Utah soccer: Utes taking aim at NCAA Tournament
The clichÃ© is one game at a time. Many teams use it. Many coaches and players preach it.
The Utah women's soccer team will take a pass on that, however. The Utes are looking at the big picture.
Sure, the Utes are certainly concentrating on what's in front of them and that most immediately would be a big home match against USC on Sunday at 1 p.m.
But Rich Manning and his players want to reach the NCAA Tournament. They want to finish the Pac-12 season with a winning record. And doing that means finishing strong.
"It would be good for the program," Manning said. "We had a winning record in our first year in the conference, but the pleasing thing is that this is the best by far the Pac-12 has been. Every game is super competitive. It's the deepest conference in the country."
Utah is sitting with a 7-3-6 overall record and a 3-2-2 mark in Pac-12 play. The conventional wisdom is that the conference will get between four and six teams into the tournament. Utah is currently sitting fourth with 11 points. Three teams are directly below them within hailing distance. Winning three of the last four games is the goal.
And the Utes, with a national RPI ranking of 50, got their stretch run off to a fine start on Friday, earning a 1-1, two-overtime draw at home against No. 2 UCLA.
"We want to prove that we belong in this league and that's been a goal of ours all season," senior forward Allie Wisner said. "We've been focused in every match and that's going to continue."
The Utes have been one of the Pac-12's best defensive teams, especially at home. They play a physical style that takes getting used to. Offensively, they possess the ball quite well, making it difficult for more-athletic teams to get a handle on them.
Utah has played three ranked teams, losing to BYU and Stanford by a combined 2-0. They fought California to a scoreless draw last month. It's a team that's surrendered just five goals during Pac-12 play, all on set pieces.
"These are some good opportunities in front of us," Manning said of the weekend matches against the Bruins and Trojans. "We have to take advantage of them. We've really played together as a team this year, and we play with a lot of confidence at home. We want to go out and impose our will on teams. That's the measure of growth."
USC at Utah
P Sunday, 1 p.m.
• Ute Field