Men’s soccer clinches postseason appearance after 2-1 win over EIU

Bradley Piros , Sports Editor

MACOMB, Ill. — The Western Illinois University men’s soccer team (4-11) started their season on an 11-game losing streak with no real expectations of getting back to The Summit League Tournament.

The good news, though, is that only one of those losses was in conference. After a four-game win streak as of late, the Leathernecks sit 3-1 in The Summit and after a 2-1 win over the Eastern Illinois University Panthers, Western clinched a postseason appearance.

Western went to battle against EIU Saturday afternoon for Senior Day, and a couple of those seniors were able to make a difference, especially goalkeeper Tim Trilk.

“I think we grew closer as a team. Honestly you know, most teams that start a season 0-11 like that, they just fall apart, but honestly we grew stronger,” Trilk said in an interview with WIU Athletics Communications.

Trilk made three key saves on the day that helped his team secure the victory, but you still need to score goals to win the game, and that wasn’t a problem either.

In the 13th minute, junior forward Ryan Debois scored in his fifth straight game and his sixth goal overall. He picked up the ball after an EIU turnover and calmly put it into the bottom left corner of the net to take the early 1-0 lead. Coming off his first ever Summit League Offensive Player of the Week honor, he was full of confidence and is heating up at just the right time.

It looked like the Panthers were going to tie the game in the 60th minute, but the shot rattled off the crossbar and the game stayed level. EIU took another shot which led to a corner attempt for them and another shot that went wide left.

After Western weathered a little bit of the Panthers’ storm, they doubled their lead from a corner kick of their own. Freshman midfielder Caleb Ragland delivered the corner kick and it fell to the feet of senior midfielder Gimale Essacu. He quickly flicked it to junior midfielder Daisuke Otsuka who slotted the ball home for the eventual game-winner.

The scoring wasn’t done yet though as the Panthers had one final push in them. Only four minutes after Western scored, Eastern cut the lead in half. EIU regained most of the second half’s offensive momentum and had Western on their heels into the final minutes.

In the 72nd minute, sophomore forward Arian Mehrang for Western and Shady Omar for Eastern were given straight red cards after an altercation that led to both teams playing with 10 men for the remainder of the match.

Eastern still had the advantage as the game closed out, but Western’s defense stood tall and came away with their fourth straight win. Everyone was proud of the effort, especially head coach Eric Johnson.

“Great win for us today,” Johnson said to Athletics after the match. “Two good goals and then a spirited effort by the team when Eastern made their push to equalize after getting a goal back to make it 2-1. Hard fought win.”

It was indeed a hard fought win and it was the most important win in the teams past two seasons. Western will be going back to The Summit League Tournament for the 18th time after they missed out last year for the first time since 2010.

The job’s not done yet though. Western still has three more regular season games, but only one of them is in conference. Western has IUPUI this Wednesday and Bradley next Monday before they close out their season on the road against Oral Roberts University.

ORU sit atop The Summit League standings with a perfect 3-0 conference record. Western can win The Summit if ORU loses their remaining two games to Omaha and the Leathernecks. If ORU wins one of those two games, they clinch the conference. As great as it would be to win The Summit League conference, Western will have their work cut out for them, and they’ll need a little bit of help from Omaha as well.

Until then, Western takes a two-game break from conference opponents. The Leathernecks will take on the Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars this Wednesday night at 6 p.m.

Twitter: @bradjp08