Berardi goal gets Tigers past Naperville North
By Darryl Mellema
When Anthony Berardi stabbed home an Elliott Kettle cross 15 minutes into the second half to put Wheaton Warrenville South ahead in Thursday’s match at Naperville North, everyone figured the moment would be a game-changer.
Thanks to persistent lightning sighting – which eventually became a rainstorm -- Berardi’s goal became one of the final events of the evening. Less than five minutes after Berardi scored, the teams were taken off the field and they never returned and WW South secured a 1-0 DuPage Valley Conference victory.
“I think all of us wanted to play more and keep going at it,” Berardi said. “We wanted to see if we could get a couple more in or if we could just hold the game out. Nobody likes to just stop playing, not like that.”
After a first half where neither team generated many shots on goal and play bogged down in the midfield, the second half picked up – culminating in Berardi’s goal.
“(Kettle) put a good ball into the box,” Berardi said. “It took an unlucky bounce and I tried to head it and they tried to clear it and it stopped and I just had to toe it into the net.”
Close range goals in crowded penalty areas may not be the kind of goals that make highlight shows – but they tend to be the sort of goals that decide more matches than 30-yard net-busters.
“I just tried to hit it as hard as I could and hope that it would go in,” Berardi said.
In a season where scoring goals has been a challenge for the Tigers, getting a match-decider such as Thursday’s was near-perfect as far as WW South was concerned.
“We got the ball in there – it was a second ball in – and we were a little bit more aggressive in trying to get to it,” WW South coach Guy Callipari said. “Unfortunately for the keeper, who had a pretty good game, you’re not going to get that from point blank range.”
The result is massive for WW South (6-8-2, 2-2-1 DVC) as it prepares for a difficult stretch of matches in the final two weeks of the season. Callipari was among those who wanted the match to have been played to its 80-minute conclusion.
“It’s bittersweet,” Callipari said. “You want to maintain the integrity of the game and you feel bad for the Naperville North kids that put in an honest effort this this evening and were perhaps at least deserving of a draw. But there are some things we can’t control and we’re very happy to have taken advantage of the situation when we did.”
Count Naperville North coach Steve Goletz as one who also would have preferred to finish the match. Persistent lightning sightings continued past 8:30, which was when the match was ended. Shortly after, a strong storm passed the area.
“It’s one of those things when you’re playing a DVC game against Wheaton Warrenville South, who we always love to play against, and to not be able to finish it out,” Goletz said.
Although Naperville North (8-3-1, 3-2) had a slight edge in chances and found spaces in the attacking third of the field, the Huskies struggled to put strong shots on goal.
“I don’t think today was our best game,” Goletz said. “I think the guys would be honest with themselves and they would definitely say that we weren’t sharp tonight. It showed at times in our inability to keep the ball and our lack of being able to generate chances. Against a team like Wheaton Warrenville South, you can’t have those off nights.”
The goal came after the best end-to-end period of the match in a contest that was evenly-balanced for most of the hour that was played before the match was stopped.
“It was pretty open there at the start of the second half and I talked to the guys about trying to be better on the ball and trying to dictate some of the play,” Goletz said. “I felt at the start of the second half, we came out with a little bit of spark – but credit to (WW South) for putting one away.”
That left the stage set for Berardi to decide the match with his goal just before the weather became the key arbiter in the evening’s events.
“To their credit, they came out and probably had the better of play,” Goletz said. “They generated some chances to score and put away a restart and that’s why we always say you’ve got to be focused from Minute One. You never know what can happen.”
Berardi scoring the only goal in the match took nothing away from his defensive work. Playing as a defensive midfielder just in front of central defenders Joe Spera and Mike Stelletello, Berardi came up time and again with key tackles.
“He’s in more of a defensive role now,” Callipari said. “We’ve had him up top. Outside of today and our last game, he’s been our striker. He’s comfortable there, but I think he’s more, by nature, a defender. So we decided to hone in on each other’s strengths and to see where that was going to take us.”
“With (Spera) just coming off surgery, he’s capable, but I didn’t want him under that much pressure in those environments,” Callipari said. “With (Berardi) there, (Spera) avoids a lot of the long runs because (Berardi’s) the natural barrier. With (Stelletello) back there as well, they form a triangle, and that’s fortified the defense. There’s no question about it. They are aggressive in getting the ball and that makes us look better.”
Despite its Wednesday loss to Lake Park, Callipari said that match combined with the Naperville North contest represented the best two-match period of the season for the Tigers.
“I think we’re going the right direction,” Callipari said. “To have six wins and have only scored 10 goals – one by a forfeit and one by a postponement – maybe there’s a little divine intervention going on. But we’ll take it. It’s all positive in nature and I think the guys are positive about where we’re going.”
“We have St. Charles East on the docket, so we’ll be tested,” Callipari said. “We have Wheaton Academy – there – for the Wheaton Cup on a Saturday night. So that’ll be a lot of fun. We still have Glenbard North in the conference, and they’re fourth in our sectional and they’ve played everybody tough. And that’s what we need. We need to be seasoned in preparation, hopefully, for a long run in the playoffs.”
Glenbard North is next for WW South, a 6:30 road match on Tuesday. The Tigers finish the season with five straight road contests.
“Since the beginning of the season, we’ve been building up,” Berardi said. “We’ve been getting better and better. In the last game (1-0 loss to Lake Park), we didn’t get the result that we wanted. But we just built off that today and got the win.”
Among the players who were influential on Thursday in Naperville North’s attack were Chris Ensign and Marek Jurkiewicz. Ensign is dangerous in a number of ways: he can perform a strong flip throw-in, can pass the ball and is dangerous creating shots for himself as well as others.
“(Ensign) has been very good for us this year,” Goletz said. “He’s held the ball for us up top and he’s been a target for us and he’s generated chances for us. We need that from him and we’re going to continue to need that from him. It’s just a matter of getting some guys in synch off of that.”
At one point late in the first half, Ensign and Jurkiewicz entered the match together and the Huskies immediately began to create chances.
“I thought (Jurkiewicz) played a good game tonight,” Goletz said. “Normally he plays outside mid and we threw him up top for a little bit to try it out and I thought he did a great job. That’s one thing about the guys. They’re always willing to work and to try to improve and they’re very coachable.”
But as the match progressed, the Huskies found clear chances on goal difficult to generate, and Goletz said the Tigers defense had much to do with that.
“Obviously (Callipari) is very organized in the back,” Goletz said. “I thought that we had some space out wide and we were trying to get it out wide and get it back to the middle and switch quickly – and that’s how you kind of stretch a defense. You want to make them shift, and I don’t think we found Zach Peterson, our attacking mid. He does an excellent job of doing that. We were just a little out of synch tonight.”
Wesley Wong, a central defender for the Huskies, moved forward for a number of set piece plays, and got free headers as a result. A tall, aggressive player, Wong forced saves and troubled the Tigers’ defense.
“He did a good job of getting on the end of one there, and I thought he was going to put it in,” Goletz said. “He didn’t get enough on it, but he was there in the right spot. He’s dangerous in the air and we’re going to need that as we go forward. He gives us everything he has and he battles every game.”
Sectional seedings have been turned in and determined and the IHSA playoff brackets will be released on Friday. But there is still much for the Huskies to play for as they head to Downers Grove South for a 2 p.m. Saturday match. There are also still two DVC matches left, including the annual match with Naperville Central. Beyond that, there are other things Goletz would like to see his team work on before the tournament starts.
“I think we need to play more consistently,” Goletz said. “I think that’s first and foremost, especially offensively. I think defensively, we’ve been very good this year and we’ve limited chances for teams to score in the run of play. But offensively, we’ve got to do a better job of being connected as a group of six, from our center midfielder to our outside mids to the two guys up top. We’ve got to be better on the ball individually, which allows us time on the ball, and a lot of that falls on me as a coach and a lot of that falls on the boys to be better technically, make the right decisions.”