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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Soccer

Soccer making final push toward playoffs, facing tough competition


Head coach Diego Bocanegra (right) has the Cougars poised to make the American Athletic Conference playoffs after the team missed going last season by one game. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

Houston is on pace to qualify for its first American Athletic Conference Championship tournament since 2014. To reach this goal, it is important for the Cougars to continue playing hard on offense and stay consistent over the last three games.

“We have a tough task of going both to South Florida and Central Florida,” said head coach Diego Bocanegra.

UH’s next two road games are against the 10–2 Bulls and 8–4–1 Knights, who sit at the top of the conference.

Both teams from the Sunshine State have exemplary offenses, scoring a combined 65 goals to its opponents’ 24 this season. But UH’s hard-nosed attack, headlined by junior forward Desiree Bowen, sophomore forward Jazmin Grant and sophomore midfielder Mia Brascia, has worked just as well with 27 goals.

Grant and Bowen have combined for 10 goals this season, close to 40 percent of the team’s total, and Brascia has seven assists.

The team has only lost one game in which it scored at least two goals, an overtime slug fest against Temple that ended 2–3.

If the Cougars’ offense can keep it up for the home stretch, it is sure to make it into the AAC playoffs.

Houston must also worry about the problem that has shadowed it in all of the last three seasons without a tournament: inconsistency.

“The challenge is just keeping our foot on the pedal, keep going and going hard. This weekend will be a good test for us,” Bowen said.

The team is coming off a 2–0 win against Tulsa and only needs one more win to solidify a spot in the six-team tournament, but UH has a history of late-season losses costing it postseason berths.

Just last year, Houston came off a two-game win streak in its final three games and had to win its season finale against Southern Methodist to clinch a spot in the playoffs. But SMU’s then-freshman forward Hannah Allred put the nail in the Cougars’ coffin when she scored a season-ending goal.

This year, UH will meet Allred and the Mustangs again in the season finale Oct. 26, but this time the improved Cougars should be ready.

Bocanegra has upgraded the team with additions like junior forward Amy Nguyen, a huge support on offense, and freshman defender Emma Clarke, a titan on defense.

Clarke will be essential in keeping UCF under control during the team’s Oct. 21 match. The Knights have scored at least two goals in each of their eight wins, including two games with five goals.

Sophomore forward Stefanie Sanders of Central Florida has 11 goals on the season, putting her in the top 10 of the AAC, and the team is riding a four-game win streak.

The Cougars will have to watch out for South Florida’s top goal scorer, junior forward Evelyne Viens, who has 15 goals this year.

Viens’ importance for USF is huge since the player with the second-most goals for the Bulls only has four. Viens also has over twice as many shots as anybody else on the team.

Despite this, Bocanegra has confidence in the Cougars’ ability to take conference heavyweights head-on.

“We now know that it does not matter who we line up against. We truly believe that we can compete with anyone in our conference and anyone in the nation,” Bocanegra said.

It is a tough final stretch of games, but when asked about Houston’s likelihood of qualifying, Bocanegra summarized his team’s attitude in just three words.

“Oh, we’re going,” Bocanegra said.

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