MORAGA, Calif. -- With a top-3 league finish at stake, the Saint Mary's men's soccer team travels to the Pacific Northwest this weekend for its final regular season matches.
The Gaels travel to Portland to face the Pilots Friday in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Merlo Field, then finish off the season Sunday with a 12 Noon match at Gonzaga. Both games will be streamed live on the Internet with links to video and statistics available on SMCGaels.com.
Saint Mary's enters Friday's match at Portland with a 6-8-4 overall record and a 4-4-2 mark in league play. The Gaels currently have 14 points from their 10 WCC matches and reside in third place in the league standings, just one point behind Gonzaga. Loyola Marymount leads the WCC with a 7-2-1 mark (22 pts), while Santa Clara is in second at 7-3-0 (21).
"We were picked to finish fifth in the conference and we have a chance to finish third, so there is a lot on the line for us this weekend at Portland and Gonzaga," said eighth year SMC head coach Adam Cooper. "To finish among the top three in our conference is important to us. This weekend's trip is important for the growth of our team, to maintain improvement and to represent our school. We have a lot to play for this weekend."
Under Cooper, the Gaels have enjoyed the best seasons in program history. SMC has finished among the top three in the WCC in three of the last four years and won the league title in 2011.
With just two seniors heading into this year, Cooper knew the challenges were going to be significant. But, the young Gaels side remained in contention for the league title until the penultimate weekend in WCC play.
Each of the team's four league losses came to the top two teams in the current standings and three of those were in overtime. The team's only WCC loss in regulation was last week's 1-0 setback at Santa Clara - which was decided on a corner kick goal with eight minutes left in regulation.
"The guys have really competed well in every WCC game so far," said Cooper. "We've lost focus in critical moments, which is something we will need to improve on. We have chance to do that this weekend with two tough games in difficult conditions at Portland and Gonzaga."
Portland enters Friday's match with an 8-10 overall record and a 3-7 mark in league play. The Pilots have lost each of their last four matches and, unlike Saint Mary's, have played into overtime just three times this season.
The Pilots lead the league in points and goals and freshman Eddie Sanchez is the conference leader with 12 goals this season.
"Portland is a very dynamic attacking team," said Cooper. "They have some very good attacking players, particularly one of the top scoring freshmen in the country. They can score a lot of goals. The forecast calls for rain and they have good crowds that provide a difficult environment for visiting teams. We are going to have to be good on both sides of the ball."
This weekend's matches will serve as the final appearances for Saint Mary's seniors Justin Howard and Jesus Landeros. Howard, a native of nearby Livermore, has scored twice this season and is fifth on the team in points with six. Oxnard, Calif. native Landeros has appeared in eight matches.
"I'm excited for Justin and Jesus," said Cooper. "Both of them have been great for our program. Justin played here for four years and always puts everything on the line every time he steps on the field. He scored the game-winner at UC Irvine to help us get to the NCAA Sweet 16 and has been a big part of the history of this program. Jesus has played here for two seasons, has made the most of his chances and is the absolute best teammate we have. He does everything he can for the team, whether it is in training or in games.
"They are both going to play this weekend and, hopefully, they can go out with a couple of victories."