As the temperatures head south, Chicago continues to move north in the standings, with Sunday’s 3–0 victory over North Park leaving the Maroons three wins from a possible postseason berth.
Chicago (9–5–1, 2–2 UAA) scored early and continually marched into the visitor’s territory for a convincing win over North Park (4–11) in its last home game and last non-conference game of the season.
The Maroons got off to a hot start when, 90 seconds into the match, third-year forward Brooke Bontz found fourth-year forward Ndyabagye reaching North Park’s box with one defender to beat. After moving around second-year defender Katie Jesurun, Ndyabagye met an approach from second-year keeper Ashley Jacobson, but the veteran’s slow rolling shot stretched past Jacobson and into the net.
“A lot of the girls underestimate how fast I am,” Ndyabagye said. “When I was running for the ball, I passed the defender, and when I saw the goal keeper come out, I knew I had to score quick before she tackles the ball, so I just pushed past it and it went in.”
The next several minutes saw the Maroons continue to mount attacks through Bontz and Ndyabagye. Quick passing kept the North Park defense struggling to clear the ball throughout the game, as the Vikings seemed overmatched from the onset.
However, it wouldn’t be crisp passing that set up the next goal. In the 29th minute, Ndyabagye raced past the North Park defense for another encounter with the Vikings’ netminder. This time, though, Jacobson and Ndyabagye collided as Jacobson dove for the ball.
In a controversial call, the official penalized Jacobson, handing the Maroons a penalty kick and setting off the North Park bench. After a few minutes of discussion between Jacobson and the referee, fourth-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele stepped into a shot toward the upper right corner of the net and put the Maroons up 2–0.
“I was a bit surprised we got the call; you don’t generally see calls like that against a keeper, but on the other hand she was a bit more aggressive than many keepers we’ve seen,” Nachtergaele said. “Regardless, it’s extremely important to finish on opportunities like that since, as we have found out a few times this season, you never know how many opportunities you will get to score in a game.”
The rest of the half blew by, either because of gusting winds that took down the scorer’ clock or because of a stretch of relative inactivity after two fast goals for the hosts. The Maroons outshot the Vikings 12–0 in the first half, forcing four saves by Jacobson.
Toting a two-goal lead, the Maroons looked to continue to pressure North Park’s defense in the second stanza. On the strength of a season-high nine corner kicks in the half, Chicago tallied 17 shots, testing Jacobson six times.
The Maroons’ final goal of the afternoon came when Nachtergaele found an opening from 22 yards out. Jacobson made the initial stop but was unable to control the ball, allowing third-year forward Melissa Plesac to run in for the rebound and point-blank goal that put Chicago up 3–0.
Fourth-year keeper Polly Cline had as relaxing an afternoon as one could have in Sunday’s conditions, facing just four shots from North Park and only two that forced a save. This was the fifth shutout of the season for the Maroons’ defense.
“I think part of the reason was definitely the pressure we were putting on them offensively, but the defense deserves a lot of credit, too,” Nachtergaele said. “The wind could have been very problematic, but our defense adjusted and maintained great organization throughout the game, so that they won most balls before North Park attackers got a chance to put a lot of pressure on us close to our goal.”
Chicago now has a short break before heading to Case (8–8, 0–4) to start the season’s final stretch. The South Siders must, by all accounts, win out for postseason considerations. With a tough task ahead, though, the Maroons’ play Sunday showed reasons for optimism.
“I think it definitely showed how effective good offensive pressure and speed can be, which will be really important in our final regular season games,” Nachtergaele said. “Keeping pressure off of our defense allows them to stay much more organized, so they can both support in the attack and be in position to clean up anything that comes at them. Maintaining that organization both in the midfield and the back will be crucial in these next two weekends.”