Calvin Wetzel | Sports Editor
Twice the No. 25 North Park University Vikings (11-5-3) entered Joe Bean Stadium in the past week, and twice they left without a victory. A 1-0 win on Friday, Nov. 1 to close the regular season and a 5-3 shootout win following a 1-1 tie on Tuesday, Nov. 5 have propelled the No. 8 Wheaton Thunder men’s soccer team (15-3-2) to its second consecutive CCIW title game.
“The team seems to be realizing more and more that we are here to play in big games. The CCIW championship will be no different,” sophomore midfielder Elliot Borge said.
Friday night’s regular season finale was nationally televised as the Tourbeau Sports Game of the Week on NSCAA TV. With a light rain falling throughout the night, the Thunder controlled the possession for much of the match. Wheaton outshot North Park 18-4 on the night with a 6-1 advantage in shots on frame, but entering the 85th minute of play the score was still knotted at 0-0.
“The longer the run of play goes without a goal, the more confidence that gives the other team,” Head Coach Mike Giuliano told NSCAA TV at halftime of the match. “We’ve got to put one ball in the net or it’s not going to look good for us.”
It was a header by sophomore forward Stephen Golz with five minutes remaining that proved to be the game-winner. Junior defender Noah Anthony played a corner kick short to junior wing Adam Blackman, who took the ball down the endline on the right side and cut past North Park’s Markus Fodstad. Blackman then chipped a cross to Golz, who headed his CCIW-leading 15th goal of the season inside the far post.
The loss dropped the Vikings from No. 2 to No. 4 in the CCIW, leading to a first-round CCIW-tournament matchup between the two teams on Tuesday night. The two teams had faced each other twice in each of the three previous seasons as well, but for the first time the contests were back to back, a rare occurrence in an NCAA soccer schedule.
“It’s definitely a unique situation,” senior captain Nathan Jasperse said before the game. “I’m excited to play them again. I think it would be awesome to end their season; they’ve ended ours twice since I’ve been here.” Jasperse went on to compare the back-to-back matches to a four-quarter contest with an extended halftime. “It’s kind of like we have a halftime of a super long game, but a halftime where we can look at video and analyze things,” he said.
The Vikings came out ready to play from the start this time, as they knew a loss would likely end their 2013 season. Friday night’s match saw Wheaton outshoot North Park 10-1 in the first half but it was only a 6-4 Thunder advantage before the break on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the halftime score was the same – a 0-0 tie. The clock showed 45 minutes remaining to start the second half, but the action was only getting started.
A 14-second period in the 56th minute saw two yellow cards awarded to sophomore forward Marshall Hollingsworth, earning him a red card and an ejection. The ensuing skirmish resulted in yellow cards for Anthony and senior center back Stephen Russo as well, two of seven yellow cards handed out in an 11-minute stretch during the second half. The Thunder began playing with a passion from that point on, controlling much of the possession for the next seven minutes. In the 63rd minute, however, the Vikings took advantage of their extra man and Jonas Pettersson netted his team-leading 13th goal of the season. A corner kick by Robin Hals was loose in the box and Pettersson punched it in for the 1-0 lead.
With their backs against the wall, down a man on the pitch and a goal on the scoreboard, the Thunder didn’t stop fighting. A soft red card to Viking Carl Damberg with 16 minutes remaining made it a 10-on-10 match for the stretch run. With just over two minutes to go, an Anthony free kick found senior forward Jordan Golz, who turned and fired in a far-post shot from the top of the six-yard box.
The goal gave the Thunder all the momentum in front of their home crowd, and they carried that momentum into the overtime periods. Nearly the whole first overtime was played in Wheaton’s attacking half, but to no avail as the teams were still even into the second overtime. North Park had a few more opportunities in the second ten minutes, but the siren sounded without a goal and sent the teams to their second penalty-kick shootout in as many years. The Thunder had to overcome some nerves to win last year’s shootout, but they were much looser the second time around.
“I had the sense even more so than last year that the guys on the team had complete confidence in themselves, one another, and Derek to come up big in the shootout,” Borge said. “As tough of a game as it was, we were still having a lot of fun on the field, which helped to take some of the pressure off.”
Blackman and Anthony swapped conversions with Pettersson and Johan Gustafsson to open the shootout. Borge then converted Wheaton’s third attempt before senior keeper Derek Babb made the first and only save of the shootout on North Park’s third try. Both senior right back Kevin Skinker and North Park’s Fredrik Greiff were successful in the fourth, setting up senior defender Matt Hussey’s game-winner on Wheaton’s fifth penalty kick.
“How perfect for Matt Hussey, one of the classiest human beings you will ever meet, to get the final kick for the CCIW championship; that was awesome,” Giuliano said.
The Thunder advance to the CCIW championship game for the second year in a row, where they will host Carthage College (13-6-1) at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow. The winner of that match will earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The contest will be broadcast on WETN 88.1 FM, wetn.org, and the Wheaton Athletics webpage, and live updates will be provided via Twitter by following @WETNSports.