Dec. 19, 2013
CHICAGO – Winningest regular season in program history. First unblemished conference record. Horizon League Regular Season Champions. The UIC men's soccer team's 2013 campaign was one to be remembered.
“This season was special in many ways,” head coach Sean Phillips said. “While we did not achieve our final goal of being in the NCAA Tournament, we won the Horizon League regular season championship with the program’s first ever perfect conference record, set a program record for regular season wins and returned to the national discussion.”
It was known by Phillips that there was talent to compete, but it was up in the air as to how the team was going to come together and how long it was going to take. After two promising preseason performances and two disappointing losses to start the regular season, it started to click for this year’s team.
“Coming out of the preseason, we were very excited about the prospects of the fall 2013 season,” said Phillips. “However, it took two tough losses at the start the season for the staff and players to make a few more adjustments and find the right mix of talent and mentality. The other key to this time period was the evolution of our leadership group – the seniors.”
The success throughout the season would not have been possible without the leadership of the Flames’ seven seniors. Slobodan Aleksov, Josh Beard, Alexios Fronimos, Piotr Kikolski, Bob Novak, Danny O'Leary and Aris Zafeiratos took the team from a 0-2 start to winning 16 of its last 18 games. They showed a young and talented group the mentality it takes to win and the importance of the little things.
“After those two losses to start the season, a group without the right team leadership can lose its way,” Phillips added. “Not only did we not lose our way, but we got stronger setting school records along the way. This was a direct result of this group of seven seniors – three of whom were new to the program – coming together and setting the right example in the locker room, at training and in games. Each senior, through embracing and excelling in their roles for the team, set a new standard for the future leaders of this program.”
In 2013, UIC soccer returned to the regional and national scene but fell a bit short. The goal of the returning players will be to improve upon this year’s success by earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. This group, as with all teams, will have challenges ahead of them. Of the 33 goals scored this season, the Flames will graduate 18 that were contributed by the seven seniors. However, five of the back six players, who limited opponents to a goals against average of 0.80, the best since 2007, return. UIC also returns eight starters and 10 additional letterwinners, including five goal scorers and others who played significant minutes this year.
“UIC soccer is in a good place right now,” said Phillips. “We return several pieces of the 2013 team for 2014. The 2013 seniors showed that proper leadership and character is a must for talent to move in the right direction. If the returning players remember this and do everything a little bit better next year, 2014 will be a great season.”
UIC clinched the Horizon League regular season title and locked in the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament on Oct. 30, when it defeated Oakland, 1-0, off a penalty kick goal by redshirt-senior Josh Beard. The feat was the fifth all-time for UIC and the first since 2008.
RECORD SETTING SEASON
The Flames concluded their regular season with a 15-3-0, 7-0-0 HL, record after taking a 2-1 win over Green Bay on Nov. 9. UIC’s 15 wins set a program record for most victories during the regular season, while its 7-0-0 conference record marked the most conference wins and the first time UIC had won every league match.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
UIC finished the season atop the Horizon League with a perfect 7-0-0 record. The Flames recorded five of the season’s 10 shutouts against league opponents, while collecting every conference win for the first time in the Horizon League since the 2002 season when Milwaukee went 7-0-0.
Four Flames were selected to the 2013 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/Continental Tire All-Great Lakes Region teams. Senior Bob Novak earned a spot on the All-Great Lakes Region Second Team, while fellow seniors Josh Beard and Slobodan Aleksov and junior Jesus Torres were named to the All-Great Lakes Region Third Team. The four all-region selections marked the most in a season since 2006 and increased UIC's total to 26 All-Region accolades.
HORIZON LEAGUE HARDWARE
Following the Horizon League regular season, awards were announced as senior Bob Novak was named the 2013 Horizon League Co-Player of the Year, in addition to senior Josh Beard taking home Defensive Player of the Year, freshman Andrew Putna collecting Freshman and Goalkeeper of the Year, and head coach Sean Phillips rounding out the field as Coach of the Year.
Five Flames (Slobodan Aleksov, Jesus Torres, Novak, Beard and Putna) were named to the All-League First Team for the first time in program history, with sophomore Thomas Villamil earning a spot on the Second Team, and Gonzalo Romo and Kyle Hamann taking place alongside Putna on the All-Freshmen Team.
UP IN THE RANKINGS
The Flames closed out of the final RPI rankings at No. 38 for the best RPI since 2008 when the team finished at No. 22.
For the first time since the 2009 season, the Flames entered into the NSCAA/Continental Tire Rankings on Nov. 12 at No. 23. The Flames were represented in the Great Lakes Region poll for nine straight weeks and ended the season at No. 9.
RIDING THE STREAK
The Flames were able to continue a 10-match win streak into the postseason and went 46 days without a loss, marking the most consecutive wins since 2000 when the Flames won 12 straight. Earlier in the season, UIC won six-consecutive matches that consisted of five shutouts.
On a team made up of more than 70% freshmen (11) and sophomores (9), the Flames seven seniors led the way this season, as they accounted for 18 of UIC’s 33 goals, including nine game-winners. Slobodan Aleksov led the pack in goals (9), points (21), shots (53) and shots on goal (25), and produced four two-goal games.
PUTNA ON GOAL
Goalkeeper Andrew Putna made his way into the UIC record books during his freshman campaign. While starting and playing in all 20 matches, Putna made 52 saves with a .765 save percentage and allowed just 16 goals for a 0.79 goals against average, ranking fourth in the single-season records. That is not Putna’s only showing in the books, as his 16 regular season wins puts him in a tie for first and his 10 shutouts is good for a second-place three-way tie in the regular-season and fourth in the career records.