Like last year, men's soccer has started the season with victories in each of the first three games. The way the Maroons are winning, however, is another story.
After scoring 25 goals in all of 2004, 14th-ranked Chicago has exploded for 16 so far this year, showing off a much more aggressive offensive mindset despite having graduated last year's leading scorer. The defense hasn't slacked off itself, already picking up a couple easy clean sheets after a program-record 11 shutouts in 2004.
"The team has made a great start to the season, though there are a lot of places where our play needs improvement," fourth-year midfielder Giordano Palloni said. "Obviously starting off 3-0 is exactly what we wanted, and I think the trip to Brazil definitely helped us to both bond as teammates as well as expose us to some of the best soccer players in the world."
That four-game, 10-day tour through Brazil has perhaps put the Maroons in their best early-season match fitness in the past four years. In addition to sightseeing and learning about Brazilian culture, the team went 2-1-1 in friendlies against youth and semiprofessional club teams. Playing against the tough competition has paid dividends for Chicago, as they have shown improved on-field chemistry from last year on both ends of the field.
The 10-goal season-opening performance against Ripon (0-1-0) demonstrated that improvement immediately. After a dominant, but scoreless, first 20 minutes, first-year defender Ross Fedenia started the scoring with a kick from the top of the box on fourth-year midfielder Giordano Palloni's helper. Palloni scored his own in the 33rd minute, arguably the prettiest of the day, redirecting third-year forward Alex Chinco's 20-yard cross from the corner, giving the Maroons a 2-0 lead. Fourth-year midfielder Joe Frontczak tallied two more to close out the half, doubling his career total, on assists from Palloni and second-year Eric Kirkenmeier.
With a 4-0 lead and a visibly demoralized Ripon defense, the Maroons offense tallied six more with fourth-year center defender Pete Schlaefer, fourth-year forward Brian Standerfer, Palloni (his second), and Kirkenmeier all recording finishes. Third-year forward Jon Allan ended the game with the first two goals of his career.
"Anytime you win a game 10-0 it's clear that the competition isn't strong, but I do feel as though people on this team are more goal hungry than they have been in the past," said Palloni, whose two-goal, three-assist day was one point behind his 2004 total.
"Everyone on the field is more willing and more able to get themselves into dangerous positions, even if it means a long run to get back into defensive position if an attacking chance doesn't pan out.
The midfield was particularly important to the offensive outburst, largely because of its work on defense. The ball rarely crossed into the Maroons' half, and when it did, the Ripon attackers were covered completely. Chicago only allowed three shots all game in the shutout.
Two days later on September 4, Chicago again ran circles around the opposition, this time defeating Benedictine 4-0. First-year striker Eric Floyd tallied his first two career goals, the first coming in the eighth minute off second-year midfielder Mike Glass's helper and the second coming 10 minutes into the second half on Palloni's fourth assist.
Frontczak, who finished in the 64th minute for the game's final goal off of Standerfer's second assist of the game.
The Maroons again controlled the match's tempo, outshooting the Eagles (0-4-0) by a margin of 27-7 and kicking six more corners. Third-year keepers Keith Crum and Tommy Bailey split the shutout.
Having been dropped out of the rankings after last year's late-season collapse, the coaches' poll noticed the Maroons' offensive explosion and placed them all the way up at 14th. If the team can sustain its offensive performance against tougher defenses, this year's squad should be much more dangerous than the more one-dimensional one from 2004.
"Our fitness level has been key in allowing us to do that, especially in the midfield where all the players showed up to preseason this year in great shape," Palloni said.
Now with national focus returned back to them, the Maroons gutted out a 2-1 victory over an eager Kalamazoo squad.
"Not the prettiest game we'll play all year," according to Palloni, Chicago won the 40-foul physical battle with some more help from the team's newcomers. Fedenia's long chip past Kalamazoo's backs found Floyd who touched it in for his third goal of the year, scoring at the 23:45 mark to give the Maroons an early 1-0 lead.
The Hornets (1-2-1) returned the favor seven minutes later, as third-year forward Brett Bullard tallied the equalizer with a shot from eight feet out for his first goal of the year. Stuck in a largely even match, the Maroons came out strong to start the second half and locked the game down the rest of the way. Second-year Andrew Hamilton's 46th-minute goal off of Standerfer's third assist ended up being the game-winner.
"Kalamazoo was a tough, athletic team who wasn't afraid to go into tackles extremely hard and who definitely came out excited at the chance to take down a team that was just ranked in the NCAA poll," Palloni said. "I was very proud that we were able to go into a tough environmentheat and fansand come out with a victory even if it wasn't a pretty game."
The Maroons return home for a two-match homestand today hosting John Carroll today at 1 p.m. and Dominican this Wednesday at 4 p.m.