Heading into last Saturday's match against Centre College, men's soccer Head Coach John O'Connor knew a possible NCAA playoff birth lay on the line.
"The guys all knew what was at stake, and we were prepared," O'Connor said. "We definitely had something to play for."
So far this season, the Maroons have always been able to respond when challenged. From the huge UAA victory over Wash U, where Justin Coffey found the back of the net in the game's dying minutes, to crucial wins over teams like the University of Rochester and Brandeis, Chicago certainly knows how to rise to the occasion.
True to form, they once again answered the call on Saturday.
The Maroons handed Centre a decisive 1-0 defeat, and, with the win, Chicago improved to 14-3 for the season (5-2 in UAA play). The win over Centre was also Chicago's seventh victory in as many games. To cap off a phenomenal 2001 campaign, the Maroons also just found out that, yes, they did qualify for the 2001 NCAA playoffs.
The Centre game was a back-and-forth affair. Unlike past performances, the Maroons didn't thoroughly dominate the match, and Centre played surprisingly well. Centre actually outshot the Maroons, tallying 11 shots to Chicago's nine. Second-year goalkeeper Micah Prochaska remained solid in goal, however, making four saves and shutting down the Centre offense. Once again, the Maroons found goals from unlikely sources. This time, in the 34th minute, second-year midfielder Eugene Sung netted his very first goal of the season. That strike closed the scoring for the match, with the Maroons defense absorbing further Centre pressure and ensuring Chicago's seventh straight win. In previous games, the Maroons generally allowed their high-flying offense to finish games, but, in a good show for the upcoming playoffs, Chicago's defense controlled the match.
Centre fouled more in the match than Chicago, racking up 24 calls in comparison to the Maroons' 10. Despite the physical style of Centre's play, the Maroons proved their toughness, never losing focus and continuing to shut Centre out of the game. When the final whistle blew, Chicago earned a satisfying victory after a close, well-contested match.
The win didn't assure Chicago a place in the playoffs. The results were announced Sunday, and, although the Maroons were confident with their season record, playoff qualification can be a whimsical business. Nevertheless, the news on Sunday confirmed what the Maroons already knew: their season was a success, and the squad earned a spot in the playoffs.
Today, the Maroons face off against Ohio Wesleyan University at 11:00 a.m. at Stagg field. True to the added intensity of post-season play, the match promises both tenacity and drama. Ohio Wesleyan comes into the game with a respectable 16-6 record and a storied history. The Maroons stand ready to take on the Battling Bishops, but they do have an arduous challenge ahead of them. Ohio Wesleyan won the 1998 NCAA Division III championship, and the squad has a long winning tradition. Last year, the Battling Bishops made it to the national quarterfinals, and this squad certainly knows how to win under pressure. Chicago, however, hasn't exactly been a pushover this season. The Maroons come into the game with a defense that's finding its stride and an offense that's been playing at a blistering pace this entire season.
The Maroons are averaging an impressive 2.8 goals a game, and, for the entire season, they've amassed 270 shots, compared to their opponents' paltry 135. Third-year Barret Van Sicklen heads into the post-season with 16 goals in 17 games, and fourth-year midfielder Pat Barry tallied 13 goals this past season. Prochaska has a goals-against-average of only 1.33, and, with the Maroons defense improving these past few games, Chicago seems tough to stop offensively and tough to counter as well. Chicago does have a penchant for conceding goals in the second half of play (allowing 16 of their 22 total goals in the latter period), but, hopefully, as the intensity rises, the Maroons will maintain their poise for the duration of the game.
Today's match, which will surely feature stellar play on the field, is important. Chicago, however, has played in big games before, and they seem to be gelling at the right time. A win today will earn the Maroons a spot in the regional championship game against the winner of the Wheaton College vs. Kalamazoo game. The regional championship game is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Saturday at Stagg field.