September 20, 2010

Injuries costly as men's soccer starts season

Men’s soccer suffered from injuries at the start of their season, but still managed to pull out wins in two overtime sessions in early season action.

“Our first two games have somewhat typified what our preseason experience has been,” head coach Scott Wiercinski said. “Quite a few guys have sustained injuries, and some other newer players have stepped up.”

The Maroons came into the second half of their first game against Augustana down a goal. In the 63rd minute, fourth-year Kenzo Manners scored, tying up the game 1–1. The game remained tied at the end of regulation; then, not even a minute into overtime, first-year Sawyer Kisken put the golden goal in the back of the net to secure a 2–1 win for Chicago.

“The guys really fought and found the way to come back,” Wiercinksi said.

The Maroons pulled themselves out of an even deeper hole in their second game, against Aurora.

The Spartans were up 2–0 on Chicago when, in the 57th minute, fourth-year Ryan Fitzgerald scored. Then, with the Maroons still needing another goal to force overtime, Fitzgerald and fellow fourth-year Alex Clifford set up second-year Yoni Einhorn’s game-tying goal at the 80:56 mark.

In the 105th minute, Einhorn scored yet again, off another assist from Clifford, lifting the Maroons to 2–0 on the season.

“[This game] was an emotional roller coaster that revealed a lot about our team,” Einhorn said. “We are resilient believers. This rare comeback strengthens the bonds of our team.”

“Preseason was tough,” Einhorn added, “but I think that these few rough weeks we spent together as a team have allowed us to achieve these extraordinary comeback wins.”

Wiercinksi also attributes the Maroons’ early success to the depth of the team.

“[In light of the fact that many of our top players are injured], a number of players have really stepped up and done well, such as [second-year] striker Kevin Wilson, and [third-year] mid-fielder Alan Pikna,” he explained. “Several first-years are playing an increased number of minutes: Adam Shamlian, Terrell White, and Sam Duffield.”

In the two games following the win at Aurora, things haven’t come together for Chicago like they did in the final minutes of that comeback win. Playing eighth-ranked Dominican at home on September 8, the Maroons generally kept the Stars’ attack bottled up, but never mustered much offense of their own, falling 1–0. Chicago’s offense stalled out again when Illinois Wesleyan visited September 11 for another 1–0 loss.

The narrow losses are disappointing, but it’s easy to imagine the team playing well enough to overcome those one-goal deficits, especially once contributing midfielders like second-year Garret Laird and third-year Stanton Coville are fully healthy.

“That’s the silver lining of the games we’ve had thus far—we feel like we’re getting more of a balanced roster, and we hope it continues this way. We’ll really have a team when we have everyone at our disposal. The coaching staff is really excited about moving forward, when everyone is healthy,” Wiercinski said.

Despite the team losing several players to graduation last June—including Drew Marshall and Gabriel Iatarola—Wiercinski thinks that the underclassmen are ready to take charge and play more minutes.

“[Last season’s fourth-years] were big losses, but I’m really excited about guys that can fill that void,” Wiercinksi said.

“[Third-year] Cole Kroshus is another guy that has performed really well,” he added. “He gives the team energy, good defensive responsibilities, and is definitely a mentor to the new players and an important part of our team.”

Chicago was ranked fifth in the eight-team UAA’s preseason poll, but Wiercinksi is more concerned with the final outcome of the season than with the early ranking.

“We have a goal of being at the top of the list when the season is over,” he said.

Chicago has two home games at Stagg Field during O-Week. The Redmen of Carthage (2–2–1) will visit Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., and Millikin Big Blue (3–1) come to town Saturday for a 1 p.m. match.