Junior Jonathon Smith (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) scored a golden goal in the 99th minute Saturday night at Brown Field to give Valparaiso a 1-0 victory Saturday night over UIC. But more importantly, it guaranteed the Crusaders at least a share of the league regular season title, Valpo's first league crown in any sport since joining the Horizon League.
“As exciting as the game was and as proud as we are all of the win tonight, the most important piece of the night was trying to send our good wishes to [2010 Valparaiso graduate and men’s soccer alum] Rodolfo Lucas,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “We raised a lot of money which will help tremendously in his recovery from the stroke. Most importantly, we all come together and send our thoughts and hope and pray for a speedy and full recovery. When we got together in the huddle after the win, we all agreed that Rudy would have enjoyed the game tonight, and that made us more proud than anything else.”
The win gives Valpo a 5-0-1 record in Horizon League play with two league contests remaining. With three points for a win and one point for a draw, the Crusaders now have earned 16 points, with only Cleveland State and Wright State, both of whom have 13 points with one game remaining, able to even tie Valpo atop the table. With one more point over the last two games, the Crusaders would clinch the outright title and would host the Horizon League Championship semifinals and final.
As has been the norm lately, records continued to fall as well on Saturday. The shutout was the Crusaders’ fifth consecutive clean sheet, breaking the mark of four that the program set last year. Valpo still has not conceded since allowing an 85th minute goal against Oral Roberts on Oct. 9, a stretch of nearly 484 minutes, another program record. In addition, Saturday night was the Crusaders’ fourth straight victory, matching the team record set by the 1997 side.
In addition, redshirt junior goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West) picked up his tenth shutout of the year Saturday, giving him 17 career shutouts. The 17 career clean sheets match the record set by Ryan Schwarz from 2006-2010. Zobeck had to work a little harder than normal recently for Saturday’s shutout, as he made four saves to preserve the clean sheet, including one in the 86th minute and one in the second minute of extra time.
The Crusader defense remained stout on Saturday, limiting UIC, which boasted the Horizon League’s top-two point scorers entering the fixture, to just six total shots on the evening, including just two in the final hour of play. Meanwhile, Valpo ended the night with 13 shots, putting six on frame.
But it would be the last shot of the match in the 99th minute that was the clincher. Smith lined up over a direct free kick just to the right of center in his own half and sent a hard, low ball towards the box. A group of players from both sides looked for the next touch, but nobody could deflect it, and UIC (8-5-3, 2-3-1 Horizon) goalkeeper Piotr Kikolski, who had made four saves on the evening and gotten help from his back line on another, was unable to make a play on the ball as it rocketed into the back of the net for the golden goal.
“Obviously tonight was a really exciting win,” said Avery. “UIC is a really good team, so to be able to continue our string of shutouts and limit their number of chances in front of a large and vocal crowd makes us feel really good about the victory. We got unbelievably good performances from Charles Barden and Todd Vervynckt. Then also, Eric Nieto entered when Zev Taublieb had to go off, and Eric did a tremendous job sitting in the midfield and just holding down that space.”
Valparaiso (9-5-3, 5-0-1 Horizon) can clinch an outright Horizon League regular season title in the last home match of the regular season at Brown Field Wednesday night against Butler. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m., with live audio available on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and live video through the Horizon League Network. Links for both, as well as live stats, will be available at www.valpoathletics.com as the Crusaders play on Senior Night.