October 1, 2006

League play looming, men's soccer makes it four in a row

For men’s soccer good things come in fours. Making their slow start to the season a distant memory, the Maroons scored a big win on the road to stretch their winning streak to four heading into conference play.

Continuing its recent run of good form, men’s soccer (5–2–1) ensured that the team will enter the UAA season riding high on confidence, notching a 2–1 victory at Augustana (3–4–0) on Wednesday night. Key plays from first-years Alex Takakuwa and Edgar Friloux blew the final hole in the Vikings’ sinking ship.

Battling through a frantic first half, the Maroons broke through Augustana’s defense 15:13 into play and took hold of the lead through Takakuwa. After being set free by a pass from the defense, Takakuwa picked up the ball on the outside of the area and fired an unstoppable drive past a helpless backstop. The rookie has netted two goals on the year, playing for the most part in the center of midfield as part of the Maroon’s 4–5–1 formation and has already shown his eye for goal.

“Alex took one touch [off the Maroon’s defensive winning of the ball] and hit an absolute bomb into the top corner,” said first-year head coach Scott Wiercinski. “It was something we’d seen him do in practice, but something we hadn’t yet seen anybody do in a game, even from an opponent.”

If Wiercinski was pleased with the way that Takakuwa and the team took the first goal, he could not have been too happy with the manner in which they conceded the equalizer. Nearly immediately off the kickoff, Augustana marched up the field and evened the score through fourth-year Brad Becker’s finish. Back on level pegging, the game settled down a bit, but the Maroons rebounded and grabbed the winner only a few minutes later on some quick thinking by Friloux.

Getting the start in the yellow-card induced absence of third-year forward Andrew Hamilton, the rookie made the most of his chance in the starting eleven. The Vikings fought off the pressure laid on by third-year midfielder Stuart Phelps and first-year right-back Andrew Farias-Eisner, but eventually the Maroons’ threats on the final third paid off with balls being flung toward the box. Taking advantage of the confusion and grabbing a hold of a misplayed air ball by Augustana’s center-back, Friloux snuck in behind the defense to round the keeper and poke home the winner. The shot was his first in the maroon and white.

After a dramatic first half, Chicago returned from the break and managed to deflect any dangerous surges by Augustana. In the end, the 2–1 scoreline was a deserved one.

“We tried to play forward very early in the possession, that was something that we did at pieces throughout the game quite well,” said Wiercinski. “Through the course of the game we did a lot of good things, that really opened the game up and I was happy overall with the way they reacted to seeing a team that they hadn’t quite prepared for.”

The win comes with the added bonus of further boosting the confidence of a young Maroons team as they make their way into the tough UAA season. In particular, the absence of players like Hamilton and fourth-year midfielder Joe Frontczak, who was again deemed unfit to play, meant that Wiercinski had to juggle his lineup and give some of the younger players needed experience for moving into league play. The loss of Hamilton thrust the spotlight on Friloux up front, who took his chance superbly.

“It was good for Edgar to play a lot of minutes as a result of that vacancy, and to continue with his development, and to score that goal,” said Wiercinski. “It was certainly an adjustment though, not having Andrew in those reliable minutes.”

During crunch time, the veteran Hamilton’s game is noted for his ability to hold up the ball, wait for oncoming teammates, and play with his back to goal. Friloux is not that type of player, nor is he expected to be. His strength comes from his running ability, and a knack for cutting into space moving diagonally as he seeks to receive the ball at his feet while on the move.

Despite the differences between the two players, the team reacted, played to Friloux’s strengths, and ultimately didn’t miss a beat.

“The team adjusted well to a player that has got a different set of attributes and different skills,” said Wiercinski. “In a lot of ways it was a great game. We got new players to play significant minutes, and to still get a good result that we were happy with which is a great step in development.”

As the team moves forward in its season, the competitive UAA matches now take center stage. For the Maroons, changes like the ones made Wednesday are necessary, and in many respects, this season will be a constant evolution of tactics and player development as the team becomes acclimated to a new coach and players settling into new positions. However, after the first eight games of the season, Wiercinski believes his team is right where it needs to be.

“Through the course of [these games], a lot of that development has been good, and guys are embracing their new roles and new positions and new formations,” said Wiercinski. As a coach it’s a great thing to see.”

League play begins Saturday for the Maroons at Stagg field as they play host to Carnegie Mellon (6–2) at 1:30.