The Chicago WPS staff - Marcia McDermott, Alyse LaHue and i - saw an action packed women's soccer game between the University of Illinois and the Mexico National Team at the beautiful Loyola Soccer Park. Here's the punch line: the match was last night!
Yes, we attended an outdoor soccer game on March 10th.....in Chicago.....on a Monday night....in early March...did i say it was in Chicago? Temps were in the 20s - yes, i know, i'm addicted.
With those conditions, i was expecting the match to be a private affair for family, friends, the Chicago WPS staff and the fifty kids we bought and donated tickets for...i also thought that i would be making my way to the exits by halftime.
Instead we saw a really entertaining game, with nearly 1,000 fans packing the bleachers and keeping warm with hot chocolate. The game even had boisterous cheering by supporters for their respective teams.
The Illini took an early lead on the finish of a nice flick-on header in the games first few minutes. The teams defied the cold with end to end action throughout the rest of the half. Despite only having a few weeks of "spring" training and playing without its outgoing seniors or incoming freshman, Coach Janet Rayfield's Fighting Illini looked sharp in the first half.
Mexico created several first half chances including a crafty move at the top of the box by their tiny (5'0") playmaker Evelyn Lopez. The little captain's work went for naught as the full chance was squandered by a teammate.
Both teams played a little tight and ragged in the second half. After Mexico nailed the cross bar with a long range attempt to tie the match, Chichi Nweke sealed the 2-0 win for the Illini with the late conversion from Jessica Levitt on a 2 on 1 break. The goal sent the Illini fans home frozen winners and the Mexico supporters home frozen.
Many thanks to Mark Boyle and the Chicago Gaels for bringing the game to Chicago. And thanks also to all the sponsors of the match including the Illinois Women's Soccer League, Illinois Youth Soccer, Loyola University, Nazareth Academy, Quattro Fratelli, Signature Specialty Sales & Marketing and Tasty Catering for making the game possible.