Kendra Pasquale fires Illinois soccer past Missouri in narrow victory

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Sydney Laput

Redshirt defender, Kendra Pasquale keeps the ball away from Indiana State players during their match against them on Sunday night. During a tough game on Thursday Pasquale brought the team to victory ending the match 1-0 as well as becoming Illini’s top goalscorer for the season thus far.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

The atmosphere at Demirjian Park was nothing short of electric on Thursday night, as Illinois soccer battled out a 1-0 victory over Missouri. The Illini fought hard and came out with a positive result over a strong opponent, kicking off what is now a two-game win streak.

“I thought we did some of the things we really wanted to do tonight,” head coach Janet Rayfield said, “And we certainly came away with a win and that’s an important part. But I also think we can still be better, and that’s the exciting part, not the ‘We just beat a good team that’s having some success.’ I think there’s still a higher ceiling for us, and I say that in a really exciting way because I think we can be even better than we were tonight.”

The Illini started off the match a little shaky, with sloppy passes and hesitation on the ball plaguing the team’s play. Missouri did well to maintain its defensive shape and managed to keep Illinois in its own half of the field during the opening period. The match was evenly fought at the start, with solid defending from both sides leading to minimal chances on goal.

In the 23rd minute, however, the Illini found the breakthrough. A set piece taken by sophomore defender Ella Karolak resulted in a mistake from the Tigers backline. The ball landed in Missouri’s own box, with the misclearance falling to redshirt senior defender Kendra Pasquale. Pasquale made no mistake from short range, slotting it neatly past the goalkeeper for the opening goal.

An already energetic Demirjian Park quickly erupted into a sea of ecstasy as Pasquale celebrated what was her third goal of the season. Illinois 1-0 Missouri.

While the rest of the first half was scoreless, the Illini managed to recover from their slow start and began to show the attacking qualities they’ve displayed throughout the 2022 season. The Tigers had begun shifting into a more defensive focus but still enjoyed their share of the ball. Illinois held a one-goal advantage heading into halftime.

The Illini continued to capitalize on their confidence in the attack coming out of the break. In the 48th minute, redshirt junior forward Ashley Prell sent a cross into the box that beat Missouri’s goalkeeper. The ball rolled across an empty net but the Tigers managed a goal line clearance before junior forward Julia Eichenbaum could complete the tap in.

In the 60th minute, junior goalkeeper Julia Cili made a great diving save to stop a long distance strike from Missouri. Both sides had their chances but Cili had yet another top tier performance, doing well to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.

Illinois continued to have exciting moments in the attack but could not find a second goal. Missouri, on the other hand, continued to remain a threat. In the 66th minute, a great through ball sent the Tigers through on goal. In a display of pure hustle, senior midfielder Eileen Murphy managed to track back and complete a crucial tackle on the lone Missouri striker, stopping the visitor’s best chance of the evening.

Despite the close calls, Illinois managed to hold out until the final whistle, defeating Missouri for the fifth time in program history. It was an extremely rough and hard-fought match by both teams, a game worthy of the supportive crowd it had drawn to Demirjian Park. Final score: Illinois 1, Missouri 0.

“It was a good, gritty win,” Pasquale said. “Honestly, that was a really good team win. Everyone contributed and everyone played their role right so I couldn’t ask for more. We’re getting better each day, so back to work and who’s next.”

When it comes to discussing the stars of the match on Thursday, Pasquale towers over the rest. In addition to scoring what was the deciding goal of the contest, Pasquale was everywhere on the pitch. Pasquale frequently dropped back and made key defensive stops when Illinois needed them. While on the bench to start the match, the super-sub’s impact made up a large portion of the Illini’s win on Thursday night.

“We always talk about energy,” Pasquale said. “Our bench especially brings a lot of it, but our fans are incredible. They come out and they show out every game for us. The atmosphere that they bring with their cheering and their loud support honestly really hypes us up and keeps us engaged. We’re always happy to come out and prove to them that we’re the Fighting Illini and they’re here with us.”

Pasquale’s goal against Missouri was her third in seven matches, also making her the Illini’s top goalscorer so far this season. It was also the redshirt senior’s second consecutive goal, having scored in Illinois’ last outing, a close 3-2 victory over Indiana State. Needless to say, Pasquale has been able to find the important goals for the Illini in 2022.

“I think it’s super important to know that every moment matters,” Pasquale said. “In games like these against really tough opponents, it honestly comes down to that moment, so I’m just really glad that I can be getting those for my team. It could be any person, though. We’re all ready, we’re all on it, it just happens to be me recently.”

Illinois (5-2-0) will be returning to action on Sunday at 1 p.m. to take on Loyola (4-2-1). The match will take place at Demirjian Park and will serve as the Illini’s final nonconference match of the season.

 

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