For the first time since 2013, the women’s soccer team suited up for a post-season game. On Nov. 12 the Pilots took on the Arizona State Sun Devils at Merlo field. Portland beat Arizona 3-0 to progress to the next round of playoffs.
Soccer City, USA showed up and showed out, the stands were packed with friends, family and alumni. The former Portland Thorns head coach Mark Parsons was there supporting the Pilots.
“Supporting UP but also supporting Frenchie,” Parsons said. “I think this was three or four years in the making. First game back [in the playoffs] and just supporting Portland as a soccer city and community. To see UP back here at this stage is very cool. And [to support] a few [Thorns] Academy kids that I know playing and a few kids from Arizona State as well.”
The Pilots kicked off with a long ball upfield and continued to dominate the game for the first half. Despite this, they didn’t find too many chances on goal.
A few of UP’s best opportunities in the half were called offside. To put into perspective Portland’s domination of the first half by the 32nd minute they found themselves with 6 shots to Arizona’s 1.
The half ended 0-0.
“We knew we needed to come together and keep going,” senior Colby Wilson said. “We knew if we kept the energy and just kept doing what we do that a goal would come.”
The Sun Devils started with the ball in the second half and they played back in order to keep possession. UP breaks through but their attempt finds the keeper.
The first corner of the game came in the 48th minute. UP played the ball long but it went out on the far side of the pitch.
Shortly after, a shot from UP soars just over the crossbar.
The Sun Devils looked for their first solid chance of the game with a through ball but the Pilot’s defense stopped their attempt and cleared it away.
A ball across the goal from freshman Ruby Settle almost gave UP a chance but was deflected by ASU.
A shot off the woodwork from freshman Isabella Yakel gave UP their first taste of a goal but it bounced away.
UP finally capitalized on their chances when, in the 57th minute, a cross from Yakel found Settle’s head. The header found its way past ASU’s keeper and into the back of the net. UP’s crowd goes wild and the drum squad sets off their purple smoke in celebration.
“I mean, we came into it just knowing that you know, this was a big night for us” Settle said. “And I think this was an amazing opportunity that we got to try this at home in front of our family and friends was amazing.”
UP almost doubled the score in the 60th minute when junior Nedya Sawan found sophomore Cally Togiai whose shot was straight at the keeper.
Sophomore Bre Norris made her first big save of the evening as a UP defender held off an ASU attacker and Norris came out to collect.
An ASU player earned a yellow for a tackle that took down UP’s freshman Katana Norman.
The Sun Devils were starting to get choppy as they fouled another Pilot.
Norris’ second save of the game came as she dove for a ball crossed in by ASU. Barely hanging onto it she kept UP in the lead.
And again, not a minute later ASU sends a shot over the UP crossbar.
Portland found their stride late in the game with two more goals.
The second goal came in the 75th minute from Sawan who found herself open in front of net.
The third goal came in the 78th minute when Selma Licini battled her way through the ASU defenders and past the keeper. Her goal marked the first of her career at UP.
“We've worked so hard all season to get here and we've proven everyone wrong,” Licini said. “We believe in ourselves, but a lot of people didn't believe in us.”
As the final whistle blew purple raced to the sideline to celebrate their win. Head coach Michelle French made sure to give credit to her team.
“For us to kind of figure out a way through the game was exciting,” French said. “But I will tell you those alumni, and that team over there, it’s incredible for them so I’m pumped.
As she spoke she gestured to a crowd of UP soccer alums who had come to support and then to her team celebrating with the student section.
“I hope that the team takes confidence you know,” French said. “I think we had a game plan and they stuck to it and they deserve it.”
They next play number one seed Alabama in Alabama on Nov. 18th at 5 p.m.
Wilder Isom is the Sports Editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org