Preview: Cougar soccer takes on Portland in first round of NCAA Tournament

Brandi Vega needs to have a big game for the Cougs in Portland tonight. - Photo Courtesy WSU Athletic Communications

The Cougs travel to the Rose City to face off against the University of Portland Pilots in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

For the fourth time in five seasons, the WSU women's soccer team will be making an appearance in the postseason and this time it's against a familiar opponent. The Cougars and Portland Pilots have faced each other 13 times over their respective histories with the Pilots emerging victorious each time.

The biggest tragedy here is that the Cougs weren't able to host. It has a lot to do with facility limitations (no lights on the Lower Soccer Field) but what makes it worse is the Cougs recorded nine shut outs at home and set a school record with a 0.22 goals against average at home. For those who forgot much of their earlier years of mathematics instruction, that's less than a quarter of a goal per game.

The winner of this game will face the winner of the Michigan vs. Central Michigan tilt and will be heading all the way to State College, PA to face them. Before we get too ahead of ourselves though, lets take a look at the teams involved Friday night.

Game Time: 7:00 p.m.

Where to Watch: Free, that's right, FREE streaming video through UP's website can be found right here.

Who to Watch for Washington State:

Brandi Vega (forward, senior): Vega has been outstanding at forward for the Cougars all four years at WSU. She's got a nose for the goal including seven this season and 20 for her career. A lot of those goals have come at important times; she's buried eight game winning goals in her career, good for third in school history. Continuing to add to her list of accolades, Vega was also voted All Pac-12 Second Team this season.

Gurveen Clair (goalkeeper, redshirt sophomore): Clean sheets are big to goalies and Clair has four of them this season while combining for three more. She ranks third in the Pac-12 in goals against average with 0.92 goals per game and in just her second full season is already sixth in school history in the saves department with 137 to her credit. Clair must have a good game between the posts if the Cougars have any hopes of advancing.

Micaela Castain (midfield/forward, junior): Another member of the All Pac-12 Second Team, Castain has buried 11 balls in the back of the ol' onion bag this season, good for second in the conference. Perhaps the only person who can score a clutch goal better than Vega is Castain; she has five game winners this season.

Who to Watch for Portland:

Kendall Johnson (defender, junior): It's always nice to have the best defender in the conference on your team and the Pilots have just that. Johnson was voted the WCC Defender of the Year and will make it very difficult on the Cougs forwards and midfielders to get within even sniffing distance of the goal.

Amanda Frisbe (forward, junior): While Portland is good defensively, they're more potent offensively and All WCC First Team forward Frisbe leads the attack. She leads the conference in goals with 12 this season but doesn't mind distributing the ball as well as she also tops the conference in points with 32.

This is going to be a tough task for the Cougs to get past the Pilots. Not only are the Pilots a fantastic team, they have a huge home field advantage, averaging 3,379 fans per game, good enough for first in the nation. A win is a huge confidence builder but this feels like one the Cougars are going to have to grind out at both ends of the field.

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