Senior Chichi Nweke scored her first goal of the season in the 37th against UCLA.
Sept. 4, 2009
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - No. 11 Illinois played some of its best soccer of the season on Friday night at the Illinois Soccer Stadium, but it wasn't quite enough as the Illini fell 2-1 to No. 9 UCLA, one of the top teams in the country. The match was the first of the Illini Challenge Cup Presented by Gameday Spirit, as the stands were filled with 971 fans cheering on the Orange and Blue. Senior Chichi Nweke scored her first goal of the year for Illinois as the team falls to 2-1-1 on the season.
"Tonight there were two great soccer teams on the field," Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said. "That may be the best soccer we've played to date, but the exciting thing is that it's definitely not the best soccer we have in us. We know our team is going to get a lot better, which bodes well for the rest of the season. We gave up an early goal, but didn't panic, continued to play soccer and fought and fought."
Senior Lauren Cheney, an All-American and member of the U.S. National Team, was the difference-maker for UCLA with the winning goal as well as an assist. Cheney scored the game-winner in the 79th minute, collecting a pass from teammate Amelia Mathis inside the box, then beating her defender and scoring to the right post.
"That will probably be the best frontline we will see all year," Rayfield said. "And our defense is going to get better. We will face many teams with a lot of talent this year, but it will be tough to find a team as talented as UCLA."
The Bruins (2-1-1) got on the board early, scoring in the 4th as Cheney fed Sydney Leroux the ball inside the box, who then scored to the lower left post.
The Illini battled back throughout the first half, with freshman Niki Read tallying a shot on goal after one-timing a corner kick from sophomore Marissa Mykines. Nweke came off the bench to score the equalizer in the 37th, as she buried a shot to the right post with an assist from Read and freshman Shayla Mutz. Nweke's goal was the 18th of her career, while Mutz tallied her first point as an Illini.
With the match tied 1-1 at the break, UCLA came out firing in the second half, with three early shots on goal and relentless pressure. After Cheney's goal to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Bruins, Illinois' forwards had a number of good runs but were unable to connect. The best scoring chance Illinois had in the second half was by Read, who fired a shot wide after a free kick by Mykines.
Senior goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka was kept busy, making a total of eight saves for the match. UCLA owned a 23-10 shot advantage, led by Cheney's eight. Junior forward Christina Sahly had three shots to lead Illinois, all of which were outside the 18.
The Illini got a boost to their lineup with the return of senior midfielder Jackie Santacaterina, who played her first match of the season since recovering from foot surgery. Santacaterina came off the bench and played 47 minutes in the midfield, winning a 50/50 ball in the air just seconds after stepping onto the field for the first time.
The Illini Challenge Cup Presented by Gameday Spirit returns to the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, starting with UCLA facing #6 Florida at 11 a.m. The Illini will then try to get back in the win column in playing UC Santa Barbara at 2 p.m.