Soccer faces Cleveland State in tourney semifinals

Flames men's soccer, goalie Andrew Putna

Andrew Putna is Horizon League Freshman and Goalkeeper of the Year. Photo: Steve Woltmann

The men’s soccer team begins the 2013 Horizon League Championship as the No. 1 seed Friday when it hosts No. 4 Cleveland State, the defending conference champions, at Flames Field in the semifinals.

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m., with the winner advancing to the championship final Sunday.

For the first time since 2009, the Flames entered the NSCAA/Continental Tire Rankings at No. 23 after concluding their regular season on a nine-match win streak with a 15-3-0, 7-0-0 HL, record following a 2-1 win over Green Bay Nov. 9.

UIC’s 15 wins set a program record for most during the regular season, while its 7-0-0 conference record marked the most conference wins and the first time UIC had won every conference match.

Ten Flames have accounted for the 32 goals scored this season, with seniors Slobodan Aleksov (9), Bob Novak (3) and Josh Beard (3), juniorJesus Torres (4) and sophomores Jorge Alvarez (4) and Kyle Lindberg (4) collecting three or more.

Aleksov leads the pack in points (21), shots (53) and shots on goal (25), and has four two-goal games this season, while Torres owns the assist category with nine.

Goalkeeper Andrew Putna is having a standout season during his freshman campaign. While starting and playing in all 18 of the Flames regular-season matches, Putna has made 47 saves with a .770 save percentage and allowed just 14 goals for a 0.76 goals against average.

UIC was rewarded for its season accomplishments with a collection of Horizon League accolades. Novak was named Co-Player of the Year, Beard received Defensive Player of the Year, Putna brought in Freshman and Goalkeeper of the Year honors and head coach Sean Phillips picked up Coach of the Year.

Five Flames (Aleksov, Torres, Novak, Beard and Putna) were named to the All-League First Team for the first time in program history, with sophomore Thomas Villamil earning a spot on the Second Team, and Gonzalo Romo and Kyle Hamann taking places alongside Putna on the All-Freshmen Team.

Cleveland State enters Friday’s semifinal matchup after defeating No. 5 Wright State, 2-1, in the quarterfinals Nov. 12.  Sergio Manesio scored the first goal just inside the eighth minute, while James Howe came in at the 60:16 mark to net the game-winner.

Ten players have contributed to the Vikings 23 goals this season, with Admir Suljevic (6) and Sergio Manesio (5) leading the team.  Suljevic boasts the most points with 15, while Manesio holds the shots (39) and shots on goal (16) categories and Aslinn Rodas comes in with the most assists at five.

Cleveland State has rotated through three goalkeepers this season with Nick Ciraldo (4-5-0), Austin Saini (4-2-0) and Joe Kalt (0-5-0).  Ciraldo leads the trio with most minutes, while making 24 saves and allowing 11 goals for a 1.20 GAA.  Saini has made 18 saves (.750 save percentage) and allowed just six goals for the best GAA at 0.98, as Kalt stopped 12 attempts and let in 12 (2.40 GAA).

The Flames met the Vikings at Flames Field Oct. 5 in their first Horizon League match and came away with their sixth shutout of the season with a 1-0 win.  Novak scored in the 19th minute with the lone goal of the game off an assist from Torres. Five yellow cards were distributed, three to UIC, as the two teams racked up a total of 33 fouls.  Putna made three saves during the match and Ciraldo collected one.

UIC is 14-17-4 against Cleveland State in the all-time series, posting a 2-1-1 record in the postseason.

The last time the two teams met in the Horizon League Championship was during the 2009 season, when the Flames went scoreless with the Vikings to end the match in a tie before being eliminated from the tournament off the penalty kick shootout.

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