October 27, 2006

Strikers have men's soccer thinking big

You wouldn’t know it if you watched them play now, but once upon a time, before they handed Dominican its only loss and buried Whitewater with a late surge, before they won 8 out of 11 and turned the season around, before a young head coach found a striking tandem that worked, men’s soccer had trouble scoring goals.

It never became too great of a problem—the team is, after all, 9–4–1 and on the fast track to an NCAA bid. For a brief stretch in the season’s early weeks, though, when the squad went three straight games and 290 minutes with nary a goal, the offensive struggles were cause for concern. Now, thanks to a rejuvenated corps of forwards and midfielders, the Maroons have made early September feel like ages ago. The Maroons will give their hot new offense one more test this weekend as they square off against a pair of northeastern opponents at Stagg before taking their game to the postseason.

After losing midfield maestro Giordano Palloni (A.B. ’06), along with strikers Ryan Ehle and Brian Standerfer at the end of last season, the Maroons were forced to rebuild their attack around a younger but still capable nucleus. Once the early struggles subsided, the transformed offense found its rhythm, striking for eight goals in the past five matchups.

“Early on, we didn’t really have a firm grip on what our striking capabilities were,” head coach Scott Wiercinski said. “I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that we had a lot of new people, and I was new. Over the course of the year, though, we asked a lot of questions, and we’ve answered a lot of questions. The educational process has been important.

“We started fiddling with some new formations at that point,” Wiercinski said. “We became more aware of our skill sets—you learn more about yourself in defeat than you do in victory.”

The solution, after some tinkering, came in the form of third-year Andrew Hamilton and first-year Edgar Friloux. After appearing in 18 games last season but seeing his time on the pitch limited by his more veteran teammates, Hamilton has made the most of his minutes this season. The Springfield, IL native has sparked the attack with his boundless energy up top and is tied for the team lead in goals (four) and assists (four) this season. All of his points have come since September 16 and the 3–0 loss to Ohio Dominican, the last of three straight shutouts.

Friloux, meanwhile, has thrived since being inserted into the starting lineup before the Beloit match on October 10. While Hamilton excels at holding the ball up and incorporating the wingers, fourth-year Joe Frontczak and second-year Eric Floyd, into the attack, Friloux looks for the seams in the opponent’s defense and pounces on through-balls.

“They’re a very complimentary pair. One zigs, the other zags. They’re both physically good players,” Wiercinski said. “I think Hamilton holds the ball better, and Edgar runs off the ball better. Those two skill sets mesh perfectly, as does their athleticism.”

“We move off each other very well, and we are very successful when we read what each other are going to do next,” Hamilton said. “Edgar and I have really gotten used to each other’s style of play and have been able to bounce ideas and suggestions off each other in order to get a good chemistry going.”

With five victories by 2–1 margins, the Maroons’ newfound confidence in tight contests has given them an edge in big games, belying their inexperience. That killer instinct will face its toughest test yet when they take on 13th-ranked NYU Saturday. The Violets (13–1–1, 4–0–0) have outscored opponents 41–8 this season and have allowed only one goal in league play. Led by a determined team effort, NYU consistently excels at shutting down opposing offenses and creating opportunities going the other way.

“The biggest reason for their success is that the psychology for the team is very strong,” Wiercinski said. “They really believe they are special, and to this point in the season it’s certainly been true. That is coupled with the fact that they are all very good soccer players.”

Led by fourth-year captain Jeritt Thayer (10 goals and four assists), classmate Max Sachar (eight goals, one assist), and second-year Adam Dhanens (seven goals, two assists), the Violets have put together a high-powered offense that averages 2.69 goals per game.

Sunday’s matinee against Brandeis (9–5–3, 1–3–0) should be no pushover either. Since falling 2–0 to Carnegie Mellon October 13, the Judges have rattled off a four-game winning streak in which they have outscored opponents 21–0. With the league’s best scorer, second-year Ben Premo (11 goals, five assists), leading the way up top, Brandeis is much improved since last season and, like Chicago, has improved steadily as the season has progressed.

“The conference games are so intense and are based on rivalry and history and tradition and, at a small level, a hatred for each other, which is very good. The increased physical nature of the conference games poses some issues for our team, which is predominantly a smaller team.”

“In the non-conference games, we’ve done well to play soccer and also to match the physical nature of our opponents. The real test for us, moving forward, is, ‘Can we do both of those things with the conference games?’”