CHICAGO, Ill. - The Cleveland State University men's soccer team gave up two goals in the final 10 minutes of the first half, one on a controversial penalty kick, and was unable to fully recover as the Vikings fell to second-seeded and host UIC in the Horizon League semifinals Thursday evening at a cold and clear Flames Field.
The setback extended an unfortunate streak for CSU—in each of the past four Viking losses, including two at UIC, the opposition scored the game-winning goal via a penalty kick.
Senior Hesham Hammouda scored in his final collegiate match for Cleveland State while sophomore Sebastian Kalk did well between the posts, making a career-high 11 saves.
Head coach Kirk Harwat made a pair of changes from the quarterfinal win at Wright State, with Jordan Ianiro and Lawrence Karpeh inserted in the starting XI.
Senior Kareem Banton, the primary starter at left back, was not fit for the match after being on the wrong end of a red-card challenge at Wright State. As a result, Hammouda was forced to be featured as an outside back for the first time since September.
In the fourth minute, Kalk tipped a shot over the bar to safety on the game's first chance. A few minutes later, junior Noah Pio nearly sent Ianiro in alone with the keeper, but his through ball was just overhit, allowing the goaltender to reach it first.
Pio again tried to start something in the 17th minute when he played a hard-hit cross from near the touch line. The Flames' defense was able to head the ball wide of the goal and out of play.
Kalk made fine saves of UIC shots in the 29th and 36th minutes, but soon the hosts pulled ahead.
In the 38th minute, Kalk saved a bending effort from near the top of the box, but a second attacker redirected it back toward the face of goal. The keeper saved the initial rebound attempt with his feet before a third chance was finally bashed in.
Cleveland State nearly tied it straight away as Hammouda raced forward on the left and played the ball up to Pio. Pio's blast from near the top of the box sailed wide.
While it appeared CSU would enter the break trailing, things suddenly got worse.
UIC was awarded a penalty kick after one of its shots was blocked by the face of Viking defender. The Flames took full advantage of the call to go up, 2-0.
Cleveland State had a nice spell to start the second half and was able to get in the attacking third with more frequency. In the 55th minute, Pio used a little time on the ball to hit a left-footed effort from outside the box, but it sailed a little high.
The Vikings made a match of it in the 74th minute. Hammouda played a give-and-go with classmate Alec Nagucki near the edge of the box. With his defender a half step behind, Hammouda touched the ball forward and was then tackled down in the box. He converted the subsequent spot kick.
CSU's best chance to tie came in the 78th minute. A free kick taken by Pio from basically straight on was saved by the keeper, knocking it over the bar.
The Vikings continued to pull numbers out of the back and push forward in the final 10 minutes. However, they were unable to find a tying goal, as the Flames took advantage of the depleted back line and scored with 93 seconds to play.
Hammouda's tally was his second of the season and his ninth as a Viking. Fellow co-captain Alec Nagucki played in all 74 matches over his four years at CSU, including making 66 starts.
Cleveland State was competing in the League Tournament for the eighth time in nine years, the most in the League in that time. The Vikings have made at least the semifinals in four of the past six seasons, tied for the most in the League in that time frame.