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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/UP men's soccer shows resiliency amid early setbacks

COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Rey Ortiz is congratulated after his free-kick goal vs. Pacific by University of Portland teammates Benji Michel (left), Matthew Coffey (second from right) and Jason Romero.The Portland Pilots men's soccer team is still a work in progress. But progress is what coach Nick Carlin-Voigt has seen despite some injuries that have thrown a wrinkle into the process on The Bluff.

The Pilots took a significant first step along the path to repeating as West Coast Conference champions with a 3-1 win last Saturday over the Pacific Tigers at Merlo Field.

It was their WCC opener and the third of three consecutive matches against teams ranked among the top 25 in the nation. Beating the only WCC rival they lost to in 2016 was a nice first act.

Carlin-Voigt was pleased with the early part of Saturday's game — Portland took a 2-0 first-half lead on goals from Erik Edwardson and Benji Michel — and with the way his team battled after Pacific pulled to within 2-1 five minutes into the second half.

And, of course, he loved seeing Rey Ortiz curl in a beauty of a free kick in the 77th minute.

Portland's 6-5 record might not wow folks. But Carlin-Voigt likes the way his team responded to home losses against Nevada-Las Vegas and California — games the Pilots were in position to win but lost in double overtime.

UP also had a 2-1 loss overtime loss on Oct. 2 at Virginia, a traditional power and the No. 11-ranked team in the country.

Notable wins include a 4-1 win over No. 12 Western Michigan, a 2-1 win over No. 23 Seattle and the Saturday win over No. 18 Pacific.

"I have a resilient team," Carlin-Voigt says. "We've had more adversity early in the season than we planned on."

Injuries have forced multiple projected starters to miss multiple matches. Senior midfielder Matt Coffey, German midfielder Luke Hendel and English outside back Spencer Myers are among those who have missed some time.

Among those who have not missed a beat are sophomores Ortiz and Benji Michel. Carlin-Voigt worried that the talented attackers might experience the sophomore slum that sometimes happens in college athletics. But Ortiz has four goals and 10 assists and Michel has a team-high nine goals.

Ortiz and Michel get plenty of attention from opponents. But they are far from the only talented offensive players on the Pilots roster, with that list including sophomore midfielder Gio Magana-Rivera from Hood River.

"We have many guys who can hurt you," Carlin-Voigt says. "So if you pay too much attention to Rey on the right side, then there will be opportunities for us in the middle. If you try to plug the middle and take away our midfielders, we can get you in wide areas. So no matter what teams do, we have a solution."

The result is an attack that ranks 10th in the nation scoring at a 2.3 goals-per-match clip.

"It's a fun group of guys to watch," Carlin-Voigt says, describing his squad as "a real hard-working and dynamic college soccer team here on The Bluff."

With only seven conference matches, the margin for error is slim during what Carlin-Voigt calls an era of parity in the WCC.

Next up for the Pilots are a pair of challenging road games. On Friday, they visit San Diego. The Toreros are 6-3-1, 1-0 in conference and on a three-match winning streak. The following week, the Pilots will play at Loyola-Marymount (2-8-2, 0-1) before three remaining home matches between Oct. 27 and Nov. 4.

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