Rich Manning has had two successful seasons at Utah.
Nov. 20, 2003
By Kurt Kragthorpe
Salt Lake Tribune Columnist
Saying the University of Utah's soccer season ended suddenly Thursday is only partly true. Right when Idaho State's last shootout kick went past goalkeeper Ashley Mason, the Utes were done.
Yet the end came only after 110 agonizing minutes on a cold, dark, rainy afternoon, when the Utes were left to consider the prospect of two other teams playing a second-round NCAA Tournament game on their field Saturday -- and having Brigham Young be one of them.
Eight months ago, the U. staged one of the greatest games in NCAA basketball tournament history, Arizona's double-overtime win over Gonzaga. Thursday's doubleheader in the shadow of the Huntsman Center was not exactly on the same scale, but it was certainly entertaining, even for the non-soccer purists among us.
BYU upset Colorado by frantically hanging on in the final 20 minutes, absorbing a shot that hit the crossbar and then scoring the soccer equivalent of an empty-net goal to secure a 2-0 victory. Everything was pointing to a BYU-Utah matchup for the third Saturday in a row, except that Idaho State had other ideas.
Afterward, coach Rich Manning fully authorized analogies to other sports when he said the Utes could have provided themselves better scoring opportunities: "We just didn't make that last pass for the layup."
So here are two more comparative descriptions:
In hockey, ISU goalie Shannon Boyle's 12 saves would have translated to roughly 50 saves.
In football, the Utes would have gained about 500 yards without scoring a touchdown.
Nobody keeps time-of-possession statistics in soccer, but maybe 40 of the 45 minutes in the second half were played in the Bengals' end of the field. And yet the Utes could not score. Fans who did not know one another kept exchanging incredulous looks as Utah maintained constant pressure on ISU, with no payoff.
"That's soccer," Manning said more than once in the postgame interview tent. "If a team wants to bunker down and pack it in, it's hard to score."
Manning must have known something like this would happen. During the pre-tournament meeting, coaches were reminded that games would go to a shootout after two 10-minute overtimes -- not four sessions, as in the old days.
"We'd like 20 more minutes," Manning said afterward.
Yet this was one of those days when the Utes may have spent several hours kicking the ball and still had shot after shot blocked by the defense, hit a goalpost or end up in Boyle's hands.
"We had a little bit of luck in that second half, there's no question," said ISU coach Gordon Henderson. "The second half was about us defending and keeping our ship."
In a strange way, a 1-0 loss in the NCAAs served as a tribute to Manning's coaching, to have built a 16-3-1 record and a Mountain West Conference championship from a team without much offensive ability.
Manning has made soccer such a big deal on campus that school president Bernie Machen would personally spur construction workers to complete the new concession/ticketing building in time for this week's tournament.
The rise of Manning's program is way ahead of his own timetable, after two seasons. Interesting, how a former assistant coach from a big-time program at a Catholic school could come to Utah, create enthusiasm and win right away in a fall sport in which the Utes were viewed as underachievers.
Urban Meyer's not doing badly these days, either.
Manning has a long way to go to reach the level of success he experienced at Santa Clara, but he's clearly headed in the right direction. If losing in the NCAA Tournament is perceived as failure, that's a good sign.