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Navigating to new heights: Pilot upset could pave Cats' path

Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman forward Gianna DeSaverio competes for a header during Arizona's 1-1 tie with New Mexico on Sept. 18. The Wildcats meet No. 1 Portland tonight in Oregon for the third round of the 2005 NCAA College Cup.
By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 18, 2005
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Arizona takes on No. 1 Portland in Sweet 16 showdown in Oregon this weekend.

It's the traditional powerhouse versus the up-and-comer. The team that barely made the postseason versus the top-ranked team in the country.

It's Arizona versus Portland on the Pilots' home field tonight at 7 in Sweet 16 action of the NCAA College Cup.

Portland (20-0-1) may have the most storied soccer history in the tough West Coast Conference, with one national championship (2002), seven trips to the Final Four since 1992 and five WCC titles.

In the WCC, there is no football, so fútbol reigns supreme. According to the Portland athletics Web site, tickets for the 5,000-seat Merlo Field sold out in less than three hours for tonight's game.

Once the sellout occurred, leaving many fans without tickets, the school decided to provide a live game feed to the school's gymnasium, the Chiles Center, for people who couldn't get tickets.

For the Wildcats (11-7-3), by contrast, this is their second straight trip to the postseason and second overall. They won a share of the Pacific 10 Conference title in 2004 for the first time in program history.

This year, after finishing in a three-way tie for fifth place in the conference with a 4-4-1 record, the Wildcats narrowly missed sitting out the College Cup.

"We're trying to do and establish ourselves like all the other great programs at the U of A, and in terms of soccer, we're trying to do and get to the point where the University of Portland is," said Arizona head coach Dan Tobias, in his third year with the Wildcats.

It won't be easy for Arizona to leave Portland with a win, as it saw on Sept. 23 when it lost to the Pilots 3-0 on the road.

The Wildcats will look to their seniors for leadership, especially midfielder-forward Mallory Miller, the Pac-10 Player of the Year who has scored 19 goals this season, including the two goals that gave Arizona a pair of wins in the first and second rounds.

Game info

Arizona (11-7-3) at No. 1 Portland (20-0-1)
Portland, Ore.
Today, 7 p.m.

"We had a meeting in (Tobias') office yesterday, and he said, 'You know what? We only got to beat them one time,'" Miller said of the Pilots. "So, in front of their home crowd, it would make it even more memorable."

Portland, however, has a senior conference player of the year in its own right. Forward Christine Sinclair has a nation-leading 37 goals this season - two of which came against Arizona - in 21 games.

As a sophomore, Sinclair won the Honda Award, given to the best player in the country, and is the front-runner to win that award again.

When she isn't taking the field for the Pilots, she's scoring goals for the Canadian national team.

"You have to make sure you are aware of her at all times. She's very good at finding that space in front of your defenders, and she's very good at making slashing runs in behind your defenders," Tobias said. "A lot of it is, 'Where's the ball, where's Sinclair? Where's the ball, where's Sinclair?'"

For Portland head coach Garrett Smith, there is no one Wildcat player he wants to keep his eye on as much as Arizona needs to with Sinclair.

Smith said it was the overall quickness of the Wildcat offense that gave his team some trouble in September and allowed Arizona to get some dangerous shots off early in the game.

He did mention one player who worried him, however.

"They've got a player in their forward London King," he said. "She's got pace and she's a handful to deal with. Arizona's overall team speed is phenomenal."

King made one of her three starts this season in that Portland game, because Tobias wanted to use her speed at the start of the game instead of having the freshman forward come off the bench, as she has for every other game this season.

Tobias will likely put King in the starting lineup again, not only for her speed but also because of sophomore defender Kaity Heath's one-game suspension.

Heath received a red card and was ejected from Saturday's second-round game against Weber State after she kicked a player. There is an automatic one-game suspension for receiving a red card.

As a result, the Wildcats will likely move sophomore midfielder Nicole Scheid back to defense, where she started the season, and move Miller into the midfield from forward. Other than the Heath suspension, the Wildcats will be at full strength, with no major injuries.

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