The Gonzaga University Men’s soccer team (4-10-1, 0-3-1 WCC) lost 3-1 to No. 7 University of Portland (10-1-3, 4-0 WCC) Wednesday night on a cold and windy night under the lights at Luger Field.
Coming into the matchup, Portland had won six of its last seven matchups and dispatched West Coast Conference foe LMU 4-0 in its last game. On the other side, the Zags came in losing three of four, and still in search of their first conference win of the season.
From the opening whistle, GU applied immediate pressure, causing turnovers and counter-attacking opportunities within the opening 90 seconds of the match.
The Zags' best chance of the first five minutes came on a dangerous ball from midfielder Wylie Trujillo to Demetrius Kigeya. Kigeya, getting behind the UP defense, forced goalkeeper George Tasouris off his line to clear the ball leaving the net open. The ball fell to the feet of Zag attacker Frankie Ljucovic, but his effort went wide.
GU continued to press and attack throughout the first 10 minutes of the game, finding acres of space on the left-hand side of the pitch. GU left back Kupa’a Fernandez and Ljucovic made several dangerous runs at the Pilot defense, causing headaches all first half.
“It was our plan to sit deep and wait for our chances,” said GU head coach Aaron Lewis. “We thought we had advantages in space on that side (left), so we tried to attack them.”
The breakthrough for the Zags came in the 11th minute off a beautiful combination play on the left flank between Kigeya and Ljucovic. Ljucovic crossed the ball back to Kigeya, whose initial shot was stopped by Tasouris, before deflecting to Trujillo who was waiting in the box. Trujillo headed it off the outstretched arm of the UP keeper, and into the back of the net to give the Zags a much-deserved early 1-0 lead.
However, just 23 seconds later, the Pilots would find an equalizer through their center forward, CJ Tibbling, and as fast as the one-goal lead came for GU, it disappeared just as quickly. Off the kick, UP winger Brandon Cambridge found himself with the ball near the end line, where he had his first shot smothered by Zag keeper Johan Garibay. The rebound fell back to Cambridge who fizzed a ball across the six-yard box, and Tibbling was able to poke it home to deadlock the score at 1-1 in the 11th minute.
The first half ended with the Zags on the front foot, pushing for a second goal, but the score remained tied after the first 45 minutes.
“They are a really good team, and to be in the game with is good,” Fernandez said. “We were toe to toe all first half, so to know we can hang with them is something to build off.”
To start the second half GU made only one change with Jesse Riodil coming on for Robbie Mora who picked up a knock at the end of the first half.
Like how the first half was all Zags taking it to the Pilots, the second half was the opposite, with UP controlling the game from the halftime whistle until the end.
The Pilots found the back of the net seven minutes into the second half, off the foot of Sebastian Nava. Nava’s shot took a deflection and wrongfooted Garibay, who was left with no chance.
Portland continued to keep the pressure up for the next 35 minutes and found their second goal of the half on a Penalty Kick from Cambridge, to give UP a commanding 3-1 with just over 20 minutes left to play.
The Zags continued to send attackers forward when they could but were not able to find another goal to get back into the game.
“I told the guys no loss is fun, but this one doesn’t sting quite as much because I thought they put in a good performance,” Lewis said.
GU’s next match is on the road at Saint Mary’s, before rounding out the season with Senior Day on Nov. 5 against USF at 1 p.m. at Luger Field.