Portland games ain't pretty, but it doesn't matter
September, 29, 2008
By Graham Hays
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- No. 4 Portland 4, No. 22 Penn State 1 Goals: Sophie Schmidt, Portland (3rd minute); Danielle Toney, Penn State (9th minute); Michelle Olivier, Portland (19th minute); Sara Jackman, Portland (65th minute); Danielle Foxhoven, Portland (79th minute). Perhaps the bucolic vistas of rural Pennsylvania could keep landscape painters busy for weeks, but it was fitting that the backdrop for Sunday's game in Happy Valley was heavier on the soggy remnants of the previous day's football tailgating in the pastures around Jeffrey Field and its gridiron neighbor than on rolling hills and sunny skies. Between an early start time (the equivalent of 8 a.m. for the visitors from Oregon) and a persistent rain that tailed off only late in the second half, the game felt about as fluid as anything else that occurs on a college campus before noon on Sundays. "The Rutgers game [a 1-0 win Friday] and this game, as far as we're concerned, were ugly games," Portland coach Garrett Smith said of his team's brief eastward swing. "Not how we want to play, but I think the conditions have a little bit to do with it; I think the opposition, as tough-minded as Penn State is, has a lot to do with it. We showed a little bit of immaturity today in not settling the game a little bit like that, a little bit sooner, especially with a 4-1 win. But [it was] a great result for us, traveling over here." A few things gleaned from the game:
After missing Friday's game against Rutgers while training with the Under-20 national team in advance of this fall's Under-20 World Cup in Chile, Michelle Enyeart and Elli Reed came off the bench for the Pilots against Penn State (teammate Keelin Winters, also part of the national team, remained with the Pilots for both weekend games). Both showed why they're part of the national team, especially Enyeart -- who ripped one shot off the crossbar and stretching the Nittany Lions on the flanks to set up her team's final two goals. But the weekend also offered the Pilots an extended glimpse at game situations without at least two of the three players who will leave for good before the NCAA tournament.
"We're not going to rely on those three," Smith said. "It was nice that we had Keelin here this weekend, and we have to be able to utilize them, but hopefully we don't rely on them, because if we rely on them, we're not going to do anything in the playoffs anyway."
Strange as it is to say about a team that allowed a goal for the first time in its past eight games -- a shutout streak encompassing more than 10 hours of soccer -- Portland's back line bears perhaps the closest scrutiny. The Pilots have wins against USC, Florida and Penn State, and only a 1-0 loss against UCLA to the negative, but they're also a team with 14 freshmen and sophomores and only one active senior. Four members of that younger generation -- freshmen Michelle Olivier and Kassi McCluskie in the middle and sophomores Megan Sweeney and Jessica Tsao on the outside -- have started more than half the team's games. Then again, it was McCluskie, bolstered by the addition of Reed in the second half, who helped settle things as a first-half substitute after keeper Kelsey Davis was forced to star early.
"We're just growing up," Smith said. "I think [the back line is] right where it needs to be. I mean, we've got two freshman center backs that have been starting for us regularly and we've got two sophomores at outside backs. And just thankfully, we've got Kelsey Davis, who is a great leader in the back and can bail us out of a lot of situations."
More on this later in the season, but as good as Davis is on the field -- and Sunday's performance ought to bolster her already strong All-American credentials -- she's better off the field. She's leading the way in the team's effort to sponsor a room at Portland's Emmanuel Children's Hospital through the Ronald McDonald House. Davis is the latest in a long line of Pilots to spearhead a commitment by team members to cook dinner in regular visits to Emmanuel, but she's taken it to the next level with the effort to sponsor a room that would be used by family members of children undergoing treatment.
"We thought that it would be an awesome contribution on our part to provide a room," Davis said. "It's a five-year commitment -- we have to raise some money for it and do the furnishing of the room and stuff like that. We've had a great relationship with the Ronald McDonald House and it's been a tradition, so we just wanted to look to further our support and our service to them."
The players will be involved in fundraising efforts throughout the season.