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The fact that no trophy is awarded to the winner of the Evanston Invitational soccer tournament causes ETHS head coach Franz Calixte a sleepless night occasionally.
Friday night was one of those nights, because the longtime coach knew that Walter Payton Prep – based on comparative tournament scores – was a real threat to end Evanston’s reign.
And if that happened, Calixte would have to tell his opponent that the trophy is in the mail – after placing a quick order somewhere.
Calixte needn’t have worried. The Wildkits turned in a crisp performance and captured the championship of the round-robin tournament for the ninth straight year Saturday with a 2-0 blanking of Payton at Lazier Field.
Behind goals by co-captains Will Travis and Sebastian Leon – his fifth in as many games – the Kits improved to 4-0-1 on the season.
“Those trophies cost $180, so we saved the school some money again this year,” kidded Calixte. “I think every team in the tournament this year [Payton, Lake Forest Academy, newcomer Frances Parker] will have a good season and when you do the comparative scores in the back of your mind, I knew we were up against the most prolific scoring team in the tournament in Payton.
“We talk a lot about what tradition means at ETHS, and winning this tournament means a lot. We found out something about the formation we’re using, and it worked very well against a very potent offensive team. I think we’re improving every time we step on the field, not in all areas in every game, but today was a total step forward for us as a team.”
Travis’ early goal, in the fifth minute, forced the Payton Grizzlies to play catch-up from then on. And Leon capitalized on a rare touch for the senior forward when he headed home a corner kick from teammate Adam Hammock in the 58th minute. That goal provided some insurance and extended Leon’s impressive streak of five consecutive games with a goal to open the 2021 campaign.
Leon scored 14 goals in 14 games as a junior, so his pace might not seem that impressive to non-soccer observers. A player with a reputation as an outstanding scorer usually gets 10 or 12 touches per game, but Leon averaged about half that many during the near-record stretch he’s put the ball into the back of the net.
Evanston’s offense is almost never built around one player and so far even Leon’s obvious talent hasn’t changed that approach.
“I’ve only had four or five 20-goal scorers [in a single season] in 24 years of coaching,” said Calixte, listing former standouts like Kiel Mosley, Kenny Nightingale, Nick Gauna and Erick Balthazar.
“Right now Sebastian is on pace for a 20-goal season, and he actually scored in our last game last year against New Trier, so that should count in the streak.
“Sebastian is just a pure finisher, and for guys like that, their percentage for scoring is that much higher. They don’t need that many touches.”
“I feel like I just need to get into a dangerous area around the net. Then one touch on the ball, and it goes in the net,” Leon explained. “I just need a couple of touches early in the game, and then I’m ready to make a run.
“I always try to stay patient [and not demand possession of the ball]. I know my time will come. Last year we had two forwards up top, so it was harder for me to get the ball a lot, but it worked out well for me. I try to never get frustrated. I didn’t get a lot of touches today, but that’s OK.
“I think winning this tournament puts us on really good footing for the rest of the season. We’re off to a really good start. Our depth is really good, and when we put in a substitute player, you don’t really see a difference. And everyone on this team wants the same outcome, to win a State championship.”