The Illinois State University soccer team plays the Missouri State University Bears in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Championship tournament. This is the second meeting of the two clubs this season after the Redbirds won 1-0 on Oct. 25. The rematch takes place at 3 p.m. Friday in Springfield, Missouri. Here are five things to watch for before the tournament takes place:
Loyola defeated ISU in the semifinals of last year’s tournament en route to a 3-2 championship win over Drake.Illinois State looks to recapture its first title since 2016, and Missouri State tries to avenge its failed championship defense after its win in 2017.The Redbirds dominated the 2010s with five conference championships, winning four in a row from 2011-2014.
ISU’s semifinals matchup
Missouri State holds a 11-4-2 overall record and a 4-2-1 conference record. The Bears defeated Evansville by a score of 1-0 on Nov. 3 in the first round of the tournament. Illinois State enters at 13-5 with a 6-1 conference record.
One should expect a close matchup like the first one. The Bears will essentially be playing a home game in Springfield, Missouri, and that may be one of the difference makers. The Redbirds have a better goal differential (+19 to +9) and tend to push the pace of the game more than the Bears would like. ISU shot 262 times this season compared to Missouri State’s 143.
A point of emphasis for the Redbirds will be to capitalize on their chances at the net and to continue to push the pace. They succeeded in eventually outshooting the Bears by a 12-9 margin, but it took them an entire half before they could generate a single shot. Their lone goal came from senior midfielder Kate Del Fava in the 64th minute. They’ll need to focus on getting the MVC’s scoring champion offensive opportunities if they want to compete with the conference’s best defense.
Missouri State needs to play its signature slow-paced and physical style without committing fouls. In the first matchup, the Bears committed 15 fouls compared to ISU’s five. They can knock ISU out of rhythm by forcing long shooting droughts throughout the game. The Bears run a balanced offensive system, with none of their players scoring more than four goals individually. Instead, they rely on the dominance of junior goalkeeper Kaitlin Maxwell and their defenders to keep them in games.
The Tournament Favorite
Loyola had an incredible season, going undefeated in conference play and 12-4-1 overall. The Ramblers beat Illinois State (4-1), Missouri State (2-0), Valparaiso (2-0) and Drake (3-0) and have won ten straight games. Clearly the favorite, the Ramblers strike a balance of possession control and opportunistic offense. They attack from several different sources and split 18 goals between a three-headed monster of Aleksa Tataryn (7), Megan Nemec (6), and Simone Wark (5).
Several of ISU’s seniors were on the 2016 championship team. The list includes: MVC scoring champ Del Fava, goalkeeper Haley Smith, forward Mikayla Unger, forward Brittany Paganucci, defender Emily Adelman, midfielder Abbey Basler and defender Megan McEachern. ISU’s current head coach Brad Silvey was also an assistant coach on that team.
Del Fava and Smith have had incredible seasons. Smith recently joined Abby Van Deventer and Becky Feldmann as the only Redbirds to earn four Defensive Player of the Week honors in a single season. She also became the recordholder for most shutouts in Illinois State history. Del Fava finished the season as MVC leader in goals and will be a candidate for conference player of the year.
How to Watch
ISU’s first match against Missouri State will be televised on ESPN+ for paid subscribers. Fans can also follow along at goredbirds.com by using the “Live Stats” feature in the “Schedule” tab. Sports Reporter Matt Kalinowski will be live tweeting the game from @Vidette_Sports on Twitter. Live tweets can also be found on the team’s official Twitter page, @Redbird_Soccer.
If the Redbirds win, the final game will be played on Nov. 10 in Springfield, Missouri, with future broadcast details to be determined.