Men’s soccer lose heartbreaker to Omaha in overtime

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

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DENVER, – The Western Illinois University men’s soccer team overachieved coming down the stretch. After starting the season 0-11, they managed to turn it around by winning five of their next seven, posting a 4-1-conference record along the way. That record was good enough to win a share of The Summit League regular season title and more importantly clinch the No. 1 seed in The Summit League Tournament, which pitted them against the Omaha Mavericks.

The Leathernecks lost to the Mavericks back on Oct. 5 by a score of 3-1 so they were looking to bounce back. Coming into the tournament, Western was the favorite to win after winning decisive games against Denver and Oral Roberts, but that’s not what happened.

Around 4 p.m. yesterday, the Leathernecks’ season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion. Western wasn’t able to get revenge and lost again to the Mavericks, this time by a score of 3-2 in The Summit League Tournament Semifinal.

The stakes were high and it seemed Western was up to the task, until the 29th minute when Omaha took the lead. Junior midfielder Mitch Hammer netted his first goal of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Things began getting more physical as the first half continued on with four yellow cards getting handed out, two for each side, but, the turning point of the half was when junior defender Paul Kirdorf was given a straight red card. He came in with a tackle from behind to try and regain the ball but got tripped up with the opposing player. While getting up after the tackle, the sideline referee halted play and said that Kirdorf stepped on the Omaha player while getting up, leading to his sending off. From the 40th minute on the Leathernecks played a man down.

Western didn’t let that call slow them down, though. Instead, in the 55th minute, Western was awarded a penalty kick after a play inside the 18-yard box was deemed a handball. It was a lucky break for the Leathernecks and they seized the opportunity.

Junior midfielder Daisuke Otsuka stepped up to the spot with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He kicked the ball right as the keeper dove left to tie the game up at 1-1, scoring his fifth goal of the season.

Omaha went back on the attack and had most of the momentum for the next 20 minutes, and then the Leathernecks did the seemingly impossible.

In the 74th minute, it was a mad scramble inside the box after a free kick. The ball bounced off the ground and Otsuka scored off of a diving header. It was 2-1 Western with 16 minutes left.

The Leathernecks only held that lead for four minutes though after the senior midfielder Marcos Bautista evened the game back up at 2-2.

After a hectic back and forth final 12 minutes the game was still level, which meant sudden death overtime. The first team to score would win the game, and if it remained scoreless after two 10-minute periods of play the game would go to penalty kicks.

None of that happened either. Instead, Omaha scored the game-winning goal in the 93rd minute after Western just couldn’t clear the ball from their backfield. The goal came from senior defender Pep Mateu and it sent his team into The Summit League Championship game tomorrow afternoon.

Omaha outshot Western 14-7 and 10-3 shots on goal. Senior goalkeeper Tim Trilk made seven saves on the day, some of the best of his collegiate career, to try and keep his team afloat after going a man down, but the numbers game was just too much for Western to handle.

The Leathernecks can still hold their heads high. They turned heads after picking up their first win of the season against the Denver Pioneers. Not only was it the first win of the season, but it was also the first win over Denver in program history. It was a dramatic seven-goal thriller that saw Western go out on top 4-3.

Western started Summit League play with the 3-1 loss to Omaha, but turned themselves around to beat Fort Wayne 2-0 and Eastern Illinois 2-1. Suddenly Western was 3-1 in the conference and had something to believe in.

Back on Nov. 9, they beat the No. 20 team in the nation Oral Roberts 2-1 to clinch the No. 1 seed in the tournament. It’s a tragic way to end the season, but Western still had some achievements to be proud of.

During the annual end of season Summit League banquet, multiple players received honors. Kirdorf won Defensive Player of the Year while three players were named to the First Team All-Conference. Those players being Kirdorf, Trilk and junior forward Ryan Debois.

Sophomore midfielder Cesar Cosio was the lone player on the Second Team All-Conference, but three players made the All-Newcomer Team: Otsuka as well as freshman defenders Kyle Owen and Cameron Territo.

The good thing is they only have three players leaving, Trilk, midfielder Gimale Essacu and defender Christian Junna. The three played key roles on the team and they will surely be missed.

The 5-13-1 record doesn’t exactly show it, but it was a successful season for the program and one they can build off of. It will be a long offseason but expect the men’s soccer program to come back stronger and hungrier to get back to where they started this year, and hopefully even farther.

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