Upset puts men’s soccer on brink

By Joe Katz

For just one game, men’s soccer let their concentration slip. That one game may cost them the postseason.

Facing off against NYU at Hoboken on their final road trip of the season, the Maroons (12–5–0, 4–2–0) found themselves down two goals after 36 minutes and were unable to come back, dropping a stunning 4–1 decision to the Violets (10–6–1, 2–4–0) Friday. While the team bounced back to beat Brandeis (6–8–2, 0–4–2) at Waltham 3–1 Sunday, the defeat puts their playoff chances in jeopardy with just one game remaining in the season.

“I think we came in thinking that we should just roll over them,” head coach John O’Connor said. “We were a little overconfident, and I don’t think we came in with the intention of imposing ourselves on NYU. … I think some players just didn’t come ready.”

The team was flat from the outset, and was never quite able to put things together. In particular, the back four and third-year goalkeeper Keith Crum never got on the same page, and communication problems were the rule rather than the exception throughout the day. A talented NYU squad took advantage of the Maroons’ confusion, burning the defense with big tallies at 31:30 by second-year midfielder Jeritt Thayer and at 35:09 by first-year midfielder Robert Keller.

Though second-year midfielder Stuart Phelps tried to kick-start a comeback by planting his first career goal into the twine just before halftime, the Maroons were unable to dig themselves out of the hole. Fourth-year defender Peter Schlaefer accidentally launched an own goal past Crum in the 58th minute to give the home team a two-goal lead again, and third-year forward Max Sachar put the game out of reach with a tally at 63:26.

“We kept backing off and playing so deep in our area that we were afraid to pressure. We were defending higher up on the field than we should have been, and we were a little passive,” O’Connor said. “We didn’t adjust fast enough.”

“Giving up the first goal is something that we’ve had trouble coming back from. We haven’t done it all year,” fourth-year midfielder Jimmy Logan said. “We thought we were going to be able to come back at halftime. It was pretty frustrating.”

The team bounced back two days later against the Judges, scoring early and often and outshooting Brandeis 22–7. After two players-only team meetings, the Maroons were bound and determined to hold off the home team. Second-year defender Eric Kirkenmeier headed in a corner by fourth-year midfielder Brian Standerfer just 1:58 into the game, and Logan fed fourth-year forward Ryan Ehle for the eventual game winner at the 5:13 mark.

The team gave up a preventable goal by first-year defender Kayne Ryan in the 42nd minute, but Phelps locked things up with his second of the weekend at 81:17. While the squad was unable to convert all of their chances, it was a marked improvement over Friday’s effort.

“I still felt we needed to perform better, but a lot of it was resolved,” second-year defender Jon Cartwright said. “Our touch was better, our passes were more accurate, and people in their minds were much more involved than against NYU. But the communication aspect was still bad.”

A solid victory against the Judges won’t erase the black mark on the team’s record left by the loss to NYU. Coming so close to the end of the season, the defeat puts the team squarely on the playoff bubble. With Rochester’s weekend sweep of Emory (15–2–0, 4–2–0) and Carnegie Mellon (12–2–1, 4–2–0), the Yellowjackets (15–0–0, 6–0–0) have clinched the UAA’s automatic postseason bid. The Maroons will need to be picked for a Pool C at-large berth to extend their season beyond this weekend.

The selection committee will certainly give Chicago, which features a 12–4 record against regional opponents and a number of wins against likely tournament teams, a long look, but this most recent upset greatly increases the likelihood that they will be shut out of the NCAAs for the fourth straight year. Four of their five defeats on the season have come against weak teams.

“We’re still in the hunt, but it makes it harder and harder every time if we don’t do what we need to do,” O’Connor said. “We just made it harder on ourselves. If we had won both games, I think we would have been a shoo-in.”

The final verdict on Chicago’s season should come down to this weekend’s season finale against Wash U. The Maroons will be looking to force Washington to play their game in a way they were not able to against the Violets, never allowing the Bears to feel as though they have a chance to win. On this Senior Day game, the team cannot afford to make any mistakes.

“We can’t look beyond them. If we don’t win on Saturday, it’s done,” O’Connor said. “I think this team has risen to the occasion in big games…and we’re still playing to get in.”