CHICAGO – An extra-time winner from senior forward Max Lopez sent the University of Chicago men's soccer team to the NCAA Final Four for the second-straight year as the Maroons topped Luther College 1-0 in a tightly-contested sectional final on Sunday at Stagg Field.
The No. 3-ranked Maroons' third playoff win brought their overall record to 18-2-1. They will next face Calvin College in the NCAA semifinals on November 30 in Greensboro, N.C. The No. 13-ranked Norse saw their season come to a close at 19-4-1.
It took 98 minutes, but UChicago eventually cracked a disciplined Norse defense that had frustrated Maroon attacks all day. With his late heroics, Lopez picked up where he had left off on Saturday after nabbing a decisive and dramatic brace in a 2-0 defeat of Trinity University (Texas). Once again, the match turned on a slim opportunity Lopez seized. A rapid burst of geometric one-touch passing sent the Maroons hurtling through the closely-packed Luther defense. Lopez and junior winger Dayo Adeosun exchanged the ball as they traversed through a maze of blue shirts, with Adeosun finally nudging it into the path of Lopez. The Maroons' leading goal scorer uncorked a pinpoint finish, burying his driven right-footed shot into the furthest reaches of the bottom left corner. It was his 16th goal of the season.
UChicago was on the offensive most of the day, racking up 30 shots with 12 attempts on target. With the Norse rapidly closing down space and producing rare but promising counterattacks, however, the result remained uncertain as neither side could find a goal in 90 minutes of regulation.
Senior forward Matthew Koh looked sure to put his team up early when Lopez slipped a ball behind the Norse back line in the second minute. Speeding ahead, Koh took on the keeper one-on-one but a desperation save clipped his low shot and it skidded barely beyond the post.
The Maroons compiled more chances, but Luther managed to stave them off. Koh got loose in the 13th minute and sent a square ball to the feet of senior midfielder Nicco Capotosto; however, his open look skewed wide. Extraordinary effort from the Norse kept the Maroons off the score sheet a moment later as a sprawling Luther defender cleared shots from Koh and first-year midfielder Vicente Mateus from out of the goalmouth.
Koh continued to engineer the attack, slicing into the area and rolling a ball across the face of goal that no one got a touch on. In the 21st minute he fired again from a tight angle only to have the Luther goalkeeper make a strong save.
Although UChicago held possession, Luther stayed patient defensively and waited for an attacking moment to come to them. When the first such opportunity arose in the 24th minute, the Norse nearly flipped the game on its head, as a Luther attacker found space in the middle and fired only to miss a hair past the top right corner.
Another Luther push yielded a free kick in the 39th minute. The well-placed service skimmed over the head of a leaping attacker at the back post. The Norse took four shots in the first half, but would not have another until extra time. UChicago finished with an impressive 30-5 lead in shots.
After the break, UChicago looked increasingly likely to score. In the 53rd minute, short passing combinations led the Maroons into the box and set the table for Mateus. When his shot was deflected, sophomore winger Carter Romero slid in at the back post for a second chance that the keeper saved.
Lopez flicked a floating header that could have done it in the 71st minute, but the Norse keeper leapt as high as he could to pry the ball off the underside of the crossbar and safely out of play.
In the 76th minute Luther emerged unscathed from a Maroon barrage that began when Adeosun gathered a Norse turnover. Twirling away from his defenders, he sent a ball into the area. A deflected Lopez header fell to Koh, whose own shot from a few yards out rebounded off a defender. First-year forward Kyle Ruark immediately gathered the ball and fired, his effort sailing wide.
Shots piled up near the end of regulation. Koh nearly had the moment of the match when he torched three defenders in the 87th minute, but his finish flew inches wide of the top left corner.
The first period of extra time began with a header from Luther before the Maroons resumed their attacking pattern. The swarming Norse defense finally split open as Adeosun provided Lopez a sliver of a chance and he drilled it beyond the reach of the diving keeper.
UChicago shut out its opponent for the second match in-a-row as sophomore goalkeeper Aaron Katsimpalis (18-2-1 record) recorded his 11th clean sheet of the year, with one save to his credit.
- Friday, Nov. 30 @ 10:00 AM (ET) – UChicago vs. Calvin College (at Greensboro, N.C.)