"This is a weekend we need."
Those were men's soccer head coach John O'Connor's words before leading his squad to the East Coast for a pair of vital UAA matches. His players promptly responded, displaying perhaps their best form of the season and earning two crucial victories on the road. The Maroons first defeated Brandeis University 5-2. They followed that win with a well-fought 3-1 victory over the University of Rochester. To cap off the week, the Maroons beat Benedictine this past Wednesday, 2-1. The Maroons are now riding a four-game winning streak, and they head into the weekend boasting an impressive 11-3-0 record (4-2 in UAA play).
Chicago maintained control for much of the Brandeis match last Friday. Fourth-year midfielder Dan Dalton opened the scoring in the 18th minute, with an assist by fourth-year midfielder Pat Barry. Brandeis equalized early in the second half, but Barret Van Sicklen (third-year) and Devin Thomas (fourth-year) scored twice in two minutes to give the Maroons a two-goal lead. Ultimately, that was all the Maroons needed. Brandeis scored one more goal, but Chicago then punished their opponents, with Van Sicklen netting yet another goal. Van Sicklen, Chicago's most prolific striker, brought his goal tally up to 16 for the season. Fourth-year forward Ben Johnson finished all scoring in the 73rd minute, with Dan Dalton and Eugene Sung (second-year) assisting on the play. Overall, O'Connor was happy with the UAA victory.
"We were in control for pretty much the entire game," O'Connor said. "We let them in a bit, and both of Brandeis's goals came against the run of play. We still gave ourselves enough of a buffer zone to win the game, though."
Sunday's game against Rochester promised to offer a bit more competition. UR entered the match with a 10-1-1 record and a nearly unblemished 4-1 mark in the UAA. Furthermore, Rochester was once again contending for the UAA crown, and Chicago knew they had a considerable challenge ahead.
"We were both fighting for the top of the league, so we knew it was going to be tough," O'Connor said.
Accordingly, Rochester came out pressing hard. They drew first blood with a goal in just the 7th minute, and, for the opening minutes of the match, UR caught Chicago off-guard. The Maroons, however, gradually regrouped and turned the tide. First, Ben Johnson connected on a cross redirected by Barret Van Sicklen, and Chicago equalized the match in the 15th minute. Then, 10 minutes before halftime, Pat Barry found the back of the net for Chicago's second goal, and the Maroons entered the halftime break content with a 2-1 lead.
In the second half, Rochester again put the heat on Chicago. U of R pushed another striker forward, and Rochester tested the Maroons' defense. This time, however, the Chicago defense never lost its form, and Rochester could never score the equalizer. Instead, at the very end of the match, when Rochester pushed everyone (including their goalkeeper) up for a final rush on the Chicago net, Barret Van Sicklen knocked a clearance 60 yards downfield. Dan Dalton, industrious as ever, ran onto the ball in full stride, and he cleanly put the ball in the back of the open net to ice the game for Chicago. The Maroons left Rochester in the dust, and they traveled back to Chicago with their third win in as many games.
"It was slick out there on Sunday, especially with the turf," O'Connor said after the match. "We had to play pockets of soccer, and we couldn't risk playing with the ball too much in our own half. They were bigger than we were, but we were quicker, and I think our last goal really highlighted our efforts against Rochester. Dan Dalton just worked extraordinarily hard to run onto Barret's ball and score the finishing goal."
To finish off the week, Chicago beat Benedictine 2-1 this past Wednesday. The Maroons thoroughly dominated the match, amassing a whopping 24 shots on net, while only conceding one goal and allowing only four shots. Ben Johnson and Pat Barry scored for the Maroons, who have enjoyed a diverse and deep list of productive offensive players this season.
This upcoming Saturday, the Maroons face perhaps their biggest and most important challenge of the 2001 campaign. Chicago takes on Washington University, and, this time, the UAA championship could be on the line. A Chicago victory, followed by a Carnegie Mellon loss, would give the Maroons the UAA title and an at-large bid in the upcoming NCAA playoffs.
Don't think the Maroons aren't excited.
"The Wash U game is always big, and now, with the championship on the line, there's a huge incentive out there for the guys," O'Connor said. "Everything is at stake on Saturday."
Even with all that pressure, Coach O'Connor is still remarkably calm about this Saturday's game.
"We just have to go out there and take care of business," O'Connor said.
Sure, the attitude may seem almost too placid, but, if Chicago can continue the form they've shown this past week, the Maroons may very well capture the UAA crown this Saturday at Stagg Field. Then, perhaps, Chicago will have a tangible reminder of what has been an extremely memorable season.