Conference play looms for 7–2–1 Maroons

This weekend, the men’s soccer team finally returns home for its first conference game of the season against the Eagles of Emory.

By Britta Nordstrom

While most UChicago students were in the middle of summer internships and vacations, the Maroons were ready to finish what is typically a gruelling pre-season and start their first game as September 1 rolled around.

And the Maroons were ready indeed, as evidenced by the fact that they rattled off a 5–0 start, earning wins against Dominican (1–0), Olivet (2–1), Rose-Hulman (1–0), North Park (3–1), and St. Olaf (2–1).

When asked about their favorite game of that five-game winning streak, both second-year Hill Bonin and fourth-year Jorge Bilbao responded with their comeback against North Park.

“We let one goal in and then turned around and crushed them,” Hill said. “For about 30 minutes, we saw exactly what we can do to a team when we are firing on all cylinders.”

Echoing his teammates’ sentiments, Bilbao said, “The comeback really showed us what we can do when we play our game and leave everything on the field.” Another great win for the Maroons was their double-overtime victory against St. Olaf.

Unfortunately, the streak didn’t last forever, as the Maroons eventually fell to No. 6 Loras 4–0. 

Bilbao said, “We lost that game, but it helped us in a lot of ways. We were humbled by it and we were able to figure out some aspects on our game that needed more work.”

The Maroons certainly used the loss as fuel, because they rattled off two more wins against Benedictine (2–1) and North Central (2–1), before eventually falling in a close match with Wheaton (1–0). The only goal of the game came in the final two minutes. 

The squad’s last game featured a matchup against Carthage, which ended in a tie at one goal apiece, even after two overtimes. Bilbao said, “We’re at a point in the season where we need to focus more on our ability to grind out tough results instead of our actual soccer.”

While a tie certainly isn’t optimal, Chicago has shown that they are able to grind out long games; double overtimes can go as long as 110 minutes and the squad has shown they are up to the challenge twice this year.

Chicago’s upcoming game against Emory this Saturday is the first of conference play, and the Eagles lead the series 19–7–2. Last year, however, the Maroons ousted No. 6 Emory in Atlanta, so the Eagles will almost assuredly come into the game with revenge on their minds.

But the team and Bilbao have something else in mind. “I can’t wait to start off this conference season with a win and find the momentum we were able to find last year,” he said. “It’s awesome to be part of something like that and I have no doubt that we can do it again this year.”

On the team’s approach to the conference play, Bonin said, “We are channelling all of our energy into only the next game. We have the mentality that every game is a difficult one but, if we maximize our efforts mentally and physically, it’s also an opportunity to work towards our ultimate goal of the season.”

The Maroons are also excited to be returning home; they have played two difficult road games and face a stretch of four away games after they play Emory, so playing at home will bring a breath of fresh air.

“We are always excited to play at home,” said Bonin, “the team does feed off of our home supporters so we plan on using that to our advantage.”

Although the squad is very young and the start of conference play is just another part of the season, for the four fourth-years it is their last chance to take on teams that they have been playing every year for the last four years. “The feeling of starting my last conference season is bittersweet,” Bilbao said. “I’m glad I have this group of guys by my side to try to go all the way.”

The game will be played on Saturday, October 3, at 1:30 p.m. at Stagg Field. While the Maroons beat Emory in Atlanta last year, the Eagles have bested Chicago at home the past two meetings, so both squads will have vengeance on their minds. It will surely be an amazing battle, and any individual in Hyde Park not at this game will be missing out.