Men’s soccer edges Warhawks in instant classic

By Emerald Gao

Last year, men’s soccer pulled out a 1–0 overtime victory over UW–Whitewater. This time around, the squad didn’t need the extra minutes for the win, but the contest between these two teams was once again a hard-fought battle.

Continuing a string of fine games, the Maroons (9–4–2,1–2–1 UAA) locked up a winning season for 2006 with a 2–1 edging of UW–Whitewater (9–4–1), and Scott Wiercinski became the first head coach out of nine in Chicago history to lead the squad to the feat in his first year in charge.

The accomplishment hasn’t come easily for the program, which has experienced a variety of growing pains. Although the team has run into a few roadblocks in the UAA, recent showdowns against regional opponents Beloit (7–7–2), Wheaton (8–7–3), and now UW–Whitewater have infused the program with a new air of confidence.

Flashing some of the best attacking soccer of their season in a match that has been built up to a regional classic in recent years, the Maroons’ clash with the Warhawks started out at a high tempo that never really subsided. While the offense looked increasingly comfortable with each other, the new-look defense took some time to settle down as third-year co-captain Eric Kirkenmeier and first-year Drew Marshall replaced first-years John Hughes and Joe Farias-Eisner in the backline’s shuffle.

“Two new guys in a backline of four is not something you want to change everyday, but everyone adjusted quite well,” Wiercinski said.

After repelling some early threats by the Warhawks, Chicago went on the offensive and should have taken the lead after building up pressure with slick passing and good ground movement. A corner taken by first-year midfielder Alex Takakuwa was flicked on to third-year forward Andrew Hamilton, whose header hit both the crossbar and the post before being scuffed off the line by a Whitewater defender. The ball only got as far as second-year midfielder Eric Floyd, whose rebound shot was again cleared off the line.

The close call shot a spark under the Maroons, and they surged forward in search for a goal. First-year forward Edgar Friloux laid a pass off to second-year midfielder Tom Lobell, but Lobell fired his shot past the far post. Then, after a good combination play by Lobell and Takakuwa, Hamilton took the ball past two defenders before going one-on-one with third-year goalkeeper E.J. Sesselmann, who managed to push the shot wide.

It was a near-miracle that the ball had managed to stay out of Whitewater’s net for so long, but the Warhawks’ luck wouldn’t last much longer. At 23 minutes, a curling shot from Hamilton was diverted into the far post by Friloux, and the incessant pressure from the Maroons’ fluid attack finally paid off. Hamilton, in a man-of-the-match performance, was at the center of most of Chicago’s plays, using a mixture of physical hold-up play and good technique to draw his teammates into the charge.

The Maroons kept their drive going into the second half, but it died out when Whitewater made some key substitutions after the break that brought star forwards third-year Jason Blocker and fourth-year Nathan Haas off the bench. The two playmakers changed the dynamic of the game and eventually pinned Chicago’s defense back.

Some slightly desperate maneuvers kept the Warhawks at bay, but at the 67th minute, the two Whitewater forwards combined for a classy equalizer. From a throw-in, Haas breezed past Marshall and Kirkenmeier to send in a cross, which Blocker side-footed confidently past second-year keeper Micah Gruber.

“Anytime that happens, it’s something we’re happy about, in the sense that we don’t want our team to beat ourselves,” Wiercinski said. “We really want the opponent to do something special in order to score.”

By those standards, the Whitewater goal might have been well earned, but equally deserved was the goal that put the Maroons ahead for the second time on the day. A defense-splitting pass by Takakuwa found Friloux, who lost the ball after getting plowed over. Hamilton picked it up and took it to the byline before crossing it back in and back to Friloux on the end of a short run into the box. His header found the back of the net, marking both his second goal and Hamilton’s second assist of the game.

Some open end-to-end soccer followed after the Maroons scored. The Warhawks fought to get another goal while Chicago did everything to put the game away. Haas almost tied things up again, but was denied on a crucial saving tackle by third-year defender Jon Cartwright to preserve the team’s clean sweep of its three most recent non-conference foes.

“We’ve done a very good job of making these last three games very important, so we’ve put ourselves in a position where we have everything to play for,” Wiercinski said. “We’ve got a good week of preparation, and if the coaching staff does their job well, we should be ready.”

The team will need to be as ready as possible for Friday’s match against NYU (13–1–0, 4–0 UAA), who will pose the toughest test yet for the Maroons. Even with some small details still to be perfected, the team will go into the contest having struck up impressive chemistry.