The UChicago men’s soccer team bowed out of the 2021 NCAA Division III Championship on Friday, December 3, after a golden-goal loss to Amherst College. Ignacio Cubeddu’s volley in the 108th minute was the only goal of the match; it was a frustrating end to what had been a phenomenal season by the Maroons.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) hosted the match on its Greensboro campus, which lies more than 700 miles from Hyde Park. Fortunatly for UChicago, there was still a large Maroon presence in the bleachers, as North Carolina locals and devoted supporters came out in droves to cheer on their college.
The Mammoths came into the game with a record of 16–2–2 for the season. The Maroons, for their part, had improved to a record of 16–5–1 following their 2–0 win against North Park University on November 20. The match was a scrappy one, as both teams found it difficult to keep the ball under control and play through the midfield. What the match lacked in fluidity, though, it made up for in physicality. Referee Tom Snyder was kept on his toes as both sides flew into tackles and clashed for headers in the air. First-year Jack Leuker was taken out of the game on two separate occasions in the first half due to a large cut he had received on his face, courtesy of an Amherst player.
Interestingly, it was Amherst defender Bryce Johnson’s front-flip throw-ins that created the most threatening chances of the first half; the right-back’s tosses soared 30 yards or more through the night and never failed to cause havoc in UChicago’s 16-yard box. Kyle Kelly hit the post with a shot after one such throw; Niall Murphy clipped a header just wide following another.
UChicago allowed Amherst control of the ball for the majority of the game, but managed to create a few good chances of their own through breakaways and corner kicks. Near the end of the first half, fourth-year midfielder Vicente Mateus forced a great save from Amherst goalkeeper Kofi Hope-Gund with a lovely curling effort.
As the second half began, it became clear from the strips of gauze tied around Leuker’s head that both teams were ready to keep up the aggression. Soon after the half began, forward Kyle Ruark emerged with a yellow card for a risky slide tackle on an Amherst midfielder.
The best chance of the second half fell to Amherst as German Giammattei fed a great ball through to forward Ada Okorogheye; fortunately for Chicago, his shot was blocked expertly by second-year Will Boyes in goal. Amherst pushed forward more as the match went on; some good tackles and blocks by UChicago were required to stop the Mammoths’ attacks before they got too dangerous. The match was still scoreless at 0–0 when UNC’s clock went up, signaling the end of regulation.
The golden-goal period, consisting of two ten-minute halves, began with the Maroons under pressure once again. Okorogheye volleyed a bouncing ball hard toward the right-hand corner of his goal from just outside the box; Boyes was able to get two strong hands on the ball, though, and forced the shot away. UChicago continued to try to spring counterattacks, but the fatigue of playing more than 90 minutes of such an intense game made it difficult.
The what-if moment for the Maroons came during the final few minutes of the period, when a cross was slipped through to second-year Ryan Yetishefsky in the six-yard box. The striker was not quite able to stab the ball into the net, but with an Amherst defender clipping at Yetishefsky’s heels during the chance, UChicago may feel aggrieved that a penalty was not given on the play.
Amherst’s storybook ending arrived soon after that chance: A Mammoth corner was headed away by the Maroons, and the ball hung in the air before midfielder Cubeddu caught the ball on his right foot and smashed a volley past Boyes. The goal sent Amherst into ecstasy. For UChicago, though, it was a bitter end to a match that had looked for 108 minutes as if nothing would decide it.
Amherst will take on Connecticut College in the final on December 4 for a chance at the title. The Maroons will look toward next year and a chance to go a few steps further in their quest for the championship.