|School – University of Portland|
|Conference – West Coast Conference|
|Coach – Nick Carlin-Voigt (1st Season)|
Background – The Pilots were 3-12-3 overall with a 1-6-0 mark in conference play in 2015. Portland had a signature win in 2015 over Oregon State and had noteworthy ties with SMU, Washington and Denver.
The Pilots have been in a drought according to their own standards, not having recorded a winning record for the past four seasons. However, this is a program that has made its presence known on the national scene in the past including several blockbuster seasons. The Pilots have recorded a 424-270-89 overall record since the program was established in 1977. They have have earned a total of fourteen invites to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) in 1988 and 1995 under the direction of legendary head coach Clive Charles.
Bill Irwin took over the reigns of the Portland program in 2003 from Charles who served as the Pilot head coach from 1986 through 2002. Under Irvin, the Pilots appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2009. Irvin stepped down as the Portland head coach at the conclusion of the 2015 season after serving as an assistant coach at Portland from 1987 through 2002 under Charles and as the head coach from 2003 through 2015.
Nick Carlin-Voight who served as the associate head coach at UCLA for the past four seasons was named the new Portland head coach.
Defender Hugo Rhoads and midfielder Eddie Sanchez were 2015 All-West Coast Conference First Team selections. Forward Brandon Zambrano was All-WCC Honorable Mention. Midfielder Reid Baez and back Lionel Mills were named to the 2015 WCC All-Freshman Team.
Offense – Senior midfielder Eddie Sanchez (5g, 1a), a three time All-West Coast Conference First Team selection, returns to lead the attack. Sanchez has twenty-two career goals to date for the Pilots and has been at the center of the offense since arriving on campus. Sanchez is Portland's go-to guy and their most indispensable player. However, a major factor in the Pilot's offensive effectiveness in 2016 is the degree of help he gets.
Returning forwards include juniors Erik Edwardson (3g, 2a) and Brandon Zambrano (2g, 4a) who were starters last year. Sophomore Jackson Jellah (0g, 1a) who appeared in sixteen contests last year also figures to be in the mix up-top.
Sophomore Malcom Dixon who transfers in from Virginia and freshman Benji Michel out of highly regarded Montverde Academy are among the newcomers with the potential to add additional firepower to the attack up-top.
Redshirt senior Colby Trah (0g, 1a) and senior Matt Coffey (1g, 2a) are among experienced returning midfielders along with Sanchez. Sophomore midfielders Shane Aranda and Reid Baez return with the advantage of a year of experience under their belts. Rey Ortiz is among several members of the recruiting class who should push for a starting role in the midfield from the get-go.
Defense – Portland allowed opponents to place the ball in the back of the net a total of thirty-six times last year. The seventeen that the Pilots allowed in their seven WCC games was the most allowed in league play and their 2.42 goals against average ranked eighth in the eight member WCC.
The Pilots have struggled on the defensive side of the ball for some time. When they did shutout opponents last year it appeared to be at the expense of offensive productivity. You have to go back to 2010 to find a season in which they held opponents to less than twenty-five goals. It may be unreasonable to expect shutdown defense in 2016 from a defense that has been pourous in the recent past, but some improvement is required in that aspect of the game in order for the Pilots to get back on track.
Back Hugo Rhoads is the key loss on the defensive side of the ball due to graduation. Rhoads was a four-year starter and a multi-year All-WCC Team selection. The three goals and team leading six assists that he contributed in 2015 will also be missed.
Seniors Connor Johnson, Geoff Dunn and Jordan Baez and sophomore Lionel Mills are among returning backs who figure to play prominent roles in 2016.
Junior back transfer Kris Reaves from Wake Forest is a huge plus who should contribute immediately. Freshman defender Eric DeGraaf will likely experience a learning curve but he could also be in the mix for playing time in the back.
Junior Paul Christenson who has been the starter in goal for the past two seasons returns in goal. Redshirt sophomore Kienan Weekes also returns to provide an additional option between the pipes.
Newcomers – Four and A Harlf Star Recruiting Class
Coach Carlin-Voigt stated, "We are commited to finding the best student athletes to drive our culture as we form a strong identity and commitment to the process of development. Our class represents our strong relationship with MLS academies across the country." He added, "One of our most important recruiting objectives is to ensure the top players in the Pacific Northwest stay home as Portland Pilots"
Eric de Graf – Defender – Surrey, B.C. – Burnaby Central Secondary School – Played for the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy. Played for Surrey United of the BC Soccer Premier League.
Malcom Dixon – Forward – Montclair, New Jersey – Montclair Kimberly Academy – Sophomore transfer from the University of Virginia where he appeared in seven contests last year. Played for the the New York Red Bulls Academy. Member of the U-14 and U-15 National Teams. Ranked by CSN as the number five player in the class of 2015.
Kris Reaves – Defender – Duluth, Georgia – Lone Star High School – Junior transfer from Wake Forest where he was a two-year starter. 2014 CSN All-Freshman Team selection. Member of the U.S. U-20 and U-18 National Teams. Played with the FC Dallas Academy.
Benji Michel – Forward – Orlando, Florida – Montverde Academy – Leading scorer at Montverde Academy. Played for the Orlando City U-18 Team. Region III ODP Team.
Drew Boyd – Defender – Santa Clarita, California – Hart High School. Played with Real So Cal Academy. All CIF First Team selection. Played with SCU Magic. All-Area selection.
Gio Magana-Rivera – Midfielder – Hood River, Oregon – Hood River Valley High School – Two-time Oregon State 5A Player of the Year. Plays with the Portland Timber Academy. Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014. Region IV ODP Team member.
Billy Garton – Midfielder – San Diego, California – Cathedral Catholic High School – Played for Real Salt Lake Academy. Trained with Premiership youth teams at Fulham FC. Played for Albion. Cal South ODP Team member.
Rey Ortiz – Midfielder – Acapuloco, Mexico – University City High School. – Ranked by CSN as the number twenty-three player in the class of 2015. Played for the LA Galaxy Academy. Played for Carlsbad Academy. U17/U18 Best XI. U.S. U-15 National Team. Region IV and Cal South ODP Team.
Prognosis for 2016 – The good news is that Nick Carlin-Voigt and assistant coach Leonard Griffin look to be really good hires for Portland. They also inheret an experienced team and have added an impressive recruiting class.
The bad news is that substantive improvement will be needed on both sides of the ball in order for Portland to get back on track and significantly up their win total. The Pilots have won only one contest in WCC play over the past two seasons and you have to go back to the 2011 campaign to find a season in which they had more overall wins than losses.
Portland is a sleeping giant but Carlin-Voigt has his work cut out for him. Contending for the WCC title and returning to standing on the national scene is not likely going to occur overnight.
Look for Carlin-Voigt and Griffin to begin the process of putting together a solid foundation upon which to build in 2016. Despite the need for improvement, there clearly are many positives in place at Portland which will likely result in good things happening sooner rather than later.
The fact that Pilots play their first four games of the 2016 season in the friendly confines of Melo Field will help provide the opportunity to gel as a team. A positive outcome in those contests would create momentum and serve as an early indicator that progress is taking place.