Denver advances to Quarterfinals for first time since 1970

1970 has been coming up a lot this year for the sixth-seeded University of Denver Men’s Soccer team…and that’s for good reason. Thanks to a clutch 2-1 victory over the 11th-seeded University of Washington, the Pios are on their way to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the first time since 1970. In other words, for just the second time in program history, the Pioneers are headed to the Quarterfinals.

In 1970, the Pios beat San Jose State 2-1 in the round of sixteen to advance to the Quarterfinals against UCLA. They lost that game 3-1, ending DU’s first foray into deep NCAA play. This year’s squad is determined to make this year different. After beating UNLV 3-0 last weekend in the Round of 32 and topping Washington tonight, that may just happen.

“We’re excited,” DU head coach Jamie Franks said after the game. “We’re excited for the student-athletes. We’ve been working two hard years at this and that SMU [loss] last year really propelled us.”

Calling the 2016 Pioneers underrated would be doing them a disservice. DU has been playing lesser competition all year (apologies to the rest of the Summit League). Even last weekend, against UNLV, Denver was by far the better team.

Tonight, against a very good Washington Huskies team, DU was really tested by a high-quality opponent for the first time since their scoreless draw at Creighton. The Pios not only withstood the test, but they passed with flying colors.

Washington controlled play early in the first half, but after a few minutes of play in DU’s end, the Pioneers settled in and wrested control back from the Huskies. They wouldn’t let go until there were about 15 minutes left in the game.

Denver’s set pieces stole the show in a match controlled by the crimson and gold. in the 24th minute, Chandler Crosswait finished a bizarre sequence off of a corner that saw the ball strike the right post before Crosswait found it and tapped it across the goal line.

“We can tell [the opposition] what we’re going to do, but the service is great and we have four or five guys that are dominant in the air. Defending set pieces is something we knew [Washington] was weak at, so we exposed them.”

Later, in the 65th minute, Karsten Hanlin’s free kick from 30 yards out found Pioneer star Andre Shinyashiki’s head and his header beat UW goalkeeper Auden Schilder for DU’s second goal off of a set piece of the night. Shinyashiki’s goal made it the Pios’ third set piece goal in their last two games (Scott DeVoss against UNLV).

The Pioneers conceded a goal on a questionable penalty kick in the 77th minute, but it was nothing more than a blip on the radar for the Pios. In short, the 2-1 final score made this game seem a lot closer than it actually was.

“I thought that we should have put the game away in the first half,” Franks said. “10-2 in shots in the first half, 6 corner kicks, we had them on the ropes.”

Denver has its sights set on bringing home a national title. Our Tim Thompson posited the question as to whether that goal was realistic earlier today. If tonight showed the last few doubters anything, it should be that their goal is more realistic than ever.

“Last year everyone thought we were a good team,” Franks explained. “I think that with every win, with every season, we’re trying to build a program…We’re trying to build something that we can go after this trophy every single year.”

DU has one more test, one more chance at another victory next weekend in the Quarterfinals against either 2nd-seeded Clemson or Albany before they can book their trip to Houston. But after tonight, neither Albany nor Clemson should be looking forward to playing this DU squad. Denver is coming for a national title and that has never been clearer than tonight.