Wildcats respond to forfeits with draw to Redwings
By Matt Le Cren
To say West Chicago had an interesting evening on Monday would be an understatement.
The Wildcats were on the rise after winning four of their last six matches but found out before their home match against Benet that they had forfeited all of their victories because the IHSA ruled that a player was ineligible after playing for an adult team.
Instead of being deflated by the news, West Chicago played with spirit and camaraderie and nearly upset Benet Academy.
Benet, which came in riding an eight-game winning streak, twice had to come from behind to salvage a 3-3 nonconference tie in West Chicago.
Senior Michael Rindler had a hat trick for the Redwings (9-1-1), with the last goal coming off a goal-mouth scramble with 2:43 left in the match.
“I honestly have no idea what happened,” Rindler said of his tying goal. “I just kicked it in.”
Senior defender Kristian Cikoch triggered the play by sending the ball in front of the West Chicago net, where it deflected off a Benet player before Rindler rammed it home from three yards out.
Neither team celebrated after the match and the Redwings were especially subdued.
“I’m glad our team responded and was able to come back and tie it,” Rindler said, “but we had a lot of chances and we could easily have won that game.
“We knew it would be a tough one. They always have a good squad, but we just couldn’t come out with the victory.”
The Redwings were coming off a pair of big conference victories over Marian Catholic and Carmel but claimed not to be looking past the Wildcats.
They came out flat and West Chicago served notice right from the kickoff that the match would not be easy, forcing Benet goalie Konrad Bayer to make two saves in the opening minute.
“I don’t think any coach would admit to a trap game, but we did not start well,” Benet coach Sean Wesley said. “We didn’t really play well the entire game.
“I thought we maybe had 20 minutes of great soccer coming out of the half and looked more like who we are, and then that said, we didn’t get a goal in those 20 minutes. We played great soccer, we got a ton of chances and we can’t find a way to put one away, so that was problematic.”
Even so, it was the visitors who struck first when Rindler scored on a header after Paddy Lawler and Sam Knapke worked a short corner kick to perfection at the 33:15 mark of the opening period.
But the Wildcats (0-10-2) answered just 75 seconds later when Eduardo Suarez exploited a breakdown in the Benet defense and scored on a 12-yard shot.
Three minutes later, West Chicago stunned the Redwings by taking a 2-1 lead on a 30-yard rip by Oswaldo Estrada. It was Estrada’s second goal of the season and came as a result of some of the teamwork that was lacking earlier in the year.
“We came out strong,” Estrada said. “They thought that we were not going to go hard and we got back at them.
“We practice and practice with each other. We’ve played a lot together and we started to pass the ball more. Before [this] game, we didn’t get the ball to each other but now we have more confidence in each other.”
The Wildcats demonstrated that by going toe-to-toe with the highly-regarded Redwings, even after Rindler tied the game 2-2 by knocking home a rebound of a Kyle Kenagy shot with 13:15 to go in the first half. The two sides combined to uncork 33 shots, 25 of which were on frame.
Both goalies had a hectic night as West Chicago keeper Paolino Mansera made 11 saves while Bayer finished with six.
Benet also had a pair of non-goalie saves as defender Richie Michalik blocked one shot on the goal line and defender Jared Kovach came from behind to slide and deflect a shot by Estrada wide of the left post.
But Kovach’s work only momentarily deterred the Wildcats as Estrada sent the ensuing kick high to the far side of the Benet penalty area, where Jerry Medina unleashed a 16-yard shot that deflected off a defender and went in the net to give the hosts a 3-2 lead with 14:16 to in the second half. It was Medina’s first score of the year.
“I just saw it really high up, so I decided not to go in, just wait for it,” Medina said. “It deflected off a defender but it went in.”
Medina’s goal came after the Wildcats had weathered a fierce effort from the Redwings, who attacked with vigor to start the second half.
Rindler forced Mansera to make a diving save just 30 seconds after intermission and then Lawler had four shots from in or near the box. Three went over the crossbar and the other was saved.
Then it was the Wildcats’ turn to dominate with some nice combination play that had the Redwings chasing.
“It was a great game from everybody,” Medina said. “We had some problems in the beginning of the season but then we picked it up.
“The first games we had problems moving the ball around the field. Right now we’re passing the ball fast, players [are] moving off the ball [well]. We deserved to win but were just unlucky at the end.”
The Redwings could say the same. They had several scoring opportunities in the final 10 minutes before Rindler’s equalizer, including one in which Rindler drilled a Kenagy cross on frame. Mansera dove and saved the ball into the left post and then it rolled along the goal line before Antonio Velazquez booted it out of danger.
“[There were] 16 minutes of really mediocre soccer where they really took it to us and we couldn’t keep possession,” Wesley said. “The team is resilient and we find a way. I love that about this group, but we know that we have to play better soccer.”
That starts with the relatively inexperienced defense, which has posted just one shutout.
“I think that’s where we knew we would have a learning curve, if you will, and we haven’t learned that much, unfortunately,” Wesley said. “We keep making the same mistakes. We keep putting our goalie in bad shape.
“Our goalie is a young kid who helped us a bit, made some big saves today, so that’s good. But we’re giving up goals in every game.”
Of course, that’s a small problem compared to what Wildcats have to deal with. The forfeiture of all their wins will result in a lower sectional seed, thus increasing the difficulty of their postseason path, but the squad demonstrated admirable effort in their first outing since the bad news.
“He made a decision and it affects all these guys who put in the hard work,” West Chicago coach Jose Villa said. “Telling them today was tough. It was hard for me to hear.
“We started [the season] off rough and picked it up, so now it’s almost like you feel you start back at square one, but I thought we had a great response to me giving them the news an hour before the game.
“Obviously they were disappointed but we talked about how we’re going to respond to it from now on. We can’t do anything about it and we just have to move forward. I think we did today.
“I really like the fact that everyone gave 100 percent effort today and played with a lot of heart. Also, Benet is a great team so it was good to see us pull out the tie. It wasn’t easy for either team so I think it was a great game all around.”