Men’s soccer starts off strong with two wins

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Piotr Lagowski takes a shot versus Cal State Fullerton. Photo: Timothy Nguyen

The men’s soccer team (2-0-0) kicked off its season with a strong start — winning its first two games at Flames Field.

The Flames battled to a 3-2 overtime victory Friday night in its season opener against Cal State Fullerton and closed out its opening weekend Sunday with a 1-0 shutout win against San Francisco (1-1-0). UIC returns to Flames Field at 7 p.m. Friday to host No. 10 Michigan State.

Junior Joel Salmeron‘s corner kick set up redshirt-junior Thomas Villamil with the game-winning header in the 92nd minute during Friday’s match. 

UIC and CSF fought for possession in the first half, with scoring opportunities coming on both ends of the field. The Flames held a 5-4 shot advantage, with two shots from sophomore Kyle Hamann and junior Manny Chavez resulting in saves by the Titans.

The Flames opened the second half by getting on the board in the 53rd minute when freshman Jose Fuentes dished the ball up the field to senior Jesus Torres, who dribbled around the Titans defenders and scored the first goal of the season. Torres got off two more shots before he crossed a pass to freshman Sergio Fuentes to give UIC a 2-0 lead in the 65th minute.

CSF scored in the 69th minute to put the game at 2-1. With less than 10 minutes in regulation, CSF scored again to tie the game.

“We have got to address giving away a two-goal lead in the last 15 minutes, but one of the signs of a good team is leadership,” head coach Sean Phillips said. “I think some of our older players, before the start of overtime, looked at each other and said that we are going to turn the momentum around and we are going to find a way to win this game.”

The Flames did not waste any time heading into OT as redshirt-juniors Zack Judickas and Piotr Lagowski quickly created an opportunity to set up the game-winning play. Salermon lined up to take the corner kick and shot the ball in to Villamil, who headed in the ball just one minute and 12 seconds into overtime.

“One of the intangibles that this group showed, that carried over from last year’s group, was the ability to find a way to win in adverse conditions, which is going to be a necessity for us to go where we want to go,” Phillips said.

Sophomore Andrew Putna made two saves on the night in goal for UIC, while continuously breaking up crosses and scoring chances by the Titans. Salt had four saves on the night against the Flames while giving up three goals.

On Sunday, Torres scored his second goal of the season in the 22nd minute off a pass from Chavez.

“The resiliency of this group came out again,” Phillips said. “Jesus (Torres) came up big. He’s one of the best frontrunners in the conference. Andrew (Putna) made a great save at the end of the game and patrolled his area. Most importantly though, the guys executed the defensive adjustments made at halftime which allowed us to manage the second half while creating a few dangerous opportunities.”

UIC fired off eight shots in the contest, with three on goal by Torres and Chavez, while San Francisco made 14 attempts with seven reaching on goal.

The Dons came out and maintained a majority of the possession to start the match, but in the 22nd minute, Torres took a pass from Chavez and scored from the far left wing to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead. UIC took four additional shots in the half, with San Francisco having six total and four on goal.

The Flames were held to three shot attempts in the second, while the Dons took eight shots with three on goal. The Flames’ defense played a key role in breaking up San Francisco’s chances off free kicks and corners to hold on for the win.

Putna made seven saves in goal for UIC while picking up his first shutout of the season.

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