Throughout the course of a long season, any team, no matter how fit, how prepared, or how careful, will face injuries and adversity. In these cases, a team's perseverance is tested, and many squads cannot overcome hits to their roster.
This past Saturday against Dominican, the men's soccer team faced such a test.
When the final whistle blew, the squad managed to pass this test without significant error by earning a 0-0 draw with their opponents. The draw puts Chicago's record at 9-3-1.
As happens late in the season, injuries began to take their toll on the Maroon roster in the Dominican match.
Fourth-year forward Barret Van Sicklen, Chicago's leading scorer with seven goals, missed the game due to injury. The Maroons' second-leading goal scorer, first-year Brian Standerfer, was also hurt. Despite the injuries, the Maroons still fought hard and came up with one of their more impressive defensive performances of the season.
"The guys were just very solid in the back, everyone kept it together really well," head coach John O'Connor said. "This was probably our best group-defending effort of the year."
In particular, third-year defender Matt Wiechert came up big for the Maroons. The veteran player came up with several good stops throughout the game. For his efforts, Wiechert earned UAA Player of the Week recognition.
"Our guys are great on reading play, and Wiechert was just unbelievable with this," O'Connor said. "He was a great presence on the field for us, and he definitely deserved UAA Player of the Week honors."
Though the team played strong defense, O'Connor did not necessarily think that the final result was indicative of the way they played. The tie reflected good defense but not the Maroons' aggressive attack.
"The stats don't really reflect how the game went," O'Connor said. "Dominican never really got over their half with control in the second half."
Once again, poor finishing and sheer bad luck haunted the Maroons. At one point in the game, first-year forward Ryan Ehle struck a header that went past the keeper, only to hit the goal post and bounce harmlessly away from goal. Moreover, the Dominican goalkeeper made numerous saves, and Chicago could never find its way through. Overall, the Maroons amassed 16 shots on goal, whereas Dominican could muster only eight. And Chicago's outstanding third-year goalkeeper, Micah Prochaska, was only truly tested a few times. Other than that, Dominican never launched a concerted attack on the Maroons' goalkeeper.
Despite the result, O'Connor was pleased with his team's effort, and especially with their ability to play through adversity.
"This was a good game for the team to jell together," O'Connor said. "We had a different lineup for this game, and it tested our depth, but our depth came through. Nathan Widell played very well coming off the bench as he's still recovering from an injury. We dominated portions of this match, and we could've scored more goals, but this match doesn't really hurt us in any way."
With the Dominican match under their belts, the Maroons once again return to UAA competition this weekend. Today, at 3:30 p.m., Chicago kicks off against Brandeis. Then on Sunday, the Maroons face theirperennial rival, the University of Rochester. O'Connor believes both games will be difficult.
"Brandeis just lost to a good Wheaton team, and they're going to be dangerous now," O'Connor said. "We have to be careful, and we have to sustain what we're doing right now. Brandeis has some tough players, and they play a pretty direct style. They play a 3-5-2, and they should be tough to beat. We can't be complacent and we can't look ahead."
The University of Rochester presents Chicago with another formidable challenge. Like Chicago, Rochester has some big, powerful players that look to attack with purpose. Traditionally, matches between Chicago and Rochester have always been hard fought. Rochester currently boasts an 8-3-2 record, and the Yellow Jackets are still very much in the hunt for the UAA title. Accordingly, a lot will be on the line this Sunday.
"The Rochester game is definitely going to be quite a battle," O'Connor said. "The Rochester coach is a friend of mine, and we know how it's going to be. They're very well coached, very well organized, and the matchups on the field will be especially important."
Of course, off the field, this will also be a big weekend for the men's squad.
"This is parents, friends, and alumni weekend," O'Connor said. "There'll be lots of people around, and it should make for a real exciting atmosphere."
The Maroons will face Washington University at home November 2, at 1:30 p.m.