Only one game into the UAA season, is a stretch to say that men’s soccer’s next match is a must-win. But on the road trip to meet a national power, the Maroons will need to bring their A-game if they wish to remain in contention.
Squaring off against 17th-ranked Emory (9–1–0, 1–0–0 UAA) is a challenging task at any point in the season, but the stakes have just been raised for the Maroons (5–3–1, 0–1–0 UAA) who travel to Atlanta to take on the 17th-ranked Eagles at their home turf.
After a disappointing start to league play last weekend which saw a sluggish Chicago fall 1-0 13th-ranked Carnegie Mellon (7–2–0, 1–0–0 UAA), the South Siders need to bounce back in a big way this Saturday. The Maroons’ loss snapped a four-game winning streak and tampered the growing swell of optimism surrounding the team.
“We’re going to be in for a tough game in every way,” head coach Scott Wiercinski said. “Their record speaks for itself. They’re going to feel like they can come out and take it to us.”
A positive result from the showdown with Emory would send a message to the rest of the league that the maroon and white has the fortitude to regroup and move on after a loss. In a conference that last season sent four squads to the NCAAs, the ability to make adjustments on the fly is essential to success.
The good news is that the squad has had a week to prepare for the contest both physically and mentally. Playing a jam-packed schedule to this point, Chicago tackled nothing but practices since the Carnegie Mellon match. The break has allowed some of the aches and bruises on the season to heal, but more importantly the off stretch has given the Maroons plenty of time to examine what they’ll need to do Saturday to come out on top.
With Emory taking charge of the field with a very aggressive squad — its offense averages 17.0 shots per game with 2.34 goals while the back five holds opponents to 8.1 and 0.49 — the South Siders’ best hope in turning the tide against the Eagles is transforming that strength into a weakness. By playing a tight, disciplined game, the Maroons can force their foes to rush plays and turn the ball, resulting in quick and dangerous counterattacks. If they manage to push into the final third, they’ll have to blow through opposing defense and overcome their trouble executing at the net. So far, they’ve posted a meager 12.2 shots per game with 0.87 goals on the year.
“It is even more important to physically impose ourselves in our UAA games,” fourth-year forward Frontczak said. “Now that we have dug ourselves a little hole, it is that much more important that we maximize the use of our speed and athleticism.
“Emory has very skilled attacking players who like time on the ball. If we don’t allow them to feel comfortable with the flow of the game like we were able to accomplish last year, I think we can achieve a similar result,” Frontczak said, remembering his team’s 4–0 wipeout of the Eagles last fall. “If we can come out with a lot of defensive pressure, we will give ourselves the best chance to pull out a win.”
Where the squad will probably hit the most trouble come the first whistle Saturday is kicking the physical end up a notch to match Emory. The team’s struggles with that aspect of the sport have been a problem spot since day one and are of particular concern to Coach Wiercinski as the Maroons plunge deeper into league play.
“It’s something that we definitely need to do in order to compete at Emory this weekend and to be successful for the rest of the season,” Wiercinski said.
“It is even more important to physically impose ourselves in our UAA games,” Frontczak added. “Now that we have dug ourselves a little hole, it is that much more important that we maximize the use of our speed and athleticism.”
This hole in Chicago’s game most likely features prominently on any scouting reports the Eagles have drawn up. The intensity of playing a UAA rival with big consequences riding on the match might just be the spark the team needs to crank things up and catch competitors off guard.
“In our Carnegie game there was a lot of physical play, fair play, but physical play that isn’t always there in non-league games,” Wiercinski said. “In terms of energy, urgency, and excitement, the rivalry factor has certainly come out. We’re really going to have to fire on all cylinders.”