Late-season performances usually stick in selection committees' minds better than those early in the season. That hurt the Maroons Sunday night, dropping them out of postseason contention.
Wash U (12-5-2, 3-2-2) sent 11th-ranked Chicago (12-3-3, 3-2-2) packing with a 2-1 victory Saturday. The game remained tied at one for the first 30 minutes of the second half, but a crafty move by Bears forward Matt Twardowski put him in excellent position behind Chicago's back line. Twardowski chipped the game-winning goal over the outstretched hands of Chicago's star second-year goalkeeper Keith Crum.
Chicago opened the scoring with a goal from third-year forward Ryan Ehle in the 41st minute. Ehle rebounded from a quiet first half of the season to finish with two crucial goals in the final three games.
But Washington managed to turn the tide of the game a mere 49 seconds later. David Borton intercepted a Crum pass and sent the ball into the wide-open right corner of the net. Chicago never recovered.
With two regular season games remaining, the Maroons held a share of the UAA lead and a chance to advance to the postseason NCAA tournament. Chicago had gone 16 games with only one loss on the season. Yet two tough, one-goal road loses to Rochester and Washington knocked the men out of the lead.
Despite the late-season collapse, the Maroons impressed many. "It's been such a good season, you can't be disappointed," head coach John O'Connor commented on the end of the season. "It says a lot about the team chemistry. I don't think we'd be where we are right now if we didn't have such a great group of guys."
The end of the season marks the end of some of Chicago's brightest players' careers. Fourth-year Peter Ostroske anchored a formidable defensive back line for the entire season, clearing virtually all airborne volleys coming in the direction of the Maroons' net.
Meanwhile, the midfield will sorely miss the presence of fourth-year playmaker Ben Preyss. Preyss led Chicago's offensive charge this year, tallying a team-leading seven goals, four of them game winners. His scoring abilities added a new dimension to a team that already possessed a dependable defense.
Even considering those losses, men's soccer will remain competitive next year, according to O'Connor. "I'm very happy with what we have coming back," he said.
Among the returning players will be Crum, who set a school record with nine shutouts in his first year starting. In virtually every game this year, home or away, Crum managed to make at least one save that defied physical laws.
The midfield meanwhile will retain third-year Giordano Palloni, who took big strides this year. "Giordano improves with each moment he plays," O'Connor said. The Maroons midfield of 2005 will benefit from Palloni's leadership, not to mention his possession skills.
Just one day after the men learned that their season had come to an end, eight varsity players were running a practice and intra-squad scrimmage. The season may have just ended, but the team is already focused on next year.