Do or die time—Vandal soccer heads to Ruston, La., needing a win or draw with only three matches remaining before WAC Tournament.
A season that started with such high hopes and optimism for the Vandal soccer team now comes down to a three-match stretch which will determine the team’s postseason fate.
The Vandals (4-12-1, 1-3-1) start the season’s final stretch with a matchup against second-place La. Tech (12-1-3, 3-0-1) at 11 a.m. Sunday in Ruston, La.
This is the fourth straight season Idaho has traveled to play La. Tech on their home pitch, a field that Idaho coach Pete Showler said is one of the smallest the team will likely ever play on.
“The ironic thing for this senior group is this is the fourth year in a row they’ve been to La. Tech, so they’re very familiar with the surroundings, they know what to expect and we’re preparing as well as we can to go there,” Showler said. “We’ve just got to control what we can control, and with the way we performed against San Jose State and the way they played at Seattle — who knows.”
The tighter pitch will change some of the formation and tactics, Showler said, with the Vandals offense living on strong wing play. With a more direct attack needed, more pressure will be put on senior forward Chelsea Small, who has notched six goals this season for Idaho.
Small said better communication and tighter play will be necessary to leave Ruston with a victory.
“We’ve just got to move the ball quickly because it’s going to be tight with so many people in the small area,” Small said. “So our strategy is just playing quick, moving off the ball and getting it up front.”
On the defensive side, Idaho has tightened up since WAC play has started, allowing 11 goals in five matches for a 2.2 goals allowed per match average, compared to the 2.25 goals against average they had in non-conference play — a lot having to due with the strong play of junior center back Chelsie Breen. Paired with Nitalia Zuniga for most of the WAC matches, the Vandals have only allowed three goals twice in the five matches — a number they hope to see extend to six matches.
Breen said that although they’ve played La. Tech the past few years, no two matches are really alike.
“We’ve had a few tough games against them. Last year we had an interesting game playing with a non-keeper,” Breen said. “We’re ready to go. We’re playing in a different formation and getting lots into the attack and we’ll still be solid defensively covering for each other.”
With the WAC Tournament only two weeks away, an Idaho victory would put them at seven points in the conference table with two matches remaining. Idaho is currently sitting at four points, two points behind sixth place San Jose State and one behind seventh place Texas-San Antonio. The Vandals’ final two matches will be against third place Denver and last place New Mexico State. The WAC’s top six teams make the tournament.
Showler said that both he and the team know what needs to happen to make the tournament, and they will do everything in their power to get there.
“Realistically we’re preparing to go out and win all three, but you’ve got to look at where La. Tech is and how they’ve handled a team like Denver, and they’re at home,” Showler said. “We know what we’ve got to do, and the girls are responding very, very well. The energy in their practices and studies have been fantastic.”
Madison McCord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org