The nonconference portion of the season wraps up this weekend as the Idaho soccer team hosts South Dakota Friday and Seattle U Sunday before it enters Big Sky Conference play. Idaho (3-4) wrapped up two matches in Memphis, Tennessee, last weekend with a shutout win over Arkansas State and a narrow double-overtime loss to Memphis.
“I thought it was an excellent trip for us,” Idaho coach Derek Pittman said. “I thought our team did really well on the road. It’s always difficult to get results when you’re playing on the road and in different environments you’re not used to … I thought our players did a great job and it’s going to prepare us not just for this weekend but next weekend when we begin conference play.”
A 3-4 record may not look like much to be excited about on the surface, but the differences between last year and this year are jaw dropping and something Pittman is very happy to see in just his second year with the team.
At this time last year, the Vandals were a dismal 0-7 with just one goal scored. While they did turn it around for the most part in Big Sky play (4-4-2 in BSC), the season overall went much worse than 2015 has thus far.
Idaho has 13 goals this season compared to 18 all of last year and just one at this time in 2014. They have 108 shots so far to just 47 last year at this time.
Most importantly, the Vandals already have three wins while they only managed four last year. The record is average at best, but the progress Pittman and the team is making is going light years faster than many would expect.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things the team needs to fix, especially with conference play right around the corner.
“Coming out of the game against Memphis we need to be better defensively in and around the 18-yard box,” Pittman said. “Memphis exposed us in a few defensive errors and a few different areas we need to address this week. If we do that, our goal this week is to get a shutout against South Dakota and put ourselves in a position to score more goals.”
South Dakota comes in with a 2-6 record with wins over Chicago State and Green Bay. The Coyotes are coming off two straight losses and will be desperate for a win heading into their conference season as well. Idaho is 3-0 all-time against South Dakota, with the last win coming in 2012.
“I’m a defensive-minded coach so for me I always want us to shut out our opponents and limit their opportunities,” Pittman said.
Seattle U will be a tougher matchup than South Dakota. The Redhawks are 5-2 with wins over Vanderbilt, Oregon, Gonzaga, Creighton and Purdue. Their losses came against Washington State and nationally-ranked Washington.
After leaving the WAC, Idaho has continued to play Seattle U each season. The Vandals have yet to beat SU, holding an 0-9 record against the Redhawks.
Right now, Pittman and the Vandals are focused on the next game against South Dakota, and not Seattle U or the conference games afterwards. Those games will be a concern when they are next up on the schedule.
“It’s all about the next game.” Pittman said. “We are completely focused on South Dakota. Our job is to go out and win the next one. After Friday night’s over we’ll turn our attention to Seattle U.”
Ben Evensen can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BenE_VN
Photo by: Yishan Chen