(Courtesy of Portland Sports Information)
PORTLAND, Ore. - The Portland Pilots capped a magical season by winning the 2016 West Coast Conference championship with a 1-0 win over the Saint Mary's Gaels in front of packed crowd at Merlo Field on Saturday night. 4,362 fans saw the Pilots win their first WCC title since 2002.
The win also clinches an NCAA playoff for the Pilots, who return to the post-season for the first time since 2009.
The Pilots (12-5-1, 6-1-0 WCC) entered the night controlling their own destiny as the home side needed a win to clinch the league title. And Portland's Matthew Coffey gave the Pilots an ideal start to the night when he buried the game's only goal into the top shelf in the sixth minute.
After the Pilots were awarded a free kick, Rey Ortiz used a quick start to get the ball to Coffey, who did the rest by getting to the endline and drilling a shot into the net from a tough angle.
The lead would stand, thanks to solid defending from the Pilots all night long as the Gaels (8-8-3, 4-3-0 WCC) searched for the equalizer.
The Pilots meanwhile didn't settle for the one-goal lead as they continued to create chances. Ortiz sent in a deflected ball minutes after the goal that nearly caught SMC keeper Andrew Konstantino off guard. But the goalie made a nice diving save to knock it wide.
Malcom Dixon then forced Konstantino into making a save when he hit a shot towards the frame from about 16 yards out in the 42nd minute, and the two sides would enter the half with the Pilots leading 1-0.
The Pilots did well defending after the break, denying the Gaels repeatedly. And then in the 68th minute, Coffey nearly connected on his second goal of the night. He gained possession outside the box, took a couple of touches, and struck a well-hit shot towards the left post. Again Konstantino came through with another key save, this time getting just enough of a touch on it to send it wide.
Time would soon run out on the Gaels, setting off a wild celebration on the Merlo Field pitch.
It's the sixth WCC title in the history of Portland's storied program, and the Pilots will be making their 15th all-time appearance.