October 4, 2008

Offense frustrates men’s soccer, but unbeaten streak continues

[img id="80755" align="alignleft"] Solid defense and poor offensive production have been themes for men’s soccer lately, and this week was no different.

The Maroons haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since September 6, but they have allowed only one goal in their past three matches. On Sunday, the South Siders continued the trend with a 1–0 shutout victory over Lake Forest (3–7) before playing to a scoreless tie Tuesday against Illinois Wesleyan (2–5–1).

Under the lights of Stagg Field on a cold Tuesday night, the first half of the game with IWU had little attacking action and neither team could take control of the midfield. Chicago’s offense was slow to warm up, taking only two shots in the opening stanza. But even though the Titans had an edge in shot total, the Maroon defense limited most IWU looks to long shots that were off the mark or easily corralled.

“I was very happy and very impressed with our defense,” head coach Scott Wiercinski said. “I think they continue to improve and continue to limit our opponents to fewer and fewer chances.”

Chicago caught a lucky break with 33 minutes remaining in the second half, when the Titans’ forward John Blodgett headed a corner kick past first-year goalie Chris Giusto but fouled a Maroon defender in the process and saw the goal whistled away.

Giusto had his best stop of the night—and probably saved the game for the Maroons—after an IWU breakaway with 10 minutes to play. The Titans crossed the ball just in front of the net and took a point-blank grounder, but the rookie keeper trapped it to preserve his second shutout in as many games. Giusto collected eight saves on the night.

“Chris has played really well all season,” Wiercinski said. “He’s stepped up to the plate every time we’ve needed him to make a save. His save ability has been very important. He’s been in the right spot every time we’ve needed him.”

Minutes after Giusto’s stop, second-year midfielder Kenzo Manners almost put the game away with a rocket from 15 yards out but watched his shot ricochet off the top-right cross bar.

Entering overtime, the Maroons managed to get off four shots to the Titans’ zero, but still had trouble converting their close chances on corners or breakaways. In the second overtime period, Manners took a breakaway into the box, but Chicago missed a chance to score on an open net when he fell down and no one was in the area to maintain possession.

With under two minutes to play, first-year midfielder Stanton Coville brought the crowd to its feet with a blast that hit the goalie’s fingers and the left post before it was cleared by a Titan defender. Neither team had another solid opportunity, and as time expired, the Maroons felt they should have won but just couldn’t finish.

“The problem hasn’t been creating chances,” Wiercinski said. “We been off the post on shots, we’ve been putting lots of teams under pressure, but we just haven’t converted. We just need a little more efficiency to make it click. For the last several games we’ve done a lot of close attacking to create chances, and hopefully the watershed will occur and we’ll start to convert those chances.”

Chicago had better luck against Lake Forest on Sunday in a similar, low-scoring match that saw the Maroons keeping the Foresters at bay but repeatedly missing out on scoring opportunities.

In the opening stanza, the Maroons didn’t do much with their corners and free kicks, and saw several promising shots go wide. One free-kick chance was whistled as Chicago committed a foul trying to get a head on it in the box, and another on-target ball from second-year midfielder Alex Clifford slammed off the back of third-year forward Edgar Friloux.

To finally break it open in the 71st minute, Coville took a pass down the left sideline from third-year midfielder Jan-Michael Guerra and fired one in from 10 yards out. The Maroons had a few more free kick chances in the closing minutes before dropping back on defense to protect the win.

“Both games were very similar in the way that we created chances and didn’t reward ourselves with getting goals,” Wiercinski said. “We need to snap out of it.”

Pulling out of the scoring drought will be a tough task, as Chicago opens a grueling stretch of UAA play with a game at ninth-ranked Emory (9–0–0) this Saturday. The conference has four teams ranked in the top 25 this season, and the Maroons face three of them on the road.