Demons threaten upset, draw No. 13 Xavier 1-1


Donald Crocker

Sophomore midfielder Cade Hagan celebrates his goal with teammates Tyson Amoo-Mensah and Kristian Malinich during DePaul’s 1-1 draw with no. 13 Xavier Saturday.

The conference upset of the season almost took place at Wish Field on Saturday as DePaul nearly handed No. 13 Xavier their first season loss.

For the second weekend in a row, the Blue Demons played a much more talented team to a 1-1 draw in an outstanding showing.

“We knew it was a good matchup for us,” said DePaul Head Coach Mark Plotkin. “The way they play is similar to us, and obviously, they’ve gotten a lot of results, but we felt good about it coming in.”

A capacity crowd of DePaul fans may have felt nervous early on as Xavier’s attack seemed to dominate possession in the Demons’ defensive third throughout the first ten minutes. But it didn’t take long for DePaul to wake up, trading possession and chances for the rest of the game. 

As the game went on, DePaul appeared to create more and more problems for Xavier’s defenders.

“I thought we were a little slow early in the first half,” Plotkin said. “But we picked it up and were a lot more aggressive today in the final third and dangerous in set pieces.”

The match remained scoreless for nearly 70 minutes until the game’s turning point came.

Off a buildup down the right sideline, senior right back David Gripman sped past defenders and found sophomore midfielder Cade Hagan on the edge of the box. Hagan received the ball with space in front of him and fired an outside-of-the-foot shot from a seemingly impossible angle.

Fans erupted as the shot from the ride side towards the far post curled in at the last second to give DePaul a 1-0 lead in the 69th minute.

“As soon as I saw it get past the defender, it had the perfect bounce for me to hit it one-time,” Hagan said. “I looked up and saw it curl top corner, and I was just ecstatic.”

 Hagan’s head coach wasn’t surprised by the impressive strike.

“It was a hell of a finish, but we know that’s in Cade’s wheelhouse,” Plotkin said. 

Hagan and the rest of DePaul’s midfield played with composure all game. The Demons made few mistakes in possession on Saturday, which proved to be an issue a week ago against Georgetown.

Graduate midfielder Matt Brickman makes a tackle to swipe the ball away from Xavier junior forward Dominik Kurija in Saturday’s game. (Donald Crocker)

DePaul’s defense played up to their opponents’ attack for the second Saturday in a row. Center backs Ethan Gordon and Grant Herbek both played the full 90 minutes and seemed to clear almost every cross that Xavier fired their way.

Sophomore goalkeeper Ghandi Cruz recorded four saves and proved once again why he is talked about as one of the league’s best keepers. Cruz made several athletic saves, the best on a dangerous Xavier free kick in the 31st minute. 

If DePaul could have held on, Saturday would have likely been the upset of the Big East season, but they could only keep Xavier’s attack at bay for so long.

The Xavier equalizer came at minute 77 from a close-range header by freshman midfielder Alvaro Heredia.

DePaul continued to create chances for themselves through the final 13 minutes but could not re-take the lead. It was an impressive showing against the league’s top team. Still, as the clock hit zero, DePaul players were visibly upset they let it slip away.

“I don’t really care about rankings or any of that,” Hagan said. “Whether I score or not, if we don’t get the three points, I’m not happy.”

Plotkin was also disappointed his team couldn’t get the win, but still was happy to spoil Xavier’s chance at three points.

“I wish we could’ve held onto it a little bit better,” Plotkin said. “But [Xavier] is an outstanding team at the top of the table, and to take points away from teams at the top is always a positive.” 

With four games left, DePaul still has opportunities to get some points and move up the table. The Blue Demons (3-4-6, 0-2-4) will host Marquette (4-7-3, 0-3-3) on Wednesday at 1 p.m. CDT before traveling to UConn (4-6-1, 1-3-1) for a 6 p.m. EDT matchup on Saturday.

“We have four more opportunities to get points,” Plotkin said. “It’s just on us to take care of business.”