Men’s soccer is still striving for change: a sign that this season won’t be a repeat of last season, when a young defense struggled to find its rhythm in a transition year.
The Maroons (4–5–2, 0–1 UAA) fell 2–0 to Wheaton on Tuesday evening in a steady downpour that shrouded the field turf in mist—an apt setting for a match that offered no new conclusions for a team still struggling for consistency.
The 15th-ranked Thunder (9–2–1) pressed forward from the opening whistle, forcing first-year goalkeeper Chris Giusto to make two stops within the first few minutes of play. Wheaton’s unrelenting early pressure created several corner-kick opportunities, and in the eighth minute fourth-year midfielder Joel DeLass found room for a free header off a delivery from third-year midfielder Matt Swartz to put the visitors up 1–0.
Chicago nearly equalized just two minutes later, when first-year midfielder Stanton Coville’s low cross squirted away from Wheaton goalkeeper Joe Selvaggio, resulting in a goalmouth scramble. Second-year forward Alex Clifford finally found enough space to take a clear shot, but sent it rolling wide of the target.
Although the rain-slicked conditions favored neither team, Wheaton benefited from the Maroons’ inability to establish a transition game and clearly held the run of play in the first half, in which they outshot Chicago 13–3.
“No offensive game plan is being executed very well if we get zero goals,” head coach Scott Wiercinski said. “We were dangerous at moments—but really incompletely.”
Indeed, Giusto was the busiest Maroon on the pitch, collecting eight saves on the night, some of them bordering on spectacular. Just after the half-hour mark, a Thunder free kick taken by Swartz curled past the defensive wall, but Giusto dove to his right, palming the ball away from harm.
Two minutes into the second half, a Wheaton attacker found space behind Chicago’s defense, but Giusto met the shot with a sliding save along the ground. His efforts kept Chicago in the hunt, but in the 55th minute another uncontested header from DeLass made the score 2–0 in favor of the visitors, this time from a cross sent into the box by first-year defender Cory Weaver.
The two goals given up by Chicago, scored from the same position inside the box and in virtually the same situation, soured what was otherwise a fine effort from the defense. “Our players need to feel the urgency to defend in the box,” Wiercinski said. “Currently our players aren’t doing that, and that needs to change. It doesn’t do any good to play 89 fantastic minutes but give up two headers from the six-yard line.”
The loss can be chalked up not only to a couple of defensive miscues and a lackluster offense that has been hit hard by injuries in recent weeks, but also to a formidable schedule that saw the team playing three nationally ranked opponents in the span of a week.
“Every opponent we face is very different and possesses a new set of challenges for us to work out,” third-year leftback Drew Marshall said. “Our tough non-conference schedule does not allow us to take a break.”
With four rookies getting major minutes in the Maroons’ back four and between the posts, improvements must be made in between games and on the trot, and it is often a test of patience and tenacity.
“The challenge of having so many new faces in the back is learning to play together,” said Marshall, who is one of the two returning defensive players on the squad. “The defense has started to form a more cohesive unit and will only improve as time progresses. At first, we were able to pitch some shutouts and allowed [only] a few shots per game. We have hit some major bumps in the road. Now, the test is to face our faults as a unit and correct them quickly to eliminate the problems.”
The Maroons face their next test on Homecoming Saturday against 14th-ranked Carnegie Mellon. Like Chicago, the Tartans (9–1–1, 0–1), are searching for their first UAA victory, after registering a 1–0 loss against Wash U in their conference opener.
“The best positive moving forward from a loss is really the way the team practiced [Wednesday]...full of urgency, full of energy,” Wiercinski said. “That they came out to practice in that way is a great indication that we’re ready to forget it. We lost a game, whatever. We’ve got to improve and move forward.”