Men post shutout in must-win match: Wins over Wash U send soccer teams to tourney

By Sean Ahmed

With their playoff hopes riding on the conference finale, men’s soccer removed all doubts by finally getting the Wash U monkey off their backs.

In a full-on scrap, the 25th-ranked Maroons (13–5–0, 5–2–0) got some critical contributions from the underclassmen on Senior Day as they soundly defeated the Bears 3–0. Second-year backup midfielder Stu Phelps tallied both goals on the day, giving him four total this season, and third-year keeper Keith Crum pulled out a solid six-save performance to back up the rededicated “Prison D.” In downing Wash U (8–7–4, 1–5–1), the men’s soccer team earned an at-large NCAA playoff bid, the program’s first since 2001.

“We’ve been putting in work for a long time, and we feel we’re pretty well prepared,” fourth-year midfielder Giordano Palloni said. “This is definitely the best team I’ve played on here.”

Though the Maroons have gone into the season finale against Wash U with a better overall record each of the last two years, both times the Bears had come up with big 2–1 victories. Last year, the loss gave Chicago three losses and effectively knocked them out of the playoffs. The team was determined to stop this streak of season-ending disasters.

“We all knew going into the game that Wash U was basically our tournament berth,” fourth-year midfielder Brian Standerfer said. “If we won, we’d have a good chance of getting in.”

Neither side created many opportunities in the first 30 minutes. Both were playing an aggressive game, but each team’s defense was more than a match for their respective front thirds.

With 15 minutes left in the half, the Maroons got their first clear chance, thanks to one of their usual offensive engines. Standerfer sent a beautiful free kick from the top-left corner of the box towards the far post, where it was headed just wide.

Just three minutes later, the game’s first score came off an inexplicable error by Bears third-year goalie Matt Fenn. Maroons second-year left back Jon Cartwright sent a high free kick towards the net that Fenn intercepted but fumbled behind him. Phelps, all alone two yards out, headed in the ball.

The 1–0 lead carried through to the second half, when Chicago finally started to separate itself. Fourth-year midfielders Jimmy Logan, Standerfer, and Palloni took control and applied offensive pressure, forcing Wash U’s backs to foul in an attempt to keep up.

Wash U did get a good chance off its own free kick with just over 21 minutes left in the first half. The ensuing shot cleared the Maroons’ large wall and curled left where it hit off the corner of the crossbar.

It was left to versatile second-year right back Eric Kirkenmeier to finally break the game open for the Maroons. Kirkenmeier connected the ball with Phelps’ head again to make it 2–0 with just over 12 minutes left. The assist was the former midfielder Kirkenmeier’s sixth of the season, along with his three goals.

Phelps has been the most prolific of the Maroons’ attackers of late. While the last tally was not entirely of his making, he picked up his fourth goal in three games.

“Seriously, it’s just all about the beard,” said Palloni, referring to Phelps’ facial scruffiness. “He’s been great. He always brings a lot of energy when he comes in. and some other people have been having injury problems, but Stu has been able to more than make up for it. He’s been there all season. When we needed him, he came up big.”

“I just lucked out. I was in the right place, right time,” said Phelps, who has at the least taken advantage of his opportunities with a .400 shot percentage. “It obviously feels good when you score goals, but I don’t feel like I’m in a zone or anything. They were kind of just given to me on a platter.”

The defense covered well against a serious test a minute later. Faced with a low shot, Crum dove to his left and stopped the attempt but allowed the rebound to bounce out to the middle of the box. First-year center defender Ross Fedenia quickly covered his keeper and cleared the ball out, neutralizing the threat.

It would be the last scare for the Maroons, as the team quickly took advantage of another Bears defensive error to close out the scoring. With less than three minutes left, second-year striker Andrew Hamilton hit a cross from the left corner that bounced off a sliding back and straight into the net, making it 3–0.

Though the final margin was about as wide as the team could have expected, the Maroons are still looking for a higher level in this weekend’s playoff matches.

“I think we can play better than we did,” Standerfer said. “I think we can play better than we did. It’s a good game anytime you can beat a UAA team by three goals, but we can definitely build on it.”

Chicago heads to Waverly, Iowa Saturday for the team’s first-round match against St. John’s (MN). The Johnnies (14–2–3) are a young team, and the Maroons hope to use their experience and depth to create an advantage.

“This team has played together for such a long time that we know each other better, and we have the potential to beat any team, ” Palloni said.

“Our preparation is going to take care of itself because nobody is taking this for granted,” Standerfer said. “Even the underclassmen know they may never get back here. Everyone realizes how special of an event this is.”