October 8, 2007

Men's soccer fails to finish

The hits just keep on coming. In a near-repeat of their devastating home loss to Emory two weekends ago, men’s soccer again took an early lead only to see it fall apart in the game’s final minutes. This time around, the Maroons avoided the loss but felt frustration nonetheless.

Allowing multiple goals for the third time in as many match-ups, Chicago (5–5–1, 0–1–1 UAA) once again saw its porous defense and weakness in maintaining offensive pressure deprive the squad of a win as the South Siders tied 2–2 at Carnegie Mellon (6–1–1, 0–1–1) Saturday.

Striking twice in the game’s first 31 minutes, the Maroons had a comfortable edge at halftime, thanks to an early, unassisted flick off the foot by second-year forward Edgar Friloux 17:24 into play. A persistent challenger to third-year goalkeeper Matt Bazin, Friloux collected five shots on the day, while his first-year counterpart Alex Clifford cemented his role as the team’s leading scorer. Clifford’s rocket from 30 yards out gave him the fifth goal of his rookie campaign and his squad a 2–0 lead.

Holding the Tartans to four shots in the opening stanza, Chicago’s unbreakable defense in the half that ensured the success of their front-line teammates by efficiently getting the ball away from their net and back up toward midfield. First-year keeper Steve Baron notched two of his four saves in the first half.

“We played really aggressively and didn’t give them time or space to play,” head coach Scott Wiercinski said. “We forced them into turnovers, and that gave our offense a lot of the ball. We were able to be dangerous and effective passing the ball. It was more of our defense that gave us the lead than any offensive wizardry we had.”

This aggression came to an end in the second period, however, as the Maroons dropped back to their territory and allowed Carnegie more opportunities in front of the posts as the Tartans out-shot the South Siders 10 to 4.

“Sometime we sit back and think that if we’re between them and the goal, we’re doing our job defensively, when in reality it’s when we’re pressuring the ball that we can do what we want,” Wiercinski said.

Without Chicago’s first-period offensive domination, the Tartans saw results after minutes of continuous attack when a touch from first-year midfielder Max Betzig made its way deep into the box. Second-year forward Ricky Griffin caught up with it and flicked it past Baron, getting the hosts on the scoreboard.

After some great passing gave Chicago possession in Carnegie territory, Friloux tried to answer the Tartans with a shot on goal at the 78:00 mark off a ball from fourth-year midfielder Stuart Phelps, but Bazin was there to pick up the save.

As Carnegie looked for a last-second goal with a forward shift, Chicago could no longer effectively clear the ball, and things fell apart with under three minutes left in play as first-year midfielder Adam Bogus nailed a header off a Tartan throw-in, robbing the Maroons of the lead for good.

“I think we got a little nervous about having the lead, actually,” Wiercinski said. “We talked at halftime about trying to play hard and play aggressively, but this group of players in a young role hasn’t been in these situations at the college level, and have been tentative and nervous about how they play. Hopefully it’s a trend that’s going to end.”

Both overtimes passed quietly as the two squads only scraped up three combined shots. At one point, fourth-year forward Andrew Hamilton appeared to have won it for the Maroons with a sudden-death goal, but a foul was called on the play.

While Chicago put on the early offensive surge to jump out in front, it was trepidation and a reversion to defensive playing that allowed the disappointing comeback.

“Fortunately, if we get in the situation in the future, I think we’ll be able to continue to be aggressive and on the front foot the whole game, not just until we get the lead,” Wiercinski said. “It’s disappointing that this has to be the story line, but it’s encouraging that we’re leading games. We just need to polish out how we finish them.”

The Maroons will look for that finishing touch this Friday as they head into one of their biggest weekends of the season, a UAA double-header against both Brandeis (5–4–2, 0–2) and eighth-ranked NYU (8–2–1, 1–1). With only 13th-ranked Emory (11–1–0, 2–0) and Rochester (8–2–1, 2–0) boasting perfect conference records, Chicago still has a shot to fine-tune its play in order to clinch the UAA title and the automatic playoff bid that comes with it.