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Illinois Soccer Defeats Loyola 3-1 in Season Opener

Hope Breslin and Maggie Hillman each tally a goal and an assist in the effort.

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The Fighting Illini soccer team grabbed the first win of the Illini Athletics year with a fairly comfortable victory over a pesky Loyola squad. Illinois had the general run of play in the first half, outshooting the Ramblers 7-2. Hope Breslin broke the deadlock in the 20th minute after Maggie Hillman took the ball away from a Loyola defender and found Breslin at the top of the box, who shook her marker and slotted it home.

Later, in the 35th minute, Makenna Silber got to a stray back pass from the Ramblers and found herself with only the keeper to beat. She made no mistake and doubled the Illini advantage.

After finding themselves with a two-goal deficit at the half, the Loyola Ramblers took control of the play in the second half, dominating the first 15 minutes. However, in the 60th minute, Hillman was substituted onto the right wing, pushing Breslin to striker, and moments later, Breslin found Hillman with a gorgeous through-ball which Maggie finished off to increase the Illini lead to 3-0.

Loyola didn’t go down without a fight, continuing to pour on pressure. They eventually broke through in the 72nd minute as a cross by Ari Banks found the head of Aleksa Tataryn at the back post who put it past a helpless Jaelyn Cunningham.

Things calmed down for the next 18 minutes, with each team tallying only one shot for the rest of the match. Neither found the back of the net, making the final score Illinois 3, Loyola 1.

A couple of things:

1. Illinois scrapped their interesting 3-5-2 formation from last season and played in a perfectly normal 4-4-2 tonight. It looked a little shaky at times but not overly terrible. Having two seniors in Alicia Barker and Lexi Carrier anchor the middle of the back four is a nice comfort. The outside backs played like traditional fullbacks by joining the attack and making overlapping runs past the wide midfielders. Kendra Pasquale in particular enjoyed venturing forward, tying Silber for the team lead in shots despite playing at left fullback (and they were cannon blasts of shots too). I’d venture to say Pasquale would tally multiple goals from there if she continued playing left fullback in an Illini 4-4-2 for the rest of the season.

2. But that’s a big if. All-Big Ten Freshman defender Ashley Cathro didn’t make an appearance, and neither did EIU redshirt junior transfer and OVC All-conference defender Henar Urteaga. It wouldn’t surprise me if Coach Rayfield still had the 3-5-2 up her sleeve, and she has a set of fullbacks for each system.

3. Overall, it felt like Rayfield was tinkering a bit in the match, particularly in the second half. To start the second, Breslin was basically deserted out on the right wing, which was a really weird position to put her in when a) she prefers her left foot and b) most of the Loyola pressure was going down the left side. Interestingly, almost the moment she was put closer to the action, the Illini scored. Also, the Ramblers’ lone goal came after the Illini midfield seemingly disappeared. The Illini had two freshmen in the central midfield during the 10 minutes leading up to that goal. Also interestingly, the pressure stopped when senior Ariana Veland and sophomore Amaya Ellis came in a couple of minutes after the Loyola goal.

So the stats basically say the match was even, but I’d only put stock in the first half as a predictor of the season. That sounds like an exceptionally homer-ific thing to say, but the Illini were definitely experimenting in the second half, and that’s when Loyola took over a bit.

4. The Hope Breslin Bandwagon is now boarding. Yes she scored, and yes she got an assist, but if someone cut together a highlight video of her tekkers, they’d have to find around 30 minutes of EDM to put behind it. She’s fast, she’s technical, she scores, she creates opportunities for teammates, she wears No. 10…what I’m saying is that Lionel Messi is a poor man’s Hope Breslin.

5. Putting Maggie Hillman behind Breslin is mean because she has one purpose:

She is very good at pressuring midfielders and defenders down the flank, which really opens up opportunities like the first goal of the night. There will be many more times this season where Hillman assists on a Breslin goal and vice versa.

6. The first trap was successfully avoided in a non-conference schedule completely made up of traps. The Illini’s next match is at home against Dayton at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday. Last year, the Flyers finished No. 8 in the 14-team A10, compiling an 8-9-2 record along the way. They are 1-0 on the year, thrashing Miami (OH) 5-1 (with a 26-8 shot differential, good heavens) tonight.