UNH men’s soccer: Don’t count out the No. 16 Wildcats versus No. 1 Oregon State

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Cameron Beall

CORVALLIS, ORE. — The No. 16 University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (17-1-2, 7-0-1) jetted off to Oregon Friday afternoon after flying high versus North Carolina in a 4-1 victory. The win advanced UNH to their second ever Sweet-16 appearance in the NCAA tournament. The long flight to Oregon was made better by the generosity of the New England Patriots and Kraft family, who lent the Wildcats their team plane.  

Waiting for the Wildcats to arrive are the Oregon State Beavers (13-2-3, 7-1-2), the top seed in the tournament. On paper, this is a 16 seed underdog from a small conference facing off against a Pac-12 powerhouse. But there is plenty of reason for Wildcat nation to be optimistic for Sunday.  

UNH was as high as No. 4 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll this season after starting down at 20 in the preseason poll. Before their defeat to Vermont in the America East Championship, the ‘Cats were No. 6 in the country. That defeat tumbled UNH 10 places to 16. It was a harsh judgment from the selection committee to punish UNH so much for their first loss of the season.  

Oregon State began the season at No. 16 and only rose into the top-10 in the eighth week of polling, by which point in time UNH had been a top 10 team for five weeks. They surged to third after knocking off then-undefeated No. 1 Washington in week nine. The Beavers climbed to No. 2 the next week, and a draw versus Washington on Nov. 11 clinched them the Pac-12 title and the No. 1 seed.  

Diving into the Wildcats’ and Beavers’ statistics, the scale continues to level. Oregon State averaged 2.11 goals per game this season compared to New Hampshire’s 2.35. The Beavers conceded an average of 0.89 goals, the ‘Cats conceded just 0.45. Oregon State has a put 43.6% of their shots on target while UNH is at 47.6%. These numbers don’t necessarily paint the picture of two teams that sit 15 seeds apart. 

If these two teams had faced off in week eight of the season it’s not unrealistic to think the Wildcats would have been heavy favorites. Despite the numbers in front of each teams’ names this Sunday, the rosters are the same as they were in week eight, the coaches are the same, the number of players on the pitch will still be 22 at kick-off. So, give the ‘Cats a fighting chance.  

Sunday at 9 p.m. ET it will be the Wildcats and Beavers playing for their season and each school’s first ever trip to the Elite Eight.  

Photo courtesy of China Wong