Maroons rebound after Carnegie loss

By Dimitri Islam

Ever since the inception of the University Athletic Conference, it’s safe to say that Carnegie Mellon University has been something of a nemesis for the U of C men’s soccer team. Indeed, the Maroons have never beaten Carnegie, and their rivals from Pittsburgh often dominate UAA competition. After starting the season 5-0, Chicago seemed ready to finally turn history around. Unfortunately, CMU benefited from a couple fortuitous bounces and beat the Maroons last Saturday, 2-1. After Chicago’s first loss of the season, the resilient Maroons battled back against Illinois Wesleyan, winning the match 6-0. Last week’s games brings Chicago’s record to 6-1 (1-1 in UAA play).

The Carnegie match started off relatively well for the Maroons. Chicago managed to get some shots on goal, and the defense limited Carnegie’s offensive opportunities. Midway through the first half, however, CMU drew first blood on a rather unconventional goal. Taking a corner kick, a Carnegie player swerved the ball towards the Chicago net. The Maroons defense never adjusted accordingly, and the ball found its way to the back of the goal, without assistance from any of the CMU players. Men’s soccer head coach John O’Connor conceded that the goal was rather unusual, but he also felt that Carnegie did earn its first strike.

“Carnegie had two corners in a row,” O’Connor said. “The first hit our goalkeeper right in the chest. If they had headed that ball anywhere else, it would have gone in. The second corner just curled straight in off the far post. We were just caught off guard, but Carnegie was pressuring us a bit during that period in the game.”

After the goal, Chicago pressed even harder. Undoubtedly, the Maroons dominated the offensive portion of the match. Chicago fired 18 shots at the Carnegie goal, while their opponents could only muster five. The Maroons also controlled possession during much of the second half. Streaking along the wings, the Chicago midfielders often found space and crossed the ball into the box with authority. Players created individual shots and chances as well.

While Chicago did intensify the pressure during the second half of the match, Carnegie held out well, closing down on the Maroons and earning a few lucky bounces to stay alive. Sadly for the Maroons, the Chicago players could never capitalize on the numerous chances they created. In several instances, the ball rolled past the open net, just asking for a finishing touch from an onrushing Maroon. The final touch, however, never came.

Towards the end of the second half, with time running down and the Maroons pushing even harder on defense, the opportunistic Carnegie side scored the controversial goal that iced the game. Running onto a clearance from the defensive end, CMU forward James Steidel apparently played the ball with his hand before charging onto the Chicago goal. The referee did not see any indiscretion on the field and he let play carry on. Steidel then ran past the stranded Chicago goalkeeper and scored Carnegie’s final goal.

Not to be outdone, the Maroons finally managed to get on the score sheet, scoring a goal in the 89th minute. Fourth-year midfielder Pat Barry managed to push the ball past the Carnegie keeper, and he halved CMU’s lead. Unfortunately, time ran out on the Maroons, and Chicago left the field frustrated. Despite controlling large chunks of the match, the Maroons could never break through when it counted. Accordingly, Carnegie Mellon continued its unblemished record against the Maroons.

After the match, Coach O’Connor gave Carnegie Mellon their due.

“We definitely had our chances,” O’Connor said. “Two balls went straight across the front of the net, but we just couldn’t put them away. Carnegie Mellon is a solid team. They are opportunistic, and they controlled the tempo of the game at times. We just fell short on Saturday.”

Last Tuesday, the Maroons earned a bit of redemption with a dominating 6-0 victory over Illinois Wesleyan. In a display of clinical finishing and thorough confidence, Chicago took six shots, and scored six goals. Illinois Wesleyan did pressure the Maroons a bit early on in the match, but after scoring a few goals, Chicago never looked back. In the first 20 minutes, Pat Barry scored three goals, bringing his goal total up to five. Third-year Barret Van Sicklen converted a penalty in the second half, nudging his scoring tally up to ten for the season. Overall, the Maroons enjoyed a generally uncontested match. After a grueling game against Carnegie Mellon, Coach O’Connor was pleased with his team’s performance on Tuesday.

“It was a dominating performance,” O’Connor said. “We were very confident. I thought backup goalkeeper Taylor Singleton [second-year] did very well. He directed players well and handled a couple of crosses well also.”

After the reinvigorating victory, Chicago faces another rigorous weekend of UAA play. The Maroons face Emory today and they follow the match with another tough game against New York University on Sunday. Despite the disappointing loss to Carnegie, Coach O’Connor remains optimistic about his squad’s chances.

“These are not easy games, and we’re getting ourselves prepared,” O’Connor said. “We’re still very confident right now, and we’re always working on the little pieces of the game. If we play well this weekend, it could put us back in the driver’s seat as far as the league is concerned.”