Wildcats fall 3-1 to Wheaton Academy
By Darryl Mellema
In England, when two teams from the same city meet each other – such as Manchester City and Manchester United – the term used is “derby” – and they pronounce it “darby.” Derbies are known for their heated atmosphere and non-stop intense action.
However you pronounce it, the latest revival of the West Chicago derby took place on Thursday – and just as with overseas derbies, the Wheaton Academy-West Chicago match had just about everything you’d expect.
In the stands, the fans spent 80 minutes keeping things lively. Wheaton Academy fans ran through a number of chants and songs, including “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” and, improbably, “Silent Night.” From their end of the bleachers, the “WeGo” chant echoed numerous times.
The action was no less spirited on the field, where Wheaton Academy took a 2-0 halftime lead, then withstood a manic second half to claim a 3-1 nonconference victory.
“We love playing against West Chicago,” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. “They’ve had our number the last two years. We wanted to play well and to play hard and I know that we did that.”
After a pair of one-sided victories in the last two seasons, West Chicago (2-0) was prepared for a spirited response from Wheaton Academy (0-4-1) – and the match lived up to that expectation.
“It’s always a great game when we play Wheaton Academy,” West Chicago coach Jose Villa said. “We know that they’re going to go in hard and they’re going to be tough and they’re going be well-coached and do what they can to get the win. And it’s the same here with our team.”
Throughout the match, Wheaton Academy attacked with speed against West Chicago. If the Wildcats lost the ball, the hosts tore toward their goal in large numbers.
“That’s our hope, to be able to hit from a variety of angles and be dangerous,” Brooke said. “We want to be fast. But the takeaway is that we can still possess and commit to that a little more mentally, and maybe commit to it when the momentum of the game shifts toward the other team’s direction.”
Leading the charge was Reid Culberson, who is one of the fastest players when sprinting up the wings. The worrying thing for opposing defenses is that Culberson isn’t just a sprinter – he can play soccer too.
“(Culberson’s) got a high soccer IQ as well,” Brooke said. “He knows how to work to his strengths and we’re working to allow him to be more efficient, and we’re working to get him touches, spraying the ball out wide so he can get it into channels.”
Culberson showed his abilities 14 minutes into the match when he tore up the left wing before sending a cross to Casey Zimmerman, who touched the ball to his right for Ty Seager to score.
Nine minutes later, Culberson was again key in the buildup, this time feeding Seager directly for a headed goal.
Seager is a sophomore who plays wide on the right of Wheaton Academy’s front line and he had opportunities in the match to score a hat trick, though he finished with a strong two-goal effort.
“I thought he took advantage of the chance s that he had,” Brooke said. “He’s just a sophomore and we’re anxious to see what he can do. He played with us last year, but I think he walked into the season excited to make varsity as a freshman. Now he’s got some goals and we’re excited that he attacked this game and we’re happy to see him do it.”
Brooke said that Seager’s positioning on the right helps the team as he provides attacking width that players like Culberson provide on the other wing.
“Our goal is to find him space and to move him around a little bit,” Brooke said. “We go up against a lot of teams that can defend him well and West Chicago limited him at times. But he took advantage of the chances where he got loose.”
Having dominance on the field through the first half was a good thing – but even more importantly was the fact that the Warriors had made that dominance count in terms of scoring goals. Very rarely in the opening 40 minutes did West Chicago mount sustained pressure beyond midfield.
One of the reasons for that dominance was senior Sam Hardy, whose work in central midfield was crucial.
“He’s our only returning central mid from last year,” Brooke said. “He really has an idea and a vision for what we want to do, and he’s trying to advance his game to the next level, compared to what it was last year. We’ve added a couple of new guys around him, and they’re finding some chemistry, but they’re looking to (Hardy) for some wisdom there.”
That dominance shifted as the second half opened. Just two minutes after the match resumed, Oswaldo Estrada worked himself free and shot wide. Two minutes later, Missael Duran had a shot saved by Drew Sezonov.
That pressure continued through the opening 15 minutes of the half, at which point Quentin Virgen passes to Ramon Eurioles at the top of the penalty area – and Eurioles put his team back into the match with a strong shot into the goal.
Almost immediately from the kickoff, however, Wheaton Academy attacked again and, within 90 seconds of Eurioles’ goal, the Warriors regained their two-goal advantage through a Casey Zimmerman goal.
“It was a great sign for us to respond that way,” Brooke said. “But we’ve got to learn to get our third before they get their first. That was kind of our goal coming out of halftime, and it didn’t happen.”
The match was not being played at a blistering pace, and chances came at both ends of the pitch. Wheaton Academy’s Parker Setran cleared a shot off the goal line and then Segar had a chance to score saved by a fine pointblank effort by Paolino Mansera. Then Eurioles passed to Virgen and Sezonov had to made a sharp save.
The final key point of the match came with five minutes to play when a hand ball was called in the penalty area against Wheaton Academy and West Chicago was awarded a penalty kick. Eurioles saw his effort saved – and Sezonov saved a follow-up as well.
“That’s a big play,” Brooke said. “In the momentum of the game, that’s a game-changing save, and then he gets right back up and saves the rebound. I’m thrilled with what he did tonight. I felt he controlled his box well and obviously the PK save is a memorable one.”
Through the match. Eurioles showed the sort of finishing talent he has, something a saved penalty kick could not diminish.
“He definitely worked hard up top today,” Villa said. “Unfortunately he missed the PK and he felt bad for himself and the team because he felt he let us down. But he’s the one who got us on the board. He worked well up top and connected with other guys and that’s what we ask of our forwards.”
Virgen was another player who was frequently involved in West Chicago’s attacking moves.
“He has improved tremendously,” Villa said. “He is one of our hardest working guys in practice and in a game. He will just run from 18 to 18 and work back and forth and create opportunities. He’ll challenge in the air too.”
And after a somewhat flat opening 40 minutes, West Chicago showed the various things it can do through the second half.
“We definitely stepped it up in the second half,” Villa said. “This has been something that we need to make sure to change as a team. In the second half, we came out to play as a team. We challenged and were winning first and second balls. What that did was to create opportunities for us – and we didn’t see much of that in the first half.”
If Wheaton Academy has great team speed, West Chicago’s recognition and response to that facet of their opponent’s play improved in the second half as the Wildcats created their own possession and attacking pressure.
“We needed to make sure that we were keeping on our toes and weren’t ball-watching,” Villa said. “We tend to do that quite a bit. We needed to recognize what they were doing up top and communicate defensively. Wheaton Academy is a great, well-coached team and (Brooke) is a great coach and they work extremely hard. We needed to make sure, defensively, that we were tight at the back.”