Though the game's only tally on Tuesday afternoon wasn't Chicago's prettiest goal of the year, it was one of the team's most important. The 14th-ranked Maroons' 271-minute scoring drought ended on a header just 1:44 into their game against 20th-ranked offensive force Wheaton College. Combined with one of their most stifling defensive efforts of the year, the men's soccer team was able to pull out the regional victory 1-0.
Tuesday's game was considered far from automatic for the Maroons, who had two consecutive 0-0 ties by conference rivals Carnegie Mellon and 11th-ranked Emory. Winners of eight of their last nine games, the Thunder (9-2) came into the match with momentum, looking to uphold their long history of defeating Chicago. In the two teams' previous 42 matches, Wheaton's record against Chicago is 30-7-4.
But less than two minutes into Tuesday's match, the Maroons quickly dashed those hopes when third-year Jimmy Logan's corner kick connected with third-year Peter Schaefer's header in the box. Schaefer's redirection skipped off the ground and bounced over the outstretched hands of the Wheaton goalkeeper into the top of the net, giving Chicago a 1-0 lead and Schaefer his first goal this year.
From that point on the game was a dogfight, with every ball being contested in the air and clean, hard tackles from both teams setting the tone for the rest of the game. The Maroons kept the ball out of their defensive end and had good attacking efforts for most of the first half, but the Thunder's fast movement through the midfield and quick counter attacks created a couple quality goal-scoring opportunities that barely missed equalizing the game. Having averaged almost 20 shots a game this year, Wheaton only mustered four in the first halfnone on net.
"Wheaton is a very good team that has some individually talented players," Chicago head coach John O'Connor said after the game. "We made some adjustments at halftime that counteracted what they were trying to do."
In the second half, the Thunder's chances where held to a minimum by Chicago's suffocating defensive backs, second-year Brian Kolva, first-year Jonathan Cartwright, Schaefer, and fourth-year captain Peter Ostroske. The unit allowed only three more shots, prompting calls from Wheaton fans to "Just shoot the ball!" The Maroons took seven second-half shots of their own, looking to shut the door with another goal. Fourth-year Captain Reed Fleetwood led the Maroons with three shots on goal, followed by third-year Giordano Palloni's two, but the ball never crossed the goal line despite some close calls.
In the waning minutes of the match, Chicago held possession of the ball as Wheaton frantically attempted to generate an equalizer, having their goalie play halfway up field to dump the ball back into the Chicago defense. But as the match came to a close, Chicago prevailed, beating the nationally ranked team and maintaining its undefeated home record (5-0-1).
"It was a great team effort with outstanding performances by the back four. Scoring early can be hard because there is so much time to go, but we successfully handled their pressure and attempts to get back in the game," said Coach O'Connor.
Though his defense kept the ball largely away from the net, second-year goalkeeper Keith Crum continued his surprising season with his third-straight shutout. His performance in Tuesday's win tied the school's single-season record of eight shutouts, and he has only given up an average of 0.18 goals per game over 13 matches.
This weekend Chicago will host two UAA matches. Both loom large because of the eight conference games scheduled for this weekend, which could result in a big shuffle in the standings.
After being ranked in the top 25 for the fifth-straight week, the Maroons head into the weekend knowing that they're the team to beat. Looking to build on Tuesday's victory, Chicago hopes to compliment their dominant defense with increased goal-scoring opportunities.
The Maroons, with their 0-0-2 association record, face Brandeis (6-6-0, 1-1-0) this Friday, a team that bested them last year after the Maroons, with a two-goal lead, lost 3-2 in the closing seconds.
On Sunday, Chicago hosts NYU (6-3-2, 1-0-1), who is tied for the UAA's top spot with a 2-0 conference win against Case Western, and with Rochester, whose game last Saturday resulted in a scoreless tie.