Panthers’ playoff push enters final stretch

Blake Faith, Men's Soccer Reporter

The Eastern men’s soccer team’s conference tournament chances will come down to two key results.

The Panthers must win against Fort Wayne Saturday, and Denver must tie or lose to Fort Wayne, who is 0-3 in conference play, Nov. 9.

Heading into the Western Illinois game Oct. 26, the Panthers were in fourth place in the Summit League standings, right ahead of fifth-place Denver.

Denver then defeated second-place Omaha 2-0, which secured the Pioneers a two-point lead over Eastern for fourth place. 

The Panthers lost a chippy 2-1 game to interstate conference rival Western Illinois Oct. 26. The game saw seven cards throughout the whole match. The worst card of them all was the red card received by junior Shady Omar in the 73rd minute.

“It was definitely a very physical game,” redshirt senior Christian Sosnowski said. “You would expect that from an intense rival game. We definitely missed Shady after the red card, but we had a few good chances at the end of the game that didn’t go our way.”

Omar has been a crucial piece to the Panther offense.

Omar leads the Panthers in scoring and has been able to make plays in the midfield. Due to the red card Omar received in the Western Illinois game, he will have to face a one-game suspension during the Fort Wayne game. 

The Panther offense will have plenty of playmakers still available. The Panthers still have eight other goal scorers, including second-leading goal scorer Davi Girardi.

The Panthers also have the third-leading man in assists in the Summit League in redshirt sophomore Cameron Behm.

Behm is one of the leaders on offense, helping to advance the ball forward along the sidelines and getting his teammates chances to score.

On defense, the usual lineup of freshmen Quinn Rechner and Delphy Sabu, senior Edgar Mesa and redshirt junior goalkeeper Jonathan Burke will likely be present Saturday against Fort Wayne.

All three of Eastern’s defenders have made their marks on multiple games this season.

Rechner and Mesa are always defensive anchors that play through adversity to control their areas of their field. Sabu can control his area, but can also come up into the attack and deliver balls into the attacking half that, as 90 minutes of soccer develops, can work out for the Panther offense.

Burke has recorded 63 saves and has a goals against average of 1.59 this season.

Burke’s already made plays that have saved the season, for example in a 0-0 double overtime tie against Omaha when he saved a penalty kick and a rebounded shot in the fifth minute of the game.

For those who know soccer know that roughly 9 times out of 10 that ball is going into the back of the net, but Burke did not allow it on that penalty kick.

“We know we are going to have to win against Fort Wayne,” Sonsnowski said. “So the mentality this week is to work on our finishing and make sure we put extra work to get better at whatever each guy on the team needs for us to beat Fort Wayne and make it to the tournament.”

For Sosnowski, seniors Edgar Mesa, Cole Harkrader and Alex Casteneda, these are their last two weeks in a Panther soccer uniform. From watching these seniors play it is anticipated that they want to make their last season’s Summit League tournament.

“Being two weeks away from the season being over gives me an extra motivation to leave it all out there whether in practice, film or in the game,” Sosnowski said. “With this being the end of my career, I want to leave a mark and hope to continue our season in the conference tournament.”

So the scenarios are set.

The Panthers know what their task is ahead, and throughout the season the Panthers have been a team that shows grit and competitiveness. Now it is about getting a win against Fort Wayne and waiting on Denver’s result against Fort Wayne.


Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]