Sweet 16 Webcast
By Monica Lee
SEATTLE -- The Washington Men’s Soccer team continues to dominate the field, looking to advance to its first Elite 8 in program history.
The second-seeded Dawgs will host the Stanford Cardinal at the Husky Soccer Stadium on Sunday, December 1 at 5 p.m., for their second Sweet 16 ever.
“It’s crazy to think of how many good teams have been at UW and that no one’s ever gone past the Sweet 16,” second-year head coach and Pac-12 Coach of the Year, Jamie Clark said. “It’s fun to think we have history in the making this weekend, hopefully.”
The Huskies, who started the season with a 15-game unbeaten streak, clinched the Pac-12 title a year after the UCLA Bruins devastatingly denied UW its first championship in 12 years at the end of the 2012 season.
As one of the toughest conferences in the nation, Washington earned the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. UCLA is the No. 1 seed and the Cal Golden Bears are seeded fourth.
Usually young teams with 11 true freshmen, a redshirt freshman, and three transfers don’t have success right away, but Clark and his team found a way to be the best.
“I think it was them being open,” Clark said. “We’ve tried a few formations and they’ve all been successful, but I think sometimes teams that have success are reluctant to change more and to keep getting better.
“This team’s never settled for saying, ‘oh, we’re good. We just got to keep doing the same thing.’ It’s always been trying to expand the roles and change things for the better.”
Change was definitely a theme this year. The Huskies continued to try new formations and rotations up to the last game of the season all while consistently tallying wins to finish the season with a 14-1-4 (7-1-2, Pac-12) record.
UW notched its 15th win, defeating Seattle University 4-2 in the second round of the tournament. As a top 16 seed, the Huskies were granted a bye for the first round.
“I think we’re now at a point where we’re playing about as well as we think we can play, so I think we’ll continue (with this lineup),” Clark said. “But you never know, an injury or a knock here or there, or a suspension for yellow cards or something could change it, but right now if we stay healthy, I think we’re playing the way we want to play.”
Over half of Washington’s 13 to 14-man rotation earned all-conference honors, which tied for first for the most players named to the All-Pac-12 First Team.
Scoring leaders, Darwin Jones and Cristian Roldan, along with senior co-captain Taylor Peay, who scored a hat trick early in the season, were named to the All-Pac-12 First Team.
Other senior co-captain Michael Harris, best known for his flip-throw, and midfielder James Moberg earned Second Team All-Pac-12 honors, and Mason Robertson, Justin Schmidt, and Andy Thoma were awarded honorable mention All-Pac-12.
Roldan, the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year, was also named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year with seven goals and five assists so far.
“It’s one of those years where everything’s going my way,” a humble Roldan said. “I mean I’ve had success in high school and in club, but now that the transition has began, it’s just an unbelievable feeling to have the year that I’m having.”
The freshman midfielder hasn’t been the only new impact player this year.
“Cristian fit right in, but guys like Mason (Robertson), it took them a little bit longer and now they look very, very good,” Clark said.
Robertson, a forward from Phoenix, has scored three game-winning goals to end the season despite a rough start to his college career.
“He was our first commitment of that class because we had so much faith in him,” Clark said. “Then he just had a really tough summer of injuries and it took him awhile to find his feet and all of a sudden when it clicks the positive way, he looks great. And I mean he really does.”
“There’s not a forward in the Pac-12 you would take in front of him right now.”
Robertson has netted six goals, second most on the team, behind Roldan and Jones who have seven each. The last three games in regular conference play were won at the foot of Robertson including a victory over fourth-seeded Cal in overtime.
Another change that has been wildly successful for the Huskies is junior college transfer Jones’ move to left wing.
“Darwin’s doing really well out there and he likes it out there,” Clark said. “It frees him up to run one-v-one a lot and it gives him a more straightforward role, which he excels in. He just gets it and has free reign to do as he wishes.”
With Jones joining junior defender Andy Thoma, the left side has become a major offensive threat for the Dawgs.
“There’s not a more athletic left side in the country,” Clark boasted.
“They just pin teams back. We get chances. They are a real handful together. And they like playing with each other because they both know either one of them will draw two guys and it’ll free the other guy up.”
Clark considers Thoma one of the greatest unheralded players in the nation.
“It was nice that he finally got some recognition,” Clark said of the left back. “He was honorable mention All-Pac-12, but there’s no reason he couldn’t be First-team All-Pac-12 in my eyes.
“It’s hard, it’s not a scoring or numbers position for the most part, so I think people recognize how good he is, but in the end he knows how good he is and that’s all that matters.”
Going into the last stretch of the 2013 season, the Dawgs just don’t want this amazing season to end. If Washington wins against an unranked Stanford team it has already beaten twice this season, it will host the Elite 8 match on Dec. 7 at 5 p.m.
“Guys just want to play,” Clark said. “They don’t want the season to be over.
They love playing, so it’s more that if we can earn another week of playing and never let this come to a close – unfortunately, Dec. 15, one way or another it’s coming to a close - but that’s the whole thing, this team is a special team. They don’t want things to end.”
Roldan couldn’t agree more.
“It’s a big accomplishment. I know it’s big for the school. It’s big for the program,” he said. “But for myself, personally, I just hope to win and win. It’s a great feeling just because I know not a lot of freshmen get to be in this opportunity and play in a Sweet 16, so it’s a big deal.
“It just doesn’t get any better.”