Makala Woods scores late equalizer as Illinois soccer draws level with Minnesota in final game of season

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Sydney Laput

Junior forward Makala Woods dribbles the ball past Indiana State on Sept. 4.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

On its final match day of 2022, Illinois soccer played out an exciting match against Minnesota on Sunday at Demirjian Park. The Illini put up a strong fight in the second half to rally and share the spoils against the Golden Gophers.

“On a day like today you’re trying to make something happen,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “Our challenge was to fight for 90 minutes knowing that the first 45 and the second 45, no matter which way we started and finished, wasn’t gonna look the same. It took us a lot longer to break through and credit to Minnesota for that but we fought until we did.”

The first 15 minutes of the match started off slow for Illinois, at least from an attacking point of view. Defensively, junior goalkeeper Julia Cili continued to be rock solid for the Illini and pulled off a massive one-on-one stop in the 14th minute to keep the game scoreless.

Minnesota broke the deadlock in the 20th minute after Sophia Boman scored directly off a corner kick. Known as an Olimpico-style goal, Boman’s delivery into the Illini box flew right into the back of the net, completely untouched. Illinois 0-1 Minnesota

The Golden Gophers struck again in the 22nd minute. Sophia Romine picked out a wide-open Sadie Harper on the right wing. Harper buried her shot past Cili to give the visitors a two-goal advantage. Illinois 0-2 Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers continued to have chances during the final stretch of the first half, but the Illini managed to avoid conceding a third with solid defense and a goal-line clearance. Illinois found itself down two heading into the break.

The Illini came out of halftime relentless in the attack and after numerous chances found themselves with a golden opportunity. In the 75th minute, freshman forward Sarah Foley was brought down in the Golden Gophers’ box to win a penalty kick. Junior midfielder Kennedy Berschel stepped up and converted the penalty, giving the Illini life in the final stretch of the match. Illinois 1-2 Minnesota.

An extremely energetic Demirjian Park cheered on the Illini as the team continued to earn chance after chance, with nothing beating the Golden Gophers’ keeper. However, even with the game winding to a close, Illinois kept up the pressure and it paid off.

After receiving the ball in the middle of the pitch, junior forward Makala Woods spun past a defender and fired an incredible long-range shot past Minnesota’s goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The orange sea of fans at Demirjian Park erupted into scenes of jubilation as the team celebrated Woods’ 88th minute heroics. Final score: Illinois 2, Minnesota 2.

The Illini managed to put together a strong second-half performance topped off by a goal of the season contender. While Woods’ late strike was unbelievable enough to witness on its own, scoring it was an experience the forward herself won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

“I did have an out-of-body experience,” Woods said of the goal. “I didn’t feel like it was me, but it was just a hard-earned effort. We came out knowing it was our last game as a group and I was like, ‘I’m going to fight for the seniors and the people around me’ and I did just that. (The ball) went into the back of the net, and it felt so awesome because we worked so hard this season.”

In regards to the atmosphere around the stadium, Woods felt as though the energy of the fans spurred on the Illini’s aggressive play late in the game.

“Even just starting the second half, it was a whole new game,” Woods said. “We knew what we had to do, we came in, we were like, ‘We’re with the wind and we’re gonna press them,’ and they didn’t know how to handle us. The bench energy and the fan energy just added to that, and we did what we needed to do.”

The exciting and joy-filled conclusion to the match was a fitting way for the departing Illini players to say their emotional goodbyes to Demirjian Park. Illinois’ season is over after missing out on the Big Ten Tournament but the final few matches showed positive improvements in regards to the team’s play. The Illini finish the 2022 season 7-7-4 overall, with a 2-5-3 record in the conference.

“A tie isn’t what you want,” Rayfield said. “But we ended this season with two ties that show that we can fight. If we can take that fight into our preparation and into next season, I think it’s a step forward for us.”

 

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