The 2018 season began with high expectations and loads of excitement on The Bluff as the Portland Pilots men's soccer team added the third-ranked recruiting class to an already talented roster. Sure, the team had positions to fill, as goalkeeper Paul Christensen and defender Kris Reaves both departed for MLS, but the young Pilots were eager step up and help lead the squad back to the NCAA Playoffs.
Opening weekend in late August featured a packed Merlo Field and a win over an ACC team as All-American forward Benji Michel began a goal-scoring streak that would last the next few weeks. Michel scored a goal during each of the six first games of the season as the Pilots got off to the program's best start since the legendary squad of 1988.
During their non-conference run, the Pilots posted wins over No. 9 Washington and at No. 24 Coastal Carolina, they defeated NCAA Postseason teams Syracuse and Oregon State, and they topped Northern Illinois, who was No. 13 in the NCAA's RPI rankings and No. 24 in the Top Drawer Soccer Poll.
At 10-0-3, the Pilots climbed to No. 7 in the national rankings and they were one of the two remaining teams in the country without as loss. The unbeaten streak was the longest for Portland since 1995 when the team put together 14 games without a loss.
Along the way, the Pilots were landing individual awards as Michel, Gio Magana-Rivera, Kienan Weekes, and Rey Ortiz all landed on Top Drawer Soccer's National Team of the Week at some point. Michel and Weekes were also named the WCC Player of the Week, and Michel was tabbed the National Player of the Week by Top Drawer Soccer after providing two game-winners and an assist during Portland's victories at Coastal Carolina and over Northern Illinois.
The Pilots, who entered the national rankings during the third week of the season and remained there for the remainder of the year, battled through injuries and consistently fielded a starting XI that featured seven first-year players. Portland was unfazed, and by the end of the regular season they had suffered only three losses, which was the fewest since 1995, a year the Pilots reached the NCAA College Cup.
Portland was rewarded when they received a berth to the postseason and a first-round home match against the Pac-12's UCLA, a storied program that was making their 45th playoff appearance. The game in mid-November was the first home playoff contest for the Pilots since 2002, and it was the second NCAA postseason appearance in three years under head coach Nick Carlin-Voigt's guidance.
The game was an epic battle, and in the end the home side was victorious as a goal from Michel, stingy defense, and a solid performance by Weekes allowed the Pilots to claim the 1-0 shutout. The win sent the Pilots to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
There wasn't much time to celebrate the win as the very next morning the Pilots were on a plane to Lexington, Ky., for a match-up with the fourth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. Portland gave everything they had left against the Wildcats, but Kentucky's historical season continued as they moved on to the next round with a win.
"The 2018 season was truly a year to remember for UP men's soccer," Carlin-Voigt. "I would like to thank all of those who supported us this year. Our fan base continues to grow and the magic we saw at Merlo this year was exciting for everyone associated with the UP Soccer. The program was United in Purpose and the players and staff worked diligently to create a special winning culture centered around togetherness, family and team spirit."
The end of the season brought more individual accolades for the Pilots as seven Portland players landed All-West Conference recognition, five were named all-region, and Michel was named a Second Team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches. Michel, who led the team with 11 goals and was No. 3 in the nation with seven game-winners, is the first Pilot to be named an All-American by the United Soccer Coaches, which was previously known as the NSCAA, since Nate Jaqua in 2002.
Top Drawer Soccer named Michel to their Best XI Second Team, while Jake Arteaga was place on the TDS All-Freshman Second Team.
Michel and Magana-Rivera were named to the All-WCC First Team, Ortiz landed on the All-WCC Second Team, Esteban Calvo, Malcolm Dixon, and Lionel Mills all received honorable mention, and Jake Arteaga was named to the conference's all-freshman team.
Earning United Soccer Coaches All-West Region were Michel and Ortiz (First Team), Weekes and Magana-Rivera (Second Team), and Dixon (Third Team).
Portland also ended the year ranked 21st in the country, marking the first time the Pilots finished the year in the national rankings since 2009.
"Starting the season with a 13-game unbeaten streak and finishing by beating UCLA in the playoffs at Merlo are historical milestones our players crafted to build their own legacy at such a storied program," Carlin-Voigt continued. "I couldn't be more proud of what this group represented both on and off the field. We will come back focused and determined in 2019 as we continue to chase excellence while building champions in the community."