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BYU receives tough soccer tourney opening game

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BYU's Katie Larkin and the rest of the Cougars will face Portland Thursday evening.

BYU’s Katie Larkin and the rest of the Cougars will face Portland Thursday evening.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Seldom do two nationally ranked opponents meet in the opening round of a 64-team NCAA national tournament, but such will be the case in women's soccer when No. 13 BYU takes on sixth-ranked and defending champion Portland in Thursday's opening round of the NCAA College Cup.

Facing off in the 7 p.m. match at Ute Field in Salt Lake City, BYU (13-2-4) and Portland (14-3-3) are among the 34 teams receiving at-large invitations and part of a powerhouse-laden subregional foursome that includes No. 10 Utah (15-4-1) and Big Sky Conference champion Idaho State.

Thursday's two winners meet Saturday, with that winner advancing on to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

The BYU-Portland pairing is the only first-rounder pitting nationally ranked foes, and the Salt Lake City quartet is the only NCAA foursome featuring three nationally ranked teams.

The aforementioned rankings are from Monday's Soccer America poll, one of three national listings. The NSCAA/adidas and Soccer Buzz polls will be updated later today — last week, the former had Portland No. 5, Utah No. 10 and BYU No. 19, while the Buzz rated Portland No. 5, Utah No. 13 and BYU No. 18.

BYU continues postseason play after its shootout loss to UNLV last week in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament, the Cougars' third one-and-out ouster from the MWC tourney in as many seasons. However, BYU had finished the regular season with the nation's 28th-best RPI ranking, giving the Cougars a good shot at an NCAA at-large invite.

BYU lost to Weber State in penalty kicks at Ute Field in last year's NCAA opener; the Cougars haven't won an NCAA tournament match since a penalty-kick victory over Villanova in 2003 sent them into the Elite Eight.

Portland enters the NCAAs with a chip on its shoulder, since the Pilots not only open tournament play on the road but also are not among the 16 seeded teams — four per quadrant. Portland is the first-ever defending champion not to be seeded and boasts at least a top-6 ranking in the three major national polls.

The Pilots hold a 3-1 series advantage over the Cougars, with BYU's sole victory coming in a 2-1 early-season home match in 2002. That win marked the program's first victory in its eight-year history against a top-5 team, with the then-No. 2 Pilots going on to win the NCAA title that year.

Should they win Thursday, the Cougars would advance to a repeat pairing against a team they have already faced this season. BYU downed eventual Big Sky champion Idaho State 2-1 in overtime in late August and fell 1-0 to Utah in the Mountain West opener played at Ute Field in early October.

Two other BYU opponents are in the NCAA tournament — MWC tournament champion UNLV and Colorado, the latter falling 3-2 to BYU in nonleague action.

1ST-ROUND MATCH-UP

BYU (13-2-4) vs. Portland (14-3-3)

Thursday, 7 p.m.

Ute Field


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com