Postseason soccer always brings a mix of weather — most of it bad – for high school teams trying to advance on the tournament path.
Mother Nature dished up a menu of blustery winds, chilly temperatures, rain and even some hail Saturday in the championship game of the Class 3A Glenbrook North Regional tournament between Evanston and Glenbrook North.
The Wildkits, behind two goals by Noah Greenberg, didn’t just survive — they thrived. Their 2-0 triumph marked the seventh straight regional title for the program under head coach Franz Calixte and sent the Kits to the Evanston Sectional semifinals next Wednesday against Glenbrook South.
Mental toughness isn’t a trait that’s easily defined, but competing in a one-loss-and-you’re done scenario that’s complicated by less than ideal playing conditions brought out the best in Evanston’s chilled players again Saturday. Even with the wind in their faces in the second half, the Wildkits outplayed GBN and improved to 16-5-2 on the year.
“We try all during the year to put extra stress on them, to try to emulate the kind of adversity they’ll face in the postseason, but it’s never really the same,” Calixte said. “We were able to adjust to the conditions today much better than GBN did. We’re a talented team, and when we’re all on the same page together, then we’re really a very solid team.
“Winning a regional is always special. The last couple of times we played them in the postseason I think you could say that we were the underdogs, and this year we had to beat another solid team.”
“We’ve been preparing for games like this all year,” said Greenberg, who scored in each half for the winners, “and no matter what we’ve always been able to get the job done. People remember teams for what they do in the playoffs, and we want to make this year count for something.”
The conditions forced the winners to adopt two different game plans. Ordinarily a team that prefers to keep possession by placing passes on the ground, the Wildkits looked for some help from the 30-mile-per-hour wind at their back in the first half with players on the back line delivering long balls in the air for forwards to run under and attack with.
The strategy paid off at the 34:56 mark of the first half. A long pass by junior Dylan Taglang set up a brilliant score by Greenberg, who deked two North defenders and also faked out North goalie Jack McDonaugh before blasting the ball into the corner of the net.
Greenberg also scored on a header in the 69th minute for some welcome insurance for ETHS.
“We had a different game plan for each half and we executed really well,” said Greenberg. “When it gets later in the season like this and the conditions are different, we know we have to play more direct and not just play around with the ball in the back. We had to hit some long balls and try to hit our targets that way.”
The senior midfielder’s second goal came on a cross from junior Nick James, and at first it wasn’t clear whether the contact Greenberg made would be enough to get the ball across the goal like even though keeper McDonaugh had vacated the area.
“I saw the cross coming, and I felt it hit my head, but I didn’t know where it was going,” Greenberg admitted. “It just fell in the back of the net.”
The Wildkits earned their third consecutive shutout as goalie Ramin Abraham stopped 4 shots overall. They’ll face Glenbrook South in the sectional semis next Wednesday at 7 p.m.
New Trier and St. Patrick will meet in the other sectional semifinal on Tuesday. The title game is set for Saturday at 6 p.m.