Surrendering the first goal of a game to an opponent almost every time out isn’t exactly putting yourself on the path to soccer success.
That’s one lesson Evanston head coach Franz Calixte hopes his players – varsity veterans and varsity newcomers alike – learned last week at the Evanston Invitational tournament.
Unless, of course, the Wildkits really DO turn out to be good enough to get away with those early lapses.
“It may not bother the players, but it definitely bothers the coaches,” said Calixte after the Wildkits charged past Walter Payton Prep with four goals in the second half on their way to a 5-2 victory in the finale of the round-robin tournament Saturday, Sept. 3 at Lazier Field.
Evanston captured the team title for the 10th year in a row but had to come from behind in all three tournament games, including a 2-2 draw with Lake Forest Academy and a 4-1 win over Jones Prep of Chicago.
Calixte’s unbeaten squad improved to 3-0-2 overall but didn’t dominate the tourney as in the past.
“I’ll take it [the championship trophy], but once again I didn’t like the start that we had today,” said the veteran coach. “Every game this year, except the Barrington game, we’ve given up the first goal and had to come back.
“There is a fine line between confidence and overconfidence. Our guys know on paper that they’re a pretty talented team. But we’re not that good yet. We can’t afford to look past anyone. For a lot of them there’s a newness about playing varsity soccer compared to the guys who have had a lot of success playing club ball. I’m not saying one is harder than the other – it’s just different.
“We need to get used to having the right mindset in big games. They did show a championship mindset by the way they put the game away in the second half today.”
Evanston got some help in the team standings before even taking the field Saturday when Jones Prep knocked off Lake Forest 2-1. After that, all the hosts needed in the finale was a tie to repeat as champs.
Instead, they fell behind 2-1 at halftime after Payton scored in the 18th minute (on a breakaway by Evan Rainville) and again in the 23rd minute (Jacob Hansen’s rebound off the post). In between those two tallies, the Wildkits hit paydirt when Bryan Maldonado converted a pass from Joseph Munyaneza.
Evanston exploded for four goals in the second half, including two in a 24-second span by junior Diego Velazquez. Velazquez has already played several different positions for ETHS, including back on defense, and was able to strike twice Saturday after being moved to forward from midfield.
Calixte sought advice from a club coach he knows to try to find a solution to a glut of talented midfielders on the Kit roster in an effort to find them all playing time. That coach suggested that Velazquez could get the job done playing team members just about anywhere, including forward.
Sam Darer was on the receiving end of what turned out to be the game-tying scoring play when Maldonado turned the left corner, beat a couple of Payton defenders and slid a pass to Darer for the score to make it 2-2 with just under 37 minutes left.
Then it was Velazquez’s turn and the explosive junior buried a couple of shots on back-to-back opportunities to put the game out of reach. Senior Jack Kaplan’s brilliant goal just after the midperiod water break concluded the scoring, as he broke behind Payton’s defense at about the 30-yard line, and when the keeper dashed out to stop him, the Wildkit senior chipped a perfect shot over his head and into the back of the net.
As is the tournament custom, the two squads also played a round of penalty kicks to add team bonus points after the game with ETHS prevailing 4-2. Goalie Cade Likhite, who is battling junior classmate Alex Mahoney for the starting job, stopped a couple of PK attempts with diving efforts while Mahoney was credited with six saves during regulation play.
“Any time we can score five goals in a game, I’m happy,” said Calixte. “We’re still working on what our team identity is and we did see who plays well together [during the tournament run]. We’re starting to come together as a team, and that’s what this tournament is for. We’ve gotten better in different areas in every single game so far.”