Scappoose graduate Ariel Viera highlights a new promotion from the Pilots focusing on local players and an intensely local fanbase
It's been a little under two years since Ariel Viera – dubbed soccer phenom' by prep sports media – sent home a fateful shot to lock her name into girls' soccer history in the state of Oregon. Viera scored her 100th goal in the ninth minute against Tillamook, part of a 15-0 rout that stands as a shining moment in an already golden season.
She was a poster-child for the Indians that season, a role that has continued with Viera's jump to the collegiate ranks – and quite literally.
The University of Portland, where Viera will start her sophomore season at left back for the Pilots, will be doing a promotion spotlighting home grown and home town players. Each of the six Pilots from local high schools or with local ties will be featured during a home game – including discounted tickets, recognition of local groups and yes, poster giveaways.
As if there weren't enough pressure playing for one of the premiere women's college soccer programs in the nation.
The Pilots finished the regular season last fall on a hot streak, climbing up to nab the third seed in the NCAA championships before losing in heartbreaking fashion to Illinois in late November.
Throughout the season, during which Viera amassed more minutes than any other player on the field, she switched away from the position Scappoose fans might have grown used to seeing. Instead of working up front and battering the opposing team's goalkeeper, Viera started 21 games on the back line.
But according to Garrett Smith, the team's head coach and a two-time NCAA national champion, she's tailored for the position. Already being defensively minded and having ample experience from her club days with FC Portland, Viera is allowed the chance as a left back to carry the ball and get up field, looking to get out wide in the attacking third and send in passes to the waiting forwards.
High school is a different level, said Smith, who watched Viera through his connections to the club. The best players tend to go where the team has a need. She scores goals and probably stops goals, too.
That was the case for Viera in high school, though her defensive tactic was usually to simply take the ball and score, but it's fed into her college career well enough that she hardly left the pitch in 2013 and was invited to the under-20 women's national team camp in November.
She found out about her invitation shortly after the team fell in the national tournament, and says that while it was an unfortunate loss, she feels worse for the seniors who ended their college careers on a heartbreaking note.
I have three more years to forget, said Viera, who is already knee-deep in training for the upcoming 2014 season.
As for getting to play left back, Viera says she enjoys the position, even the fact that it's an awful lot of running, because she gets to move up the field and look for assists. It's also far different from the high school days, where most high school opponents were helpless. Now that she plays with a purple and white target on the back of her Pilot's jersey, things aren't quite as easy.
It's a lot faster, she said. Girls can take one touch and be past you. It's not high school, I can't take five people on at once.
There's also a flip side: as good as the competition gets, there's also a massive jump in the skills and drive of her teammates.
In addition, she's no longer playing in front of a familiar group of the team members' parents with a handful of friends. Merlo Field, where the Pilots play their home games, holds just under 5,000 fans Portland has led the nation in attendance for college women's soccer for the last nine seasons, according to Smith, who said the team regularly sees crowds of around 3,500 supporters.
And that, even in comparison to the biggest high school matches of Viera's career, is the big leagues.
It really gets your heart rate going, said Viera, who is directly in front of the student supporters during the first half.
Once the game starts, though, Viera said she's pretty well focused on the action. Even when she has friends and family in the stands – which happens quite often – the pitch is the only thing that matters for those 90 minutes.
The team is young, boasting six freshman and seven sophomores, with just three seniors. Regardless, Smith has big plans and bigger expectations for the things this squad could accomplish.
Our goal is to win a national championship, but that's not easy, said Smith. Our last championship was in 2005. We're due.
Smith said a conference championship would also be nice – small beans in comparison to the Pilots' thoroughbred pedigree: Christine Sinclair and Megan Rapinoe, both of which have starred on their respective national teams.
The tradition of national success is part of a game day experience that Smith said was something different than most soccer fans ever get the chance to take part in.
And with a perennial national title buzz in the air, there's reason for excitement.
There's always a chance, you just need to get a little lucky, said Smith. This team has the talent.
As for Viera's goals, if she takes the time to step away from her team-first mindset, she'd like an invitation back to the national camp later in the fall as well as see the ball hit the back of the net.
It is a little frustrating, said Viera, who tallied a pair of shots but has yet to score as a Pilot.
Maybe, just maybe, she'll do it on the night she's scheduled to appear on posters all over town: Sept. 28 against the Washington Huskies.
By John William Howard
Follow me on Twitter @JowardHoward