Men’s soccer splits a pair of UAA games

By Dimitri Islam

After starting the season at a torrid pace, the University of Chicago men’s soccer team has started to cool off a little bit. While the men opened the year at 5-0, the past several weeks have been a bit rockier. This past weekend of University Athletic Association competition continued Chicago’s up-and-down trend. On Friday, the Maroons played Emory University in their third UAA match of the season. Despite scoring an early goal, Chicago couldn’t hold on to the lead, and Emory scored two unanswered goals to win the game, 2-1. Following the loss, the Maroons regrouped well on Sunday against New York University. This time, Chicago scored two goals and never let NYU equalize. For their efforts, the Maroons won the match 2-1. After another weekend of rigorous UAA play, Chicago stands with a respectable 7-2 record (2-2 in the UAA).

As with many other games this season, Chicago came out dominating Emory. According to Head Coach John O’Connor, the Maroons made some extremely classy plays at the beginning of the Emory match.

“The first 20 minutes against Emory were basically the best 20 minutes of soccer we’ve played all year,” O’Connor said.

Indeed, only seven minutes into the match, midfielder Ben Johnson (fourth-year) found third-year midfielder Kevin Donovan for the game’s first goal. The goal was also Donovan’s first of the season. For most of the first half, Chicago kept Emory off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, in the 39th minute, Emory scored the equalizer on what Coach O’Connor called a temporary lull for Chicago.

“Towards the end of the half, Emory just took advantage of a lull in our play,” O’Connor said. “We were playing really well, and we let up for just a little bit, and Emory capitalized on that.”

The second half closely emulated the first. Chicago again came out firing. By the end of the match, the Maroons amassed 18 shots, while Emory could only muster a paltry six shots. Despite the sizable differences in chances created, Emory did manage to strike when it counted. About 10 minutes into the second half, Emory once again found the back of the net. After being up by a goal early in the game, the Maroons all of a sudden found themselves looking at a one-goal deficit.

Chicago responded by pushing forward with even more vigor. Similar to previous matches, however, the Maroons never seemed to find the last touch to finish a scoring opportunity.

“Emory only had five or six chances, but they have two very talented forwards, and they scored when they needed to,” O’Connor said. “We had 18 chances, and two or three balls went right across the front of the net. No one was there to put the ball away, though, and that was mainly a timing issue for us. We might just have to make tighter runs to put those away.”

When the final whistle blew, Emory walked away with a 2-1 victory. Many Chicago players felt frustrated that they lost a game that always remained very well within their reach.

“The guys were a little frustrated,” O’Connor said. “We played very well against Emory, but we just couldn’t get the result. I know that many individual players are just frustrated at themselves — they wish they could’ve done better with a cross or on a shot.”

On Sunday, against NYU, Chicago had a chance to finish the weekend on a positive note. Still unsatisfied after the loss to Emory, Chicago came out ready to play aggressively against their opponents from New York. To NYU’s credit, however, they matched up well against Chicago and found seams in the Maroons’ defense. Continuing the trend in early goal scoring, Ben Johnson scored the first goal of the match in the 13th minute, with midfielder Dan Dalton (fourth-year) providing the assist. Coach O’Connor was extremely pleased by Johnson’s first strike of the season.

“Ben Johnson scored a great, great goal,” O’Connor said. “He’s been playing the best soccer of his entire life. He’s holding the ball well for us and just playing extremely well.”

Chicago kept up the pressure after Johnson’s early goal. In the 30th minute, fourth-year midfielder Pat Barry scored a sensational goal, his sixth of the season. The Maroons then held the two-goal lead until the very end of the match. In the 87th minute, NYU finally broke through for their first goal. Despite the minor set back, Chicago coolly held on for the last few minutes of the match. Subsequently, the Maroons earned their second UAA victory of the season. Coach O’Connor was especially pleased with the scoring distribution in the NYU match.

“ [Third-year] Barret Van Sicklen is our top scorer this year, but he’s being double-teamed a lot now,” O’Connor said. “Pat and Ben really took the load this game.”

O’Connor also made sure to give the talented NYU squad their due credit.

“I was extremely impressed by NYU this year,” O’Connor said. “This is the best NYU team I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Overall, this was a good, solid result for our team.”

On Saturday, the Maroons face UW-Oshkosh in an important regional matchup. Oshkosh is ranked second in the region, and they played in the NCAA Division III Final Four last season. Then, on Tuesday, the Maroons face Beloit in yet another regional contest. After a week off from competitive play, the Maroons are ready to take on the competition.

“We’re all looking forward to these games,” Coach O’Connor said. “These are two big games for us, and both are at home. We’ve been practicing real well this week, and we’re just ready to go out and play.”