Soccerfest to kick off pair of must wins

 

 

By Steve Contorno

In the midst of a Big Ten race that has the fourth-place Illini looking up at three teams that haven’t lost in conference play, this weekend the team will have one of its busiest weekends filled with potential distractions.

Friday, the Illini will host Soccerfest, kick off homecoming festivities and honor six departing Illini with senior night.

On top of that, goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens will be going for the Illinois career shutout record over keeper coach Leisha Alcia in front of what could be the largest crowd in Illini soccer history.

All this, not to mention Illinois will be playing two of those undefeated teams.

On Friday, the Illini (8-4-1, 3-2-1 Big Ten) will square off against No. 24 Indiana (11-1-2, 5-0-1) to begin a set of games that could determine whether or not Illinois will be able to challenge for the conference title.

Following its bout with the Hoosiers at home, the team will travel to No. 5 Purdue (13-1-2, 5-0-1) to conclude the tough weekend.

Even with all the hoopla, the veteran team has its sights on the games at hand.

“We’re looking forward to the excitement the crowd might bring and understand we have to focus through the distractions,” head coach Janet Rayfield said.

The Illini haven’t fared well against ranked opponents, going 1-3 against teams that are currently in the top 25, and have had mixed results in the Big Ten, most recently going 1-0-1 last weekend.

But with some bumps in the road, Illinois still has a chance to take the conference.

If it can get through this weekend.

“I knew there wasn’t going to be an easy weekend in this conference schedule,” Rayfield said. “We started it tough and we’ll finish it tough. This weekend obviously means a lot, but it only means a lot because of previous success we’ve had. We’ve made this weekend mean a lot and so have Indiana and Purdue.”

Both Purdue and Indiana bring a dynamic scoring attack; the schools are ranked one and two in goals during conference play.

And both teams play stingy defense – Indiana has allowed exactly one goal per game while Purdue has given up less than a goal every two games. Illinois, third in both goals and goals allowed, will have to be at top form.

“They’re both confident teams and they’re on a roll,” Rayfield said.

“They feel good about the way they’re playing so the early minutes of both games will be important because this is a team that’s faced adversity and I think we’re battle-ready,” Rayfield added. “We’ve got to use that for our advantage this week.”

Friday’s game begins at 7 p.m. at the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium while Sunday’s match at Purdue is at noon.