With one game left in the season, men’s soccer is still battling its demons. Trying to play the spoiler in the UAA, the team fell short, losing twice and being mathematically eliminated from making the postseason.
On Friday, the Maroons (6–9–1, 1–4–1) fell 2–1 in overtime to 17th-ranked Case Western Reserve (12–4–0, 3–3) in a tough physical encounter that could have easily swung Chicago’s way. Sunday, the Maroons were overpowered by 13th-ranked Rochester (12–2–2, 5–0–1) in a 3–1 result, where an improved second half performance was unable to overcome a couple of defensive mistakes made in the first half.
Both storylines have beleaguered the team throughout the season, especially in UAA play, where they must use their technical ability to balance out their physical disadvantage.
“We knew they were going to rely on physical play, but with a young team such as ours, [players] really don’t know what they’re getting into until that whistle blows,” fourth-year defender Jon Cartwright said.
Chicago was able to retain most of the possession in the first period against the Spartans, resulting in a 38th-minute goal. First-year midfielder Kenzo Manners slid a pass forward to second-year forward Edgar Friloux, whose left-footed finish from just inside the area gave the Maroons a 1–0 lead to take into halftime.
Despite the work on offense, however, the defense was unable to prevent the Spartans from evening the score early in the second half. Third-year midfielder Justin Steggerda took the ball down the left wing before sending in a cross that third-year forward Matt Paglia flicked past first-year keeper Steve Baron’s fingertips.
In the first overtime period, Chicago created chances to put the game away, but it was the visitors who carved out the winning goal—helped by a controversial non-call.
A Case corner, delivered by Steggerda, was headed into the net by third-year forward Kevin Bigart amid a scrum of pushing and shoving inside the box. Bigart appeared to have fouled second-year midfielder Joe Farias-Eisner in order to get open, and as the Spartan players ran toward their bench in celebration, head coach Scott Wiercinski sprinted on to the pitch and lividly confronted the referee. The official drew a post-game red card, ejecting Wiercinski from Sunday’s match.
“We had played really well throughout the match, and although the referee never beat us, I felt our guys played hard enough and deserved to lose, at the very least, in a different way,” Wiercinski said. “If I could do it again, I would certainly do it in different ways, but I would still convey the same message that I did because I felt like the referee played an important role in that game when that’s really not his job.”
If the Maroons fell to the physical challenge against Case, then the Rochester match saw the team lapse in another too-familiar area.
“We lack, within our team psychology, a sense of urgency from the first whistle,” Wiercinski said. “When we’ve gone down, we’ve done a good job of grabbing ourselves by our bootstraps.... We need to develop that instinct from the first whistle.”
On Sunday, it was the Yellowjackets who asserted themselves at the start, taking an early lead in the 4th minute. Fourth-year midfielder Jeremy Mann collected the ball off a cross in the Chicago area and ripped a shot past Baron.
Facing a deficit, the Maroon offense awoke and started to connect passes. Just before the half-hour mark, some good possession in the midfield sprang Friloux on the right wing. Cutting back across the top, the forward sent in a slanted pass that found Manners unmarked near the penalty spot. Manners steadied the ball, then touched it past the keeper for his first goal of the season.
The parity lasted less than a minute. Off the restart, the Yellowjackets took the ball downfield, earning a throw-in. Baron was unable to handle the launched ball, and first-year midfielder Steve Welles chested in the ball.
Minutes later, this lead doubled as a missed clearance just outside Chicago’s box found the feet of second-year forward J.J. Dennstedt, who took the ball around his defender and finished it past Baron for a 3–1 lead.
The Maroons are well acquainted with the situation of facing an uphill battle at halftime. Unfortunately, they are also no strangers to the frustration of not being able to clamber back.
“The disconnect is on two levels. One is that we put ourselves in a position where we’re down a few goals, and obviously that’s not a healthy one,” Wiercinski said. “In terms of tactics, we did very well to possess the game and control the game yesterday in the second half against Rochester, but we were very poor in the final 25 yards of the field.”
Sporting a comfortable lead, the Yellowjackets were content to sit back and guard their hive, absorbing the Maroon attack for most of the second half. Despite creating a handful of dangerous chances, the South Siders only forced Peacock into two saves in the final 45 minutes.
The results from the weekend have relegated men’s soccer to a losing season, yet Saturday’s match with 22nd-ranked Wash U (13–4–1, 4–1–1) presents a final chance for the team to show that it can compete with the best.
“We’re looking for Saturday’s game to be our best performance of the season,” Wiercinski said.
A victory won’t exorcise all of the season’s shortcomings, but it would allow the Maroons to lay some of their ghosts to rest.