October 3, 2006

Hot streak ends as men's soccer drops UAA opener

In a rough and tumble UAA opener, men’s soccer saw its four-game winning streak slip away.

Winding up on the losing end of a box score for the first time in two weeks, the Maroons (5–3–1, 0–1–0 UAA) fell 1–0 to Carnegie Mellon (7–2–0, 1–0–0). In a contest that was delayed for 45 minutes due to a fierce thunderstorm, the Maroons fought hard but struggled to find consistent form and left head coach Scott Wiercinski with more questions than answers. Although the storm eventually subsided, the forecast remained grim for the Maroons as they conceded a Carnegie goal early in the second half and struggled to produce much offense of their own.

In stark contrast to the women’s team, Wiercinski has relied on the same defense for much of the season. While the unit has looked solid in recent matches, the one persistent concern about this young team is their lack of muscle; aside from the back line, third-year midfielder Eric Kirkenmeier is the only certifiable enforcer in the center of the park, and in conference play the physical mismatch will undeniably come into play. If the Maroons are to have a successful UAA season, they will need to adjust to the more physical style of play.

The two teams got off to a frantic start, prompting some rough-edged tackles from the nervy Chicago defense. The resulting set pieces and chances from Carnegie midfielder Sean Filipovitz tested fourth-year goalkeeper Keith Crum, but the captain rose to the challenge, showing his poise in coming off his line to snare the ball. After a rare Kirkenmeier miscue in Chicago territory led to a Tartan scoring opportunity, Crum saved a rolling shot from first-year Ryan Browne and followed it up by pulling down a flicked header from Will Schlough before it could reach the intended target.

Despite being outplayed for most of the first half, the Maroons stayed in the game thanks to some opportunistic playmaking. Third-year forward Andrew Hamilton gave the defense some respite with a solid individual offensive effort, trapping the ball at the top of the Carnegie box and turning his defender before shooting straight at the goalkeeper. The offensive momentum fizzled and Crum was soon tested yet again off another Filipovitz set piece.

The rain delay offered both teams a much-needed chance to regroup, but once play resumed, Carnegie continued to batter Chicago in every area of the field.

“They were a physical team, but they were a fair team,” Wiercinski said. “They played hard, they challenged every first touch, and they were persistent with that. I felt we didn't respond well. I thought we really turtled a bit and shirked away from the contact and the challenge.”

Going into the second half, the Maroons made a more concerted effort to pressure the Carnegie defense. They nearly got the break they so desperately needed early on through second-year winger Eric Floyd. Streaking down the center of the field on a counterattack, his run was intercepted by a Carnegie defender, but a hustling Hamilton was able to latch onto the rebound on the right wing and send in a cross that Floyd headed hard off the crossbar.

The agonizing miss would prove fatal. While the offense sputtered, the Maroons' defensive effort remained shaky, and the Tartans punished them for it only a couple minutes later. Making his mark coming off the bench, fourth-year Jonathan Browne got on the end of a Filipovitz corner kick and sent it past a diving Crum.

“We've been giving up an awful lot of fouls in some really bad places, and it’s been a consistent problem,” Crum said.

After Carnegie took the lead, the Maroons seemed to spring to life, pressing forward with more urgency. Fourth-year Joey Frontczak, coming back from a nagging groin injury, sparked the attack by making several good runs and constantly challenging for aerial balls, but Chicago lacked the crucial attacking edge it needed to level the score. Hamilton spurned a golden chance to equalize one minute before fulltime, as his defender lost his footing inside the area, but his shot was hasty and went straight to the goalkeeper.

In the end, the defensive effort wasn’t steady enough to stop the flow of Carnegie’s attacks, and although the Maroons showed a greater sense of urgency toward the end of the match, it wasn’t enough to force overtime.

“The team with more energy and more commitment to the cause won today,” Wiercinski said. “It was also sort of predictable; as our backs start to get closer to the wall, we start to realize that we need to play hard, and it’s too bad that it took 75 minutes to get that.”

The Maroons face an uphill battle in the rough-and-tumble UAA conference. With a trip to Atlanta to face a strong Emory side (9–1–0, 1–0–0) on tap for this weekend, Wiercinski and his young squad will be hoping for a more positive showing from his team.