Victory! No. 3 Men’s soccer claims its first UAA title since 2012 in win against No. 10 Chicago

| Staff Reporter
A soccer player in a white jersey with a red stripe down the right side controls the ball with his right foot as a defender in a black jersey attempts to stop him. A referee in a yellow shirt stands in the background.

Senior Alex Smith dribbles past a University of Chicago defender Saturday. One goal was enough for the Bears as their defense played strong to hold off the Maroons. (Photo by Curran Neenan / Student Life)

In the last game of the regular season Saturday, the No. 3 Washington University men’s soccer team beat No. 10 University of Chicago with a scoreline of 1-0. With the win, the team claimed its first University Athletic Association (UAA) title since 2012, when they were co-champions with Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon University and Emory University. The title is the program’s first outright UAA championship since 1999 and the win its first against the Maroons since 2013. 

With the win, the Bears also earned their fifth consecutive shoutout and concluded the regular season with a 12-2-1 (5-1-1, UAA) record. They also automatically clinched their spot in the 2021 NCAA Championship, their first tournament bid since 2016. The team will travel to Chicago to face the University of Wisconsin-Superior (16-6-0) Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. 

A person in a red shirt and black sweat pants yells happily as other people in non-soccer clothes (jackets and jeans) rush onto the soccer field.

Fans and players rejoice on Francis Olympic Field after the win. (Photo by Curran Neenan / Student Life)

It was a hot start for the Bears; with the first shot of the game in the fifth minute, junior Shiv Lamba found junior Sergio Rivas in front of the net, promptly putting the Bears up 1-0 with a lofted shot over the Chicago goalkeeper. It was Rivas’ eighth goal of the season, the second-most in the UAA. But despite the Bears’ early lead, the Maroons had control of the game moving forward, outshooting the Bears 14-4 and edging them out in corners with 11-0; the Maroons dominated much of the game with ruthless intent.

In particular, Maroons junior Naz Kabbani gave the Bears trouble. Throughout the game, he registered four shots (the most by a player in the game), and he was constantly on attack mode to keep the Bears at bay throughout the 90 minutes. But despite the Maroon’s dominance, the WashU defense as a whole played the game of their life. From the striker to the backline, the unit made several key stops to hold on to their one-goal lead throughout the game. Most notably, senior goalkeeper Matt Martin locked down the back end of the defense, ending the night with seven saves to reach an incredible milestone of 100 WashU career saves. 

The second half of the game was much the same as the first. The Maroons controlled much of the game, but another incredible defensive display from the Bears, backed by Martin’s stellar play in goal, held the fort against the stalwart Chicago attack. In the 64th minute, though, the Bears almost lost their lead, as a header off a Chicago corner kick hit the crossbar before Martin made the crucial save to get it. 

When the final whistle blew, the Bears ran wild on Francis Field, joined by a storm of fans and friends in celebration of their historic win. There were tears everywhere — tears of joy that spoke to this team’s persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. 

With the victory on Saturday, head coach Joe Clarke notched his fourth UAA career title and will now lead the Bears into the postseason for the 11th time. After the win, he praised both teams’ performances. “We just played arguably the best team in Division III. I mean, nobody passes the ball the way they do and attacks the way they do. And then they have so much size coming at you,” Clarke said. “I’m super proud of the guys. They did what they needed to do to win the game. They defended very, very well.” 

Assistant coach Oscar Umar acknowledged the enormity of the team’s win after the game. “Big, big congrats to Chicago. They pushed us back, and they were clearly the better team. It was ugly [for us], but we want it ugly,” he said. “This win goes to show that we can stand toe-to-toe with every team in the nation. But the job is not done yet.”

After his incredible goalkeeping display, an emotional Martin lauded the team performance to claim the first UAA title of his tenure at WashU. “I can’t believe it, honestly, from where we came from,” Martin said. “We’ve worked so hard as a group, and [the] win is everything.” 

Junior Gavin Morse expressed a similar sentiment. “Everyone was together, we were all pushing for each other,” Morse said. “Regardless of the minutes, everyone was giving their best, and [we] could see after the game the celebration, it means everything to every single one of us.”

More on the men’s soccer team’s journey to University Athletic Association champions:

From the neighborhoods of Tamale, Ghana, to Francis Olympic Field: The men’s soccer assistant coach’s journey to the top

Men’s soccer vaults to No. 9 in rankings after win over Rochester

Why Sergio Rivas, who leads men’s soccer with four goals in three games, says he peaked in middle school

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