Victory, then disappointment for UIC soccer
After a four-hour delay due to severe weather conditions, then a rescheduled game moved 20 miles north to Northwestern’s Lakeside Field, the men’s soccer team couldn’t hold off No. 2 Milwaukee Sunday in the Horizon League Championship Final.
Playing with wind gusts up to 42 miles an hour, the Flames fell 2-0, their first defeat since Oct. 1.
UIC ends its season 16-4-0, while Milwaukee improved to 15-2-2 and received the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“First, congratulations to Milwaukee on their championship performance and result this evening,” head coach Sean Phillips said.
“When you have two quality soccer teams dealing with the adverse weather conditions and other challenges as we both did this weekend, it often comes down to who executes their set pieces the best and Milwaukee did.
“They also made it very difficult for us to connect our passes going into transition which has been a strength of ours all season.”
The Flames put up a fight, recording five shot attempts in the first half, with three on goal, by seniors Slobodan Aleksov, Bob Novak and Aris Zafeiratos.
The Panthers created chances of their own as they came away with seven shots and two on goal, picking up opportunities on their four corner kicks.
The wind was not in UIC’s favor in the second half, as the ball continued to change direction mid-air during a number of Flames attempts. UIC still fired off three shots, despite Milwaukee’s continuous effort to break up their chances. The Panthers registered six shots in the second, including the two goals of the game by Andrew Stone in the 51st minute off a corner kick and Declan Rodriguez in the 67th minute off a free kick.
Milwaukee held a 13-8 shot advantage over UIC, while recording six on goal over the Flames’ four. Freshman goalkeeper Andrew Putna and the Panthers’ Liam Anderson each produced four saves.
Aleksov, redshirt-senior Josh Beard and junior Jesus Torres were named to the All-Tournament Team after the match for their strong performances against Wright State and Milwaukee.
The weather also created challenging conditions for Saturday’s semifinals, where UIC took down No. 5 Wright State, 1-0, at Flames Field in overtime to advance to the Horizon finals.
Aleksov netted the game-winner in the 93rd minute on the rebound save from his penalty kick attempt.
The Flames maintained strong possession in the first half and limited the Raiders to five shots after continuously breaking up chances. UIC recorded nine attempts, with Novak leading the way with three of his own, including one on goal.
UIC continued its push into the second half while Wright State presented a physical presence and tallied 12 fouls. The Flames created 12 total shots in the half from nine different players, with four on goal, and held the Raiders to another five attempts. Sophomore Jorge Alvarez led UIC in shots in the second half with three, while junior Jesus Torres put in an additional two.
With the match still scoreless, the Flames headed into overtime and in the 93rd minute, Wright State’s Jacob Stovall was charged with a foul in the box and received a yellow card, granting UIC a penalty kick. Aleksov took the shot for the Flames, which was turned away by goalkeeper Tyler Blackmer, but Aleksov stuck with it and put in the rebound for his 10th goal of the season and fourth game-winner.
Goalkeeper Putna had to make just one save in 92:36 minutes of action and recorded his 10th shutout to improve his season GAA to 0.72, while Blackmer made six saves against UIC.
UIC was originally scheduled to play Cleveland State Friday for the semifinals, but the team withdrew that day after learning that a player in the preceeding game was ineligible. The league first announced the Flames would advance directly to Sunday’s final game, then moved Wright State up and rescheduled the semifinals to Saturday.
“It was an interesting 36 hours and we want to give Wright State credit for getting a very competitive game together in a unique situation,” Phillips said.
“From going through the rollercoaster of being told we are going to advance, and then six hours later being told we were then playing Saturday, I thought our team did a nice job of handling that psychologically.
“I am extremely proud of this team,” added Phillips. “They have won 16 of their last 18 games and set new regular season standards for this program.”