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NCAA bid in the balance as Huskies head to LA

This afternoon the Washington men’s soccer team will go up against No. 24 San Diego State (6-4-5, 3-2-2) in San Diego and will take on No. 10 UCLA (9-3-2, 4-1-2) on Sunday in Los Angeles to wrap up the final road trips of the regular season for the Huskies.

The Huskies will be facing a San Diego State squad that has won three out of its last four matches, beating No. 21 Stanford (10-4-2, 4-3-2) on the road and Cal (8-8-1, 2-6-1) twice. Washington will have its hands full with an Aztec squad that has been steadily improving since its 0-0 draw on Oct. 2.

At this point in the season, the Huskies have no room for error or fatigue. They are currently sitting in fifth place in the Pac-10 conference, though just two points behind the third-place Aztecs.

“If we want to make the playoffs, we need to get at least one big win,” said junior defender Taylor Mueller. “We can’t lose — no matter what — at this point in time.”

This final regular-season road trip will most likely dictate Washington’s chances at making it to the NCAA tournament.

“Tough games: Everybody’s got something at stake,” said head coach Dean Wurzberger. “So close, hard-fought games, for sure. I think SDSU still thinks they have a chance for sure for the postseason, and they might think they have a chance at the Pac-10 title.”

After a scoreless draw earlier in Pac-10 play, Washington will again turn to its defense, which has allowed only five goals in seven conference matches, to come up big.

“I like the way we’re playing, and I like our team’s attitude,” said Wurzberger. “I just want to make sure I do everything that I can to make sure they arrive fresh in that game on Friday, because we have been slugging it out at a high tempo, high intensity, in extra time in both games. So there’s a resulting fatigue you can expect in those situations.”

On Sunday, Washington will again go up against a powerhouse team on the ropes: UCLA. After winning 10 games in a row, the Bruins have dropped two straight matches, to No. 21 Stanford and Creighton. UCLA, however, still remains unbeaten at home (5-0) and in first place in the Pac-10.

The Huskies believe they can stop the Bruins with their physical defenders and a little luck on the offensive end.

“We’re playing extremely well,” said Wurzberger. “We’ve got forwards that have been unlucky, and the goalkeepers made a couple of good saves. We think that will eventually pay off for us. Those goals that we’ve missed will go in, and what a better time than on the road trip?”

Washington has out-shot its opponents 234 to 188, but the Huskies have only come up with 14 goals this season, which is the same total they have allowed.

Although the Huskies have not been able to find the net on a regular basis, they have been a notoriously good road team in conference, with their one Pac-10 victory coming on the road at Cal on Oct. 9.

“That helps with the confidence factor as we go down there,” said Wurzberger. “We know what to expect, and that’s got to play to our advantage.”

Senior forward Casey Cunningham knows how important the weekend is.

“We’re looking for a victory, no matter how it comes,” Cunningham said. “We’re on the road; don’t have to play pretty, just get a result.”

Reach reporter Mark Morgan at sports@dailyuw.com.

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