October 17, 2006

Crossbar denies men's soccer in road heartbreak

The clock is quickly running out for a men’s soccer squad gunning for a league championship while its roller-coaster season continues.

After a tough weekend on the road that hit Chicago (7–4–2, 1–2–1) with a 1–1 draw at Rochester Friday and a 2–1 loss at Case Sunday, the Maroons will need a fast turnaround to recover their shot at a UAA title. While anything is possible, it is going to be a hard stretch with a showdown against local rivals Wheaton (8–5–2) Wednesday and a match against current UAA leaders NYU (12–1–0, 4–0–0) when the conference resumes play.

Friday’s match against the Yellowjackets (6–3–3, 1–1–2) saw the South Siders in the right mindset to grab a big win. The Maroons took it to their opponents early with a 1–0 lead in their pockets 14 minutes into the game.

Choosing not to mess with success Friday, Chicago stuck with the 4–4–2 formation that had locked up the victory against Emory last week. First-year forward Edgar Friloux continued his top-notch form and was at the heart of the goal once again, finding his striking partner third-year Andrew Hamilton, who converted it for his fourth goal of the season and a 1–0 lead.

Chicago maintained the lead into the halftime break, but an error in the Maroons’ back five gave Rochester a lucky break in the 58th minute with third-year center defender Jon Cartwright’s inadvertent handball in the box. A perfect penalty kick drove past fourth-year backstop Keith Crum to even the score.

With the wind taken out of the Maroons’ sails a bit, the game persisted on even terms to the end of the clock. Six minutes into the extra play period, though, the game took a grim turn on a possibly season-souring development for Chicago.

An injured hamstring took Crum, the current leader in career shutouts, off the field in the 96th minute and forced the Maroons to play the rest of the match with substitute netminder, second-year Micah Gruber in the goal. The injury to Crum, a defensive leader and superb shot stopper, could be felt for a long time in the Chicago defense.

There was no time for sulking as the Maroons took on 15th-ranked Case Western (11–2–1, 2–2–0). In addition to Gruber, who got his first career start, fourth-year defender James Dagonas replaced first-year Joseph Farias-Eisner at right back to further shape things up.

From the beginning of the game, the Maroons were on the back foot and the home side took the lead after 12 minutes. Throughout the course of the half, Case had the better of the opportunities, outshooting Chicago six to three after 45 minutes.

The Maroons responded well and early in the second and got themselves back on level pegging. Third-year midfielder Erick Kirkenmeier was on task once again, taking a team-leading fourth assist from first-year Alex Takakuwa and notching the equalizer.

After the team got itself back on equal footing with Case, the Maroons’ defense folded under pressure from the Spartans in the 72nd minute. A suberb left-footed volley from second-year striker R.J. French that Gruber had little chance of stopping proved to be the game winner, as Chicago couldn’t muster up a response. There was some late drama, though.

With only seconds remaining, a goal-mouth scramble saw Friloux lash at the ball as he attempted to get anything he could on it. His shot caromed agonizingly off the bar with one second left, and the Maroons were tagged with the defeat instead of a tie.

For now, the Maroons are licking some wounds from the weekend results that dropped them to mid-table in the UAA rankings. Regional standings determine the national qualifiers, and the squad will need to find some quick solutions to the recent holes poked in the back five to prepare for Wheaton Wednesday and then NYU for coference play.