The current members of the Evanston soccer team have done such a solid job of stepping into their roles as front-line players this season that even their head coach tends to forget that only 4 players on the roster for the Class 3A Evanston Regional tournament had even participated in a postseason game prior to Tuesday night.
But after shaking off a case of nerves in the first half, the Wildkits rolled over Maine East 4-1 at Lazier Field behind a pair of goals from juniors Miguel Jimenez and Colin Thompson. ETHS improved to 15-1-4 on the season and advanced to Saturday’s regional championship game against Loyola Academy, a 2-1 overtime winner over Chicago Taft.
“I told them act like you’ve been here before,” said head coach Franz Calixte after the post-game celebration that included the (now-traditional) taking of selfie pictures. “Then I realized that most of them haven’t been here before.
“There were definitely some nerves for us today. The playoffs are different from the regular season. There’s a different sense of urgency, so it’s good that they got the feeling tonight. This will prepare them for the finals Saturday (at 6 p.m.).”
The Wildkits relied on the 1-2 scoring punch of Jimenez and Thompson, who scored multiple goals in the same game for the first time this season. Jimenez provided a 1-0 advantage in the 16th minute on a play that began with a Thompson corner kick. Jimenez took a one touch, then powered a shot past East goalkeeper Onel Yousif.
But the visitors pulled even 7 minutes later. A hand ball violation gave Moe Arifi a penalty kick opportunity, and he converted for a 1-1 deadlock at halftime.
Jimenez regained the lead for the Wildkits early in the second half with a series of brilliant offensive moves that planted one defender (East’s Marcos Herrera) on the turf and beat the keeper again. The junior notched his team-leading 12th goal of the season with that maneuver, and also contributed a key defensive stop when he raced back to foil a potential scoring run by East’s Raven Khaya.
But it was Thompson who put the game out of reach and underscored the fact that the Wildkits just weren’t the same team offensively when he was out of the lineup for four games with a broken wrist.
Another hand ball violation, this time in Evanston’s favor, set up Thompson’s penalty kick. But he didn’t score in conventional fashion. Goalie Yousif stopped his initial shot, but surrendered a rebound that Thompson pushed back across the goal line to break the losers’ backs.
One minute later, Thompson worked a perfect give-and-go two-man game with classmate Tyler Tomasello and iced the victory.
“I think he just wanted to pad his stats on that PK, so he could get an assist and a goal,” joked Calixte. “That was just an instinctual play on his part. Colin wants to score so badly, at times he can just will the ball in.
“Those four games that he was out were when we couldn’t seem to score. We need him in there. He’s Mr. Offense for us, and it was nice to see him in there combining with Miggy. That’s the kind of offense we thought we’d have right from the start of the season.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.