GAME-WINNING GOAL HIGHLIGHT
*During the current hiatus of collegiate sport action, UChicago Athletics is running a new story series throughout the spring and summer called "Maroon Moments", which will highlight some of the top performances and most pivotal contests from the last two years across all Maroon athletic teams.
CHICAGO – One of the most beautiful buildups in University of Chicago men's soccer history could not have come at a better time. Just one day earlier, the No. 3-ranked Maroons prevailed in a tense contest over No. 5-ranked Trinity University (Texas). And now, as the host team in the 2018 NCAA tournament quarterfinals, UChicago was headed to overtime against a pesky No. 13-ranked Luther College squad. A single fatigue-related mistake at this point, and the season could be over.
But in the 98th minute of the match, a magical sequence sprang forth. With 10 Luther players trying to keep the Maroons contained in the attacking third, there was precious little room to maneuver. A toe-poke tackle by UChicago's defensive midfield at 35 yards out changed that.
Dayo Adeosun receives the ball coming off the successful tackle, surrounded by blue shirts. He sheds two defenders with a quick touch in the middle to Renato Corghi, who promptly boots the ball forward to Max Lopez. With his back to the goal, Lopez immediately one touches to his left to the onrushing Adeosun. Adeosun sends the ball right back to Lopez in stride. Lopez winds up and blasts a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner of the net from 17 yards out.
Just like that, in a seven-second burst, UChicago had won the game and were heading back to the NCAA Final Four.
The Maroons came into the Luther match sporting a 17-2-1 record, fresh off a 2-0 shutout of the high-powered Trinity (Texas) offense. Senior forward Max Lopez provided both goals late in the second half of that contest. The senior class was looking to put an exclamation point on the most successful four-year stretch in program history – four-straight NCAA tournament bids, including a trip to the NCAA Semifinals in 2017.
"Playing at home that late in the tournament was always special," Lopez said. "We were all pretty pumped to listen to the warmup tape and play on Stagg one more time before we graduated. The mood was calm because we had been there before and playing at home just made it that much more comfortable. The expectation was that we would win, so the mindset was on execution. We just needed to play to our own standard."
Led by Lopez and fellow senior forward Matthew Koh, the Maroons terrorized defenses for multiple years with their blend of speed and technical ability. The All-American duo combined for 86 goals and 59 assists over their four-year careers. Their reputation proceeded them throughout 2018, and numerous opponents tried to mitigate the damage by putting as many players as possible in defensive positions.
Luther employed the same approach, putting 10 players behind the ball and looking for counterattacks when possible. UChicago maintained its poise, building up from the back line patiently until a hole in the defense could be found.
Koh slipped behind the defense for a one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the second minute, but he was stopped on a desperation save. A Norse defender cleared a pair of shots off the goal line in the 14th minute as well. The trend continued for the rest of regulation – whenever the Maroons got a good look at goal, a big save or deflection denied them entry. In the final statistics, UChicago outshot Luther 30-5 overall, which included 12 shots on goal.
Pat Flinn was locked in while watching the live stream from his home that afternoon. The former Maroon assistant helped recruit and coach that senior class during his time in Hyde Park from 2014-16, before eventually rejoining the University as head coach in 2019. Flinn was in attendance at Stagg Field the previous day for the game against Trinity (Texas). He knew that experience would be the main element that would determine the outcome.
"In the first half, UChicago came out very confident and could have put the game away," Flinn said. "I credit their fast start to their confidence and the experience they had developed by playing so many NCAA games. In the second half, when things began to tighten up, I felt like it was their experience that kept them calm, especially their defenders. When the game evened out, they stayed calm and defended very well. Eventually the goal was coming, but it was key to not concede first."
In the late stages of the match, the score remained knotted at 0-0. A floating header from Lopez saved off the crossbar in the 71st minute. A 1v3 run by Koh that missed by inches in the 87th minute. Since both teams played high-leverage contests the day before, fatigue would inevitably become a factor. But the Maroons kept their mentality steady despite the lack of goals.
"It was pretty frustrating, but we dominated the entire game so I don't think anyone was really that worried that we were going to lose," Lopez said. "Coach [Mike] Babst always wanted us to keep our head down and stick to the plan when it was obvious that chances were being created and that's what we did."
Finally, in the 98th minute, the game-winning sequence arrived. Flinn recalls the goal vividly due to its excellence of execution. "Often times, game-winning goals when everyone is tired in overtime are pretty ugly, scrappy goals," he said. "They can have more to do with mistakes than great soccer, and this goal was great soccer. It was an excellent combination between Dayo and Renato and vintage Max at the top of the box."
After his goal, Lopez raised both hands over his head, then turned around and walked calmly back towards the sideline, shaking his right fist. Moments later, he was mobbed by euphoric teammates.
"The feeling was relief," said Lopez. "We should have scored a lot sooner, so it felt good to be done with it to be honest. I was so tired that my celebration probably looked less than enthusiastic, but it was the end of a two-game weekend and we had gone into overtime so it was nice to just join the huddle and chill out. The excitement came later for me that night after it had sunk in a bit more."
Even from a distance through the screen, Flinn also experienced elation for the Maroons he had once helped mentor on the pitch. "I felt like I was still a part of the team when they won," said Flinn. "I am still close with Babst and Spencer [Lewis], so I was just very happy for everyone involved that the team was headed back to the Final Four. Getting back to the Final Four two years in-a-row was an accomplishment that special group of seniors can cherish, and be proud that no one else was able to do that while they were in college."