PROVO — The state's fiercest rivalry will extend to the soccer field when Brigham Young and Utah square off on South Field in Provo Friday night.
BYU's men's soccer club is part of the Premier Development League, a semi-professional league operating as part of the United Soccer Leagues, a national organization that sent more than 20 players to the MLS SuperDraft this year. BYU itself sent three players to participate in the MLS combine, though none were drafted. Furthermore, BYU has had their roster solidified since January.
The Utes? Not so much.
"We're a decent team, we're up and coming, and we've underperformed in the past," Utah head coach Matthew Ellinger said of his team. "BYU's a talented program. They've been at it a lot longer than we have as a program. Our fitness isn't the same level as theirs at the moment. We're a little concerned about that, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to play them."
Utah's player selection process concluded last Tuesday after multiple rounds of tryouts. According to Ellinger, the team is mostly the same as the one that took the field the last time these two clubs played — an autumn showdown that ended in a 4-0 BYU win. Ellinger said his team will be up to the task, despite the uphill battle the Utes face.
"It doesn't matter if it's an intermural ping-pong championship," he said. "I think it's still going to be a heated battle. We always look forward to it. Once you have the two different logos, it doesn't matter what sport it is, it will be pretty competitive."
BYU's sophomore right midfielder, Garrett Gee, is in agreement with Ellinger. He said although it's fairly common knowledge that the Utes are coming into this game as the underdog, BYU will need to maintain its focus and composure on the field, maintaining the intensity and skill the team has come to expect of itself.
"Anytime you have a rivalry match like tonight," he said, "There's a whole new level of intensity that can really change the game, no matter who's the underdog. That will be the controlling factor."
BYU plays a possession-oriented style of soccer and enjoys making the opponent chase the ball. Instrumental in that regard is midfielder Colby Bauer (no. 3), whom BYU head coach Chris Watkins identified as the player to watch on the field tonight.
"Our midfielders are our best players," he said, "Colby (Bauer) is a fantastic player, and this is his fourth year in our program. He's the center of our team right now and does a good job in keeping possession for us."
For his part, Ellinger says the Utes play an attack-minded style of soccer, continually trying to push the ball up the field.
"We try to dictate the tempo by attacking," he said. "We're really a pretty strong team going forward. As a team, we're still learning to defend all over the field, but we have some very technical, talented attacking players."
Skyler Milne (no. 26), Utah's 6-foot-5 attacking midfielder is one of those attackers. Usually soccer players of his stature live on the defensive line, but Milne's strength is the attack.
"He's best when he's got the ball at his feet and when he's running at people," Ellinger said. "He doesn't look the part. He's not as disciplined as you want your center back to be. He's the guy we look to to get on the end of crosses. He mixes it up a lot."
Whether or not Utah's style of play will help them overcome the Cougars on the road tonight has yet to be determined.
-- Tonight's match will stream live on DeseretNews.com and KSL.com. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.