Men’s soccer defies all odds to win fifth regular season title

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

TULSA, Okla. – The Western Illinois University men’s soccer team kicked off their season with an 11-game losing streak. They turned it around and went 5-1-1 in their last seven games of the season and 4-1 in the conference to secure a spot in The Summit League Tournament.

On Saturday, the Leathernecks were given the task to take down the best team in The Summit, the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles. The game had huge stakes on the line and Western was able to find a way to pick up yet another clutch win.

With the dramatic 2-1 win, Western shares The Summit League regular season championship with Oral Roberts. Both teams ended conference play with a 4-1 record, but Western clinched the No. 1 seed in the tournament due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Western won their fifth regular season title and it was the third time that the Leathernecks have shared it. It was no easy task either. Oral Roberts was nationally ranked as the No. 20/24 team in the nation. It was the first time Western beat a ranked opponent since 2008 when they took down the No. 17 Bradley Braves.

Also with the win, Western now gets to host the 2020 Summit League Championships right here in Macomb on John Mackenzie Alumni Field.

The game against ORU played out to be pretty boring through 80 minutes. Both teams had their chances in the first half, but it was still even as ORU slightly outshot western 3-2 at the half.

The second half, specifically around the 75th minute, things began to pick up. ORU rattled off four shots and had a corner kick within a seven minute span. In the 82nd minute, junior forward Ryan DeBois took a shot that won his team a corner kick.

Junior defender Paul Kirdorf took the kick aimed towards freshman defender Kyle Owen. Owen headed the ball down to the feet of junior forward Daisuke Otsuka who scored the goal to make it 1-0 as he was falling to the ground.

Oral Roberts had a couple of corner kicks and a few shots after the goal, but couldn’t find the equalizer. Instead, Western doubled their lead in the 89th minute. Junior goalkeeper Tim Trilk picked up his first career assist when he punted the ball up field to senior midfielder Gimale Essacu who flicked it further up field to the feet of DeBois.

DeBois stayed cool and put the ball away into the opposite corner for his eighth goal of the season. The scoring wasn’t done, however. In the 90th minute, ORU found the back of the net from The Summit League’s leading goal scorer Dante Brigida. In the end, their comeback fell short as the Leathernecks defied the odds and picked up the 2-1 victory.

The team now finds themselves back in The Summit League Tournament after missing out last year and is the No. 1 seed for the first time since 2011.

The Leathernecks will face off against the No. 4 Omaha Mavericks in the first semifinal while No. 2 Oral Roberts takes on No. 3 Denver in the other. The winners will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. in The Summit League Championships.

Omaha was Western’s one conference loss. It happened back on Oct. 5 when Western was handed a 3-1 loss. The Leathernecks fell behind 2-0 in the 60th minute before DeBois cut the deficit in half. The Mavericks sealed the deal in the 84th minute when they scored their third and final goal to send Western home empty handed.

This time around, the game will be played on neutral ground, which could fair well for the Leathernecks. Western must build off their best win of the year and find a way to make it into that championship game on Saturday.

Kickoff against Omaha will be this Thursday at noon from Denver. The second semifinal between ORU and Denver starts at 4 p.m. and the championship game begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16.