September 30, 2007

Vets, newbies look for right mix

Riding a two-game win streak and finally showing signs of entering the groove they found last season, men’s soccer will have its momentum challenged when 18th-ranked Emory comes to town on Saturday.

After a home blanking of Aurora (5–2–1) last weekend gave the squad its first multiple-game margin above .500, the Maroons (5–3–0) looked to continue their streak with what might have been an easy win over Beloit (2–4–1), but the weather had other plans. Lightning cancelled the match, depriving Chicago of the chance to stack its record even further before the formidable Eagles (9–0–0) fly into Stagg.

Last year, the South Siders pulled off a 2–1 road win against Emory, with goals scored by two returning veterans. However, this time Chicago must do battle without goalkeeper Keith Crum (A.B. ’07), the Maroons all-time shutout leader who stopped four shots from the Peach-Eaters last time around.

This season, head coach Scott Wiercinski has been experimenting with both first­-year keeper Steve Baron and fourth-year Micah Gruber. Baron, starting four out of the last five games for the Maroons, has been strong in between the posts, with a .8 GAA.

The fresh face in the goal could make all the difference for the Maroons, who must face an impressive, conference-leading offense. Emory’s deadly shot accuracy, a UAA-best .259 percent, comes in well above the Maroons’ mark of .114. Such aim has led the Eagles to a whopping 36 goals on the season, another UAA high.

While these offensive marks might leave the Maroons quaking, the two squads aren’t far off when it comes to defense. Chicago’s keepers have managed an .830 save percentage, not far behind Emory’s .875.

In other good news, the Eagle’s unbeaten streak may look more impressive than the schedule behind it. The Maroons have weathered two ranked opponents this season, while Emory has yet to be tried by one. Emory’s opponent record also clocks in at 35­–37–3, while Chicago’s foes put up a much tougher 35–20–4.

Leading off conference play, Saturday’s match will be the first in a series of tough UAA showdowns. Interleague action will be even more important to the Maroons this year. Without as rigorous a schedule as the one that earned them an at-large NCAA bid last fall, topping the conference may be Chicago’s only shot at a second consecutive postseason appearance.

Spotlight on Andrew Hamilton

Chicago’s go-to veteran on offense, fourth-year forward Andrew Hamilton emerged last year to lead the Maroons in points and goals, including a last-second stunner to force a tie against highly ranked NYU. Hamilton netted seven balls last year, and has put two under his belt in his senior campaign.