SPORTS

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October 31, 2006

Hamilton, men's soccer stun Violets with last-second miracle goal

Sometimes it’s the result that matters more than the way it is achieved, and men’s soccer ground out a win and a tie this weekend that lacked flair but not effort.

The Maroons (10–4–3, 2–2–2 UAA) faced their toughest test of the season Saturday when they sent the formidable 12th-ranked Violets (13–2–2, 4–1–1) hobbling out of Hyde Park with a 1–1 tie. After being outplayed for most of the match, the squad scored the equalizer in the most heart-stopping play of the season.

Things started brightly for Chicago when third-year forward Andrew Hamilton headed a cross by fourth-year winger Joey Frontczak off the post in the first minute of play. Second-year midfielder Tom Lobell also tested second-year goalkeeper Chris Wright with a long-range shot that Wright tipped over the bar. After Lobell’s attempt, NYU took the driver’s seat, combining speed with incisive passing as they drove toward the Maroons’ net.

Playing well under pressure, second-year goalkeeper Micah Gruber warded off the attack, collecting six saves as the Violets outshot Chicago 15–8. As the rest of the squad saw its technical play suffer under relentless wind conditions and NYU’s physical presence, Gruber was called upon time and again to keep Chicago in the game.

After the break, the Violets continued to attack while the home team failed to make any headway. Third-year midfielder Jeritt Thayer lifted NYU to a deserved 1–0 lead on the hour mark when he pounced on an uncleared ball deep into the Maroons’ defense and smashed an angled shot into the far side of the net.

Running out of ideas fast, the South Siders lacked the connections to make their passing plays count, but saw a late chipped shot by Hamilton finally beat Wright off his line, only to be cleared off the line by a NYU defender.

Hamilton’s effort re-ignited the Maroons in the final minutes. First-year midfielder Jan-Michael Guerra won a corner in the last 22 seconds of the match, and first-year midfielder Alex Takakuwa lined up the ball as precious time ticked away. When the corner was finally whipped in, its placement was perfect, deflecting off a NYU defender and landing right at Hamilton’s feet. The forward put it calmly into the back of the net to tie up the game 1–1 with seven seconds remaining on the clock.

“Our last chance was being counted down by the announcer and something in me said, ‘It ain’t over until it’s over,’” Hamilton said. “The ball got knocked down and popped right in front of me, and I made sure I was calm and didn’t think of anything else until I saw the ball hit the net. ”

After pushing one of the best teams in the nation into double overtime, the Maroons relied on their defense to hold back the Violets. Even though the squad couldn’t pull ahead in extra time, there was some satisfaction to be had in dealing NYU its first conference draw.

With little time to recover, the Maroons took the field against Brandeis (9–7–3, 1–5–0) Sunday with a few fitness concerns. The first half did nothing to quell those fears as the visitors came at Chicago with speedy, physical play. Making matters worse for a home squad still struggling to make its connection in the attack, the bigger Judges drew the Maroons into their particular brand of rough-and-tumble play.

Getting knocked around on the pitch, Chicago would have entered halftime with a goal deficit if not for a lightning-quick save from third-year defender Stu Phelps. When Gruber got caught off his line by an early ball in the box, Phelps swooped in with a tackle that swept the ball up and off the crossbar to bounce right outside the goal line where first-year John Hughes came back to clear it to safety.

The attack did build up movement and momentum after the break, and it paid off for them when Hamilton was tripped inside the Brandeis box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Taking the PK, Hamilton buried it in the corner of the net just before the hour mark for a 1–0 Chicago lead.

Seeking an equalizer, Brandeis piled forward but looked increasingly frustrated as the game wore on. In the 77th minute, fourth-year forward Mike Snyder scythed down first-year defender Drew Marshall from behind after losing the ball in the midfield. The referee didn’t hesitate to brandish a direct red card.

Playing with a one-man advantage, Chicago could have doubled their lead but missed two golden opportunities. With two minutes left in the match, it was Hamilton who finally netted the insurance goal for the Maroons. After receiving a pass from Takakuwa in empty space, the third-year sidestepped his defender and calmly rolled the ball under Bracken and into the corner of the net to wrap up the game.

“The bottom line is, we worked hard and did a lot of things to put ourselves in a position to win or tie,” said head coach Scott Wiercinski. “It doesn’t matter how bad it gets, we’ve got to keep playing.”

The Maroons need to put everything out there for a victory at Wash U next Saturday, either through playing beautiful soccer or grinding out a gritty result.

“We can play with anybody in the country when we play well. The question is if we’re going to come out and get it done,” Phelps said.