The Western Washington University men’s soccer team has been making the most of their opportunities this season. With a 3-1 win over Seattle Pacific on Oct. 1, the Vikings solely held the first-place spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings. However, after a 2-1 loss on Oct. 6 to Simon Fraser, the Vikings are now tied for first with both Simon Fraser and Northwest Nazarene.
Seattle Pacific University
On Oct. 1, the Vikings improved their record to 3-0 in league play with a dominant win over the Seattle Pacific Falcons.
“They’re for sure our biggest rivals,” said senior captain and defender, Teagan Eldridge. “It’s always a good battle between us. We don’t like them, and they don’t like us, so it’s always extra fun to play them.”
Vikings head coach Greg Brisbon, who played on SPU’s 1996 and 1997 NCAA Division II tournament soccer team, said most of the players on both teams know one another from years of playing club soccer and/or previous college seasons. Many players on both Western and SPU grew up in Washington state, a highly competitive location for youth soccer.
“It brings a little extra bite to the game, and it’s super competitive,” Brisbon said.
The Vikings have their sights set on winning their first conference title since 2019. But Brisbon and the Vikings have bigger goals as well.
“[The] ultimate goal is to get to the tournament,” Brisbon said. “We want to just keep winning games and see how far we can take this.”
Western midfielder Kyota Hiate scored the first goal of the match in the 27th minute off an assist from forward Andrew Rotter, but Seattle Pacific answered quickly, capitalizing off a corner kick in the 31st minute to tie the match at 1-1.
SPU controlled the ball well throughout the game, keeping possession of the ball for 56% of the match. They put pressure on the Viking’s defense for much of the second half, moving the ball deep into Western’s territory, which forced multiple corner kicks for SPU.
In the 75th minute, SPU player Connor Tollan delivered a cross from inside the box, which ricocheted off a Western defender for a corner. SPU aggressively petitioned that it was a handball, which would have given them a penalty kick and an opportunity to take the lead. The referee thought otherwise and awarded SPU a corner kick instead.
“From what I remember, it looked like it went right off his thigh,” Viking goalkeeper Patrick Restum said. “Everyone was just kind of saying it went off our defender’s thigh, so we don’t really know what they were complaining about.”
Momentum shifted quickly. Restum made a leaping catch off the corner kick to start a fast break for the Vikings. Restum said he read the field and recognized the Vikings had an opportunity to go on the offensive.
“When I got up, I saw Kyota pretty wide open in the middle of the field,” Restum said. “So I threw it to him just hoping that we were able to start the counter attack.”
Hiate crossed the ball across field to senior midfielder Johan Espinoza, who threaded a through ball to senior forward Alessandro Tomasi for a one touch, left-footed strike to take a 2-1 lead in the 76th minute.
Five minutes later, Espinoza scored a goal of his own to put the Vikings ahead 3-1 late in the game. The goal, which was assisted by sophomore forward Eric Bunnell, sealed the victory for Western.
Western’s defense held steady despite SPU bringing the pressure offensively and controlling possession. Restum was solid inside the frame, saving four of five shots on goal and punching multiple corner kicks out of the box. Restum has 30 saves in nine starts this season, according to Western scorekeepers.
“Our defense did well, though, limiting their chances on me,” Restum said.
Before the match, Brisbon attributed much of their success to the defense’s play. Western has only allowed six goals to opponents, a major reason for their plus-twelve goal differential during the regular season.
“It’s been difficult to get scored on,” Brisbon said, crediting both the defense and keeper for their play through the first half of the season.
Eldridge, a leader on the defensive line, agreed that shutdown defense was a major reason for their success.
“We’re really defensively solid,” Eldridge said. “We don’t give up very many goals.”
Eldridge also credited their pace on offense, saying they have offensive players who can create chances and score goals. Western ended the match with 14 shots total and five shots on goal.
Eldridge said making a NCAA tournament run is within the realm of possibility, but he understands it won’t be easy. In 2019, the last time Western made the NCAA DII tournament, they lost 5-0 to St. Mary’s (Texas) in their first match of the tournament.
“There're a lot of good teams in the west region,” Eldridge said. “But I also think we’re a pretty good dang team too.”
Simon Fraser University
On Oct. 6, the Vikings lost 2-1 against the Simon Fraser Red Leafs, resulting in their first loss of the season.
Red Leafs junior midfielder Mark Talisuna scored the first goal off a penalty kick about a minute and a half into the game.
Viking sophomore forward Andrew Rotter returned the favor about three minutes later with a header, assisted by freshman forward Albin Jonsson, to tie the game 1-1.
The game was tight going into the second half.
With a corner kick in the 71st minute by Red Leafs junior defender Niko Papakyriakopoulos, junior forward Devin O’Hea headed the ball into the net, giving SFU a 2-1 lead and eventually the win.
Both Rotter and O'Hea had one shot on goal.
Western had 12 shots total, four of them on goal while Simon Fraser had 10 shots total, four of them on goal. Western also had 11 fouls with both senior midfielder Dakota Stamnes and junior defender Mitchell Hutter receiving yellow cards in the second half.
The Vikings are now tied for first in the GNAC standings with a 3-1 conference record. Their next game is at home on Saturday, Oct. 8, against Saint Martin’s University.