GK Pereckas, defense lead West Chicago
to scoreless draw with Glenbard South
Wildcats break 4-game losing streak with promising effort
By Curt Herron
GLEN ELLYN -- When a team that's scored just once in its last five matches plays on the road against a squad that collected 16 goals in its previous five outings, it's usually a pretty good bet that there won't be very much drama in the game.
That's the scenario that West Chicago faced Monday when it played an Upstate Eight Conference match at Glenbard South. But despite the records and recent performances, there definitely was a whole lot of intrigue throughout the entire 80 minutes.
When the two sides walked off the field after braving cold and windy conditions which featured snow at times, neither side was been able to connect despite several good opportunities for each. West Chicago walked off the field in an upbeat mood about the scoreless draw with the host Raiders.
Part of West Chicago's success in its third draw of the season came via a pair of sophomores who were recognized by coach J. Cesar Gomez as his players of the match: goalie Heidi Pereckas; and defender Leslie Garnica.
Pereckas, who has stepped in at goalie the past few matches despite no prior experience, fended off everything that came her way. That included a flurry of good scoring chances from Glenbard South's top two goal-scorers: freshman Annika Wise; and sophomore Lauren Price.
The Wildcats defense, featuring senior Isabella Lopez, juniors Nicole Murphy and Lizbeth Orozco and Garnica limited the Raiders by forcing several long attempts and disrupting passes which could have set up chances much closer to the net.
The draw snapped a four-game West Chicago losing streak.
"We've been telling them for a long time that our game is a possession game," Gomez said. "But we panic right away, especially when they score a goal on us, and we tend to go a different route.
“But we finally convinced them that our game is to possess the ball and don't let the scoreboard control your heads. Do what we do best. I thought that this was a very good game against a good team. We're very happy with the progress that we've had, and there are a lot of games left.
"We have Heidi, who's not a goalie but she likes being there, and she's just reading the game. Leslie is very shrewd of what's going on and defends well, and they both did a good job.
“And everyone on the defense was clicking. Isabella played the whole time even though she was hurt a little bit. On the other side, Nicole is just playing big now with her speed and just reading the game well; she's also in her first year on defense. This is just what we were looking for."
While the opening half was fairly even in good shot attempts, the Raiders (4-3-3, 2-1-1) definitely had more threatening opportunities in the second half. Price had at least half a dozen good chances during the last 40 minutes, with half of those being free kicks.
The host’s Emma Seaman bounced one off of the crossbar shortly after the break, and Pereckas also hauled in good tries by Sophia Hoerdemann, Ellie Anderson, Brooklyn Moore and Wise.
West Chicago (0-7-3, 0-3-2) had three good chances early in the final half. Jenna Zeitoun had a shot stopped by a defender; Natalie Fernandez and Sydney Ostapa were both thwarted by Raiders sophomore goalie Sofia Alcala. Later in the half, the Wildcats threatened after Arizbeth Zuniga was stopped following a long run, but Zeitoun had an attempt cleared by a defender.
"It was really nice to have a 0-0 game today," Pereckas said. "We did play really hard, and I'm really proud of us as a team, because we've been struggling a lot in our recent games and the scores has shown that.
“And even though we didn't win this game, it definitely is a win for us, because we played a lot better. We figured out what we need to do that's better. We're definitely seeing progress, which is really good, and I'm excited for this team for later.
"I think I've played five games in goal, and I've never trained as a goalie. It's just come naturally.
“I've always played field my whole life, so I'm really proud of myself for being able to step up when I was put in a position that I had never played before but am still able to execute it pretty well.
“We definitely have such a good bond together. We love each other so much, and we hang out after practices. We have so much fun during practices, and there's no drama. It's really just a good group and we're all friends, which makes the chemistry when we play a lot better."
In the opening half, the Wildcats received good scoring chances from Daisy Garcia, Fernandez, Zeitoun and Ostapa. The hosts countered with multiple threats from Wise while Price and Seaman were denied early in the half, and Paige Kennedy was turned away by Pereckas twice shortly before halftime.
Considering that West Chicago had allowed 20 goals during its last four matches and had only had one other match where it had given up less than two goals, a scoreless draw against Wheaton Academy on April 4, the scoreless tie against the Raiders was a big boost to the team.
Glenbard South had scored in each of its last five outings after getting shut out in three of its first four matches. In the recent stretch, it had outscored its opponents by a 16-3 margin.
That put another feather in West Chicago’s cap.
" We did a really good job," Garnica said. "We didn't stop, and we kept going even though it was a 0-0 game. We put all of our effort into it, so I'm really proud of the girls today.
“Even though our scores haven't been as good as this, we still try our best and don't give up and play the full 80 minutes and we keep going.
"The scores don't matter, what matters is that we always try and give it our all. I like the bonds that we've created this year, and I really like that we are really close this year. And us trusting each other in the field is what really matters the most."
Beside the final score, both teams are similar in the makeup of their rosters, which feature a lot of young players. The Wildcats and Raiders each have just three seniors to go along with eight freshmen and sophomores.
That's why it should come as no surprise that it’s taken the teams a bit longer to come together.
Glenbard South coach Kevin Berner is pleased with how well his squad has performed thus far.
"I've always been impressed with West Chicago, they're well-coached. and they are much better than their record indicates. I was very impressed by their defensive play tonight," Berner said. "We've got a great attack, and I told coach at the end of the game that they stopped one of my better attacks. We've been scoring a lot of goals this year and are having fun doing it, but we do struggle some times to find the back of the net.
"We've proven to ourselves and to our opponents that we will have plenty of shots, it's just a matter of whether or not those shots are going to find the net. Even though we are young, I love the senior leadership I'm getting from Ellie Anderson, at the top as our target forward, and really everything goes through her.
“We're getting really good goalkeeper play again this year out of sophomore Sofia Alcala. She's been phenomenal and a rock back there. I don't want to take anything from our defense, which has been playing well this year with five clean-sheets. But it's really our attack that has looked the most impressive at times, and now it's just a matter of making sure that their chemistry is there."
West Chicago returns to Upstate Eight play on Wednesday when it hosts Glenbard East, which is contending for the top spot in the conference with Bartlett, Elgin and South Elgin in the early going.
G Heidi Pereckas
D Leslie Garnica
D Nicole Murphy
D Lizbeth Orozco
D Isabella Lopez
M Melissa Pani
M Natalie Fernandez
M Daisy Garcia
M Arizbeth Zuniga
F Jenna Zeitoun
F Sydney Ostapa
G Sofia Alcala
D Madeline Sebahar
D Emma Seaman
D Madelyn Weber
D Abby Bergmann
M Paige Kennedy
M Olivia Weber
M Brooklyn Moore
F Ellie Anderson
F Annika Wise
F Lauren Price
Chicagoland Soccer Players of the Match
Heidi Pereckas, so., GK, West Chicago
Leslie Garnica, so., D, West Chicago