Perfection: Maroons Explode to a 5-0 Start
Head Men's Soccer Coach John O'Connor started this season with a heightened sense of anticipation. Fresh off of an 11-day tour of the United Kingdom, he felt that the Maroons were invigorated and prepared to start the 2001 campaign.
Europe made a big difference," O'Connor said. We played four games before the season even started, and all the players had even more reason to be fit before the trip. We played academy teams that are preparing professional players, so the environment definitely breeds a passion for the sport."
With a perfect five wins in their first five games, the start of the new season has been nothing if not passionate for the men's squad. Firing from all cylinders, the Maroons blew past teams, scored scintillating goals, and are now enjoying their most successful start in recent years. Much of this newfound success can be attributed to Chicago's rejuvenated finishing. After struggling at times to score goals last year, the Maroons have found both prolific target men and the ability to close an offensive run with a goal rather than a near-miss. The first two games traditionally two of the more difficult games of the season definitively set the tone for the squad.
The Maroons started off the season with a pair of tough games against two very talented teams. The first game, against Rhodes College, proved to be a close affair, but two goals from third-year striker Barret Van Sicklen won the match for Chicago. Rhodes scored a quick goal in the second minute of the game, but the Maroons continued to work hard after the setback. In just a minute's time in the second half, Van Sicklen scored two goals and sent Rhodes home with a loss.
Chicago's second match-up, this time with another southern squad, the University of the South, proved even more closely contested. Sewanee opened scoring in the 38th minute, but Chicago equalized with yet another goal from Van Sicklen in the 54th minute. Sewanee scored again, and, with time running down in the second half, it looked as if Chicago faced its first loss of the season.
Fourth-year defender Brian Raffaele, however, had other plans.
Raffaele sent the game into overtime with a critical goal in the 90th minute. Surging with momentum, fourth-year midfielder Pat Barry finished the game for the Maroons with a goal in the 93rd minute. Chicago won 3-2, and the two victories greatly pleased Coach O'Connor.
These first two games were huge wins," O'Connor said. We're usually 0-2 at the start of the season. To start out 2-0 against two highly ranked teams is real big for us."
Riding the high of the opening victories, the Maroons then earned two impressive wins over UW-Whitewater and Rockford. The Maroons handed UW-Whitewater a 3-1 loss, and then the Chicago side soundly defeated Rockford, 5-1. Van Sicklen continued his scoring tear in the Whitewater match, scoring all three of Chicago's goals. Van Sicklen confidently continued his scoring in the Rockford games, recording another hat trick and bringing his scoring total to a staggering nine goals in only four matches. This time, fourth-year midfielder Pat Calleo and second-year Rob Honkonen each scored a goal as well. After the games, Coach O'Connor again only used superlatives to describe his team.
Our mantra is to have everyone on the same page," O'Connor said. We are on the same page now. We have breakdowns, but we trust each other and we all know what to do. The guys do a lot of work on the field and in practice, and it's shown."
Perhaps one of the more significant indications of Chicago's success has been Van Sicklen dazzling form. A speedy, industrious forward, Van Sicklen has punished defenses this season with his finishing and his poise. With nine goals already to his name, Van Sicklen has already surpassed his goal total of last season, and he has easily become Chicago's most prolific goal scorer.
Barret's been scoring goals in bunches," O'Connor said. He's a genuine goal scorer now. He's worked hard on his shooting, and he's finishing. His confidence has grown throughout the season."
Van Sicklen hasn't been the only Chicago player enjoying a great season.
Ben Johnson is playing the best soccer of his career," O'Connor said. He's holding the ball well, and really being solid on the field for us. Also, Pat Barry and [fourth-year] Dan Dalton are two of the most talented players to ever play here."
With a goal scoring boost and a plethora of high-flying players, the Maroons defeated their first University Athletic Association opponent, Case Western Reserve University, 2-1. Pat Barry opened the scoring, and Dan Dalton closed the game for the Maroons with a goal in the 88th minute.
This upcoming Saturday, September 29th, Chicago faces yet another UAA opponent as Carnegie Mellon University comes to town for a game at 11:00 a.m.
While the Maroons are playing extremely well, Coach O'Connor hopes to see a more fortified defense against the strong CMU side.
We need to shut out a team," O'Connor said. We have to shut the door on teams. Carnegie Mellon has a tendency to just sit on goals, so we have to work against that. We've never beaten Carnegie, so the guys are looking forward to turning history around this Saturday."