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The Daily Illini

Illinois soccer falls 4-0 to Minnesota on Senior Day

By Miles Powers-Huang, Contributing writer

Sometimes the final box score for a sporting event doesn’t tell the full story of the game. Illinois soccer head coach Janet Rayfield felt the 4-0 loss in the game against Minnesota on Sunday was one of those instances.

After Minnesota opened the game with an early goal, there was a long period of tight, competitive play during which both teams created chances, and with fifteen minutes remaining, it was either team’s game.

This soon changed, as sophomore midfielder Arianna Veland gave away a controversial foul, setting up a long free kick for the Gophers.

Most teams prefer to bring players forward and play a cross into the box from a free kick, but Minnesota junior Emily Heslin decided to shoot from a long distance. She sent in a well-placed strike that Illini goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham could only get her fingertips to before it found the back of the net.

Initially, Rayfield was clearly in disagreement with the call, and even more so once it directly led to a goal.

“From the get-go it was a tightly called game, and I thought (Veland) made a good tackle on the ball,” Rayfield said. “(The) referee admitted that she certainly made contact with the ball. He felt that her follow-through with the upper body made contact and that’s what he called the foul on. If Jaelyn could see that again, she (would) love to make that save. The wind certainly makes that a tough one, though.”

Illinois’ frustrations were only compounded from then on, and after already leading 3-0, Minnesota came forward with an attack and fired a shot on goal. With Cunningham off her line, sophomore defender Alicia Barker had to clear the ball, but as she did, the referee ruled that the ball touched her hand. Given that it was a clear goal-scoring opportunity, the referee gave her a red card.

The Gophers converted the ensuing penalty kick into a goal, which capped their victory.

It should be pointed out that the Illini were without junior midfielder Katie Murray, who was suspended for a red card Thursday against Wisconsin. Rayfield said the team felt Murray’s absence on Sunday, particularly in the attack.

“Katie gives us an offensive spark, so especially in the first half, we really missed her with respect to looking to be dangerous, and people making runs off knowing that she’s gonna get them the ball,” Rayfield said. “When you have someone who is playing ninety minutes (and) controlling the tempo of the game, it takes a little bit to adjust to playing without her, and certainly that was a factor today.”

Since the 7-0 defeat away at Penn State, Rayfield has praised her team’s ability to stay competitive, even in games they ultimately lose.

While the score may say otherwise, the coach still deemed Sunday’s performance a game of small margins rather than a blowout.

“If you look at the scoreboard you’d think that, but late in the second half, it (was) a 1-0 game,” Rayfield said. “We (had) a chance and (didn’t) put it away. The challenging thing for us was (when) gave up the second goal. That was the moment where we let the game get away from us.”

Given the nature of how the second goal was scored, one could sympathize with Rayfield. However, a performance like Sunday’s is certainly not a good sign for this present team, no matter how much the experience may help the Illini in the future.

@MilesP_H

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