Of course we are excited. At the end, it is not about who we are playing, its 11 versus 11 on the field,” senior defender Esteban Calvo said. “At the end it is two teams, and at the end we have to be the better team."
Because of their schedule, Portland will again have to rely on the returning faces in the locker room to keep the team anchored. In Portland's final game at Kentucky last season, the Pilots were given three yellow cards in the second half as the Wildcats built their lead.
But along with the returning, experienced players, the Pilots also have new additions to the team to potentially help them win games this upcoming season.
The biggest addition comes with freshman midfielder and forward, Jacobo Reyes. Reyes has spent time with the U-17 and U-20 United States National squads. Reyes additionally saw time with 2017 U-17 United States World Cup team in India. At only five foot eight inches and 155 pounds, Reyes will have to rely on his quickness and ball-handling skills.
The team also added former Portland Timber Ben Zemanski to the coaching staff. The Pittsburgh native played his college soccer at the University of Akron and has played in a total of 133 MLS matches for both Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers, winning the MLS Cup with the Timbers in 2015. Zemanski is listed as an assistant coach and will work closely with the midfielders specifically.
“I am very happy with our staffing,” Carlin-Voigt said. “Ben’s experience speaks for itself. He has played in a position a lot of our guys hope to play in one day”
Although they’re taking it one game at a time, the team has their eyes on going deep into the NCAA tournament. Following a run to the second round of the playoffs, expectations for this year’s team are high.
The Pilots start their regular season on Friday Aug. 30 at Merlo Field against the Colgate Raiders.
Jamison White is a sports reporter at The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.