November 4, 2008

Offensive woes continue as men’s soccer falls out of playoff contention

Men’s soccer is officially out of postseason contention.

Heading into last weekend’s UAA doubleheader, which started Friday with a night game at Case (13–4–1, 3–2–1) and was followed by a Sunday afternoon contest at Rochester (12–2–2, 5–1), the Maroons (5–9–3, 1–4–1) already felt their 2008 campaign slipping away.

With a 1–2–1 conference record, the team still carried slim hopes of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament by winning its final three games and by counting on a few other teams to fall in the process. The Maroons’ Halloween celebration turned sour, though, as Chicago dropped a 5–0 decision and was mathematically eliminated from postseason play before losing a close 1–0 match to 11th-ranked Rochester Sunday.

Case’s scoring barrage was anchored by its fourth-years, with forward R.J. French and midfielder Kevin Bigart each scoring a pair of goals in the contest. Bigart struck first in the 10th minute, while French converted a penalty kick less than three minutes later. After taking a comfortable 3–0 lead into halftime, Case would tack on two more goals to put the game out of reach.

For Chicago, the game was disappointing from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. While the Maroon defense allowed a season high of five goals, the offense struggled to find a spark and challenge Spartan first-year goalkeeper Ben Yabrow, who was only forced to make three saves in the entire contest. There was also a noticeable disparity in the shots taken by both teams, with Case outshooting Chicago 13–5.

“We didn’t play that bad,” third-year defender Drew Marshall said. “They just did a good job of capitalizing on our mistakes. We didn’t create enough opportunities for our offense. The entire team struggled to open up the attack.”

According to Marshall, Case’s offense relied heavily on free kicks, corners, and counterattacks, which Chicago did an inconsistent job of defending. The game was also extremely physical, with both teams combining for more than 50 total fouls and six yellow cards.

In Sunday’s game versus 11th-ranked Rochester, who currently lays claim to the second spot in the UAA standings below national powerhouse Emory, the Maroons played like they had nothing to lose. Throughout the game, each team’s defense managed to fluster the opposing offense, prompting Marshall to call it “a very ugly soccer game.”

Battling the Yellowjackets to a scoreless tie heading into the break, Chicago stormed into the second half intent on pulling an upset. In the 51st minute, with Rochester reeling, second-year midfielder Kenzo Manners blasted a powerful shot past the right post of the goal, nearly putting Chicago up by one early in the stanza.

After Manner’s close shot, Rochester recognized that if it continued to allow Chicago to stick around, it could spell trouble for its lofty record and impressive spot in the national rankings. In the 62nd minute, off a long throw-in from the left sideline, Rochester third-year forward J.J. Dennstedt converted an unlikely header into the back of the net, giving his team some much needed breathing room.

“They scored on a fluke goal,” said Marshall.

The throw-in was not cleanly handled by first-year goalie Chris Giusto because of a crowded box, and after falling out of his grasp, the ball was flicked in by Dennstedt who immediately collided with third-year defender John Hughes.

Up by one late in the game, the Yellow Jackets utilized an unconventional offensive surge in an attempt to score a second goal to comfortably secure the win. When first-year forward Josh Richards one-timed a ball that came to him at the mouth of the goal, second-year defender Steven McCrae cleared the ball out of danger to preserve the one-goal deficit.

With their final game approaching, the Maroons realize that the season’s still not over. As they demonstrated against a highly ranked Rochester team in a seemingly meaningless game, the team has proven that it will continue to compete. In next weekend’s finale versus Wash U (11–5–1, 3–3), Chicago looks to embrace the role of the spoiler.

“We know that we can knock them down to a lower seed in the standings heading into the playoffs, and we plan to do that,” Marshall said.