The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois soccer picks up first Big Ten win of 2023 with upset over No. 19 Michigan

Eric Chiang
Senior forward Makala Woods attempts to score in today’s game against Michigan. Woods sparks the offensive surge and creates numerous early chances.

It was a hot, sunny day at Demirjian Park on Sunday as the Illini (5-3-2) defeated the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (6-2-2) by a score of 2-1. While the final was a one-goal difference, the Illini dominated for much of the game, their most complete showing of the year thus far.

“The first half was, I think, one of the best halves of soccer we’ve played in a long time,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “(I’m) proud of our team for bouncing back from a, I think, disappointing performance on Thursday.”

The Illini were on the attack early, outhustling the Wolverines on seemingly every play. The ball rarely crossed onto the Wolverine side of the pitch, with the Illini tallying 11 more shots and seven more corners than their opponent in the first half. Senior forward Makala Woods sparked the offensive surge, creating numerous early chances.

Seven minutes into the game, Woods found herself all alone, streaking toward the goal, but one too many dribbles allowed the keeper to leave the net and grab the ball. The senior put the passive play in the back of her mind and began to pepper the Wolverine goalie with shots. After two shots hit the post and the goalies outstretched hands respectively, Woods found the back of the net with a ground ball on the right side.

“She’s got the pace that can really threaten back lines,” said Rayfield. “She’s been kind of hanging out in the middle a little bit, and we really talked to her about trying to threaten those spaces, and she did a great job.”

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    It was the first goal the Wolverines had allowed in three matches, and the Illini weren’t finished. Keeping the pressure, the Illini took shots, forcing a Wolverine penalty in the box with 19 minutes remaining in the first half. Sophomore forward Sarah Foley was called upon in the big moment, and she delivered.

    Her shot up the middle was deflected, and everyone began to crash on the ball. Foley was the first one there and tapped in an easy shot for the 2-0 lead. The goalie didn’t have a shot at the second attempt, following her first of four saves on the day.

    “I’ve been practicing this PK, but I guess it was pretty easy to read that time,” Foley stated. “Thankfully, she blocked it right back to the middle to me and let me get a second chance.”

    The remainder of the first half went by quickly, with the Illini threatening one final time. Graduate student forward Makena Silber drove a ball towards the upper left corner, but the Wolverine goalie made her best save of the game, lifting the ball with her fingertips above the crossbar.

    As the teams took the field in the second half, it was more of the same. The Illini continued to be on the offensive, but both squads showed a noticeable increase in physicality. A couple of no-calls following collisions drew jeers from both fanbases, with two notable ones getting the fans fired up.

    Sophomore midfielder Lia Howard earned a yellow card in the 65th minute during a quick scuffle that ended in the ball being kicked into a Wolverine midfielder’s face. With the Wolverines letting the officials hear it, the Illini got their chance in the 79th minute. A collision on the Illini side of the field left Woods down on the ground, clutching her midsection. The forward was removed from the game and taken straight to the locker room with a trainer.

    The play sucked some momentum and energy out of the park, just what the Wolverines needed. After nearly 80 minutes of being backed up against their own goal, they began attacking and got some great looks. After a big opportunity saw a Wolverine fall in the box, no call was rewarded. The Illini did not escape for long, however, as the Wolverines were finally awarded a penalty within striking distance.

    As the clock reached the 86th minute, the Wolverines executed a 30-yard free kick to perfection, with a header finding the right side of the goal. It was too little too late for the Wolverines, though, as they never got another good chance to score.

    “Now we know what we are capable of,” Foley said. “We just got to know how to play the best we can play … We can come out next game knowing we are capable of this and better.”



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    Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor
    Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
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