DOWNERS GROVE — Making her varsity debut as a precocious freshman a year ago, Caroline Mortonson scored a goal in the opening minutes.
It was a prelude of great things to come. The nervy, composed midfielder showed a flair and presence.
Now she has company, and Lyons looks like an offensive powerhouse more capable and dangerous than ever. The names of the two young talents are not just similar.
So are their games.
Lyons’ freshman midfielder Carolina Capizzi scored two goals as the Lions, ranked no. 4 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, dominated Downers Grove South 3-0 on a blustery and breezy Tuesday.
“This kind of experience and early success has really boosted my confidence,” Capizzi said.
“The other girls have been really great, and they are really fun to play with, on the field, and they are very encouraging off of it.”
Mortonson created the assist on Capizzi’s second goal with a beautiful looping cross the freshman hammered home on a half volley in the 55th minute.
“Last year we had a lot of really good midfielders, but I think we also do this year as well,” Mortonson said. “The new players on our team have been really good.”
Lyons (3-0-0) has been a buzzsaw through its first three games, scoring goals and posting three shutouts.
Dating to the team that finished fourth in Class 3A in 2019, the Lions have been an annihilating force defensively.
That team posted 12 shutouts, starting a defensive run that has been almost unmatched. Now the Lions are on a run the last two full years and the first week of the new season.
With two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater Izzy Lee, now a freshman at Illinois, Lyons had the state’s top keeper and built a ridiculous and virtually untouchable combined shutout string.
Two years ago, Lyons reached the Class state championship game after opening the season with 15-consecutive shutouts.
Lyons finished with 17 shutouts as the state runner-up.
Last year was more of the same, allowing just seven goals and posting shutouts in reaching a sectional championship.
Downers Grove South junior keeper Hannah Fedinec was the bright light for the Mustangs. As one-sided as the run of play was in favor of the Lions, her athleticism, reaction time and anticipation skills kept the Mustangs in the game.
She stopped a penalty kick by Katie O’Malley in the fourth minute, illustrating her tenacity and presence in the box. She was fantastic securing stops, a great many at point-blank range, that prevented the Lions from roaring even more.
Fedinec finished had 11 saves.
“I definitely like to play more off of my line,” Fedinec said. “I like those one-on-one moments, and I just tried to take away every opportunity there by cutting off an angle before they can get a shot off.”
Going up against one of the best teams in the state was a clear challenge. She rose to the occasion.
“I was definitely nervous beforehand,” she said. “I took a lot of time just calming myself down, and focusing during warmups to make sure that my reps were clean.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about how many good players they have, and what a good team they are. Even though they scored goals before they played us, that didn’t really mean anything. You have to go out and play your game.”
Lyons’ O’Malley, a Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List player from last season, has been lights out through the first week.
She had three goals and five assists in victories over Chicago Public League powers Young and Jones.
She took personally the way Fedinec denied her penalty kick.
“Missing that didn’t make me mad, but it definitely made me want to score even more,” O’Malley said.
“It also made me want to pass the ball around, since I didn’t do very well on my kick. I thought someone else might do better, and I could give them a better opportunity.”
Lyons has size, speed, quickness and athleticism in the attack. Midfielder Josie Pochocki is a stabilizing threat, a connector who makes the attack go.
Senior Niamh Griffin has been another early standout.
With her forays and pincer attacks at the goal, O’Malley delivers great cumulative pressure.
Sure enough, moments after the blocked penalty kick attempt, O’Malley had her moment. Getting inside the box from about six yards, her deflection took a weird ricochet for the first goal in the eighth minute.
“I think tonight, and so far this season, our passing and ability to switch the field and get movement off the ball have made our shots on goal really good,” O’Malley said.
The offense was been so electric and dominant possessing the ball, Downers Grove South had few opportunities to get into its offensive sets and actions.
Lyons defense has been less pronounced, but is available and ready when called on.
“I think our defense is holding that standard we always have,” O’Malley said. “We still have a strong defensive line, but I think our offensive line is almost better this year, and our midfield is able to create more chances.”
Downers Grove South sophomore defender Ashley Molinari had the harsh view. She and her backline mates were tasked with trying to slow down the Lyons’ attack.
“We knew going into the game that there was going to be a lot of pressure going forward,” she said.
“I just think staying tight, and talking, we did a really good job. There could have been a lot more goals, but we did a great job of communicating.”
Downers Grove South was also literally hamstrung. Its best offensive player, Chicagoland Soccer All-State forward Emily Petring, has been hampered early on from complications of a hamstring injury. She started, played sparingly and sat out the second half.
“There was no attack going on for us, just a big defensive game,” Molinari said.
Mustangs senior midfielder Grace Rappel saw positives in the competitive activity and the desire to play hard through adversity.
“This was just our second game, and I think going into the rest of the season, it is a great experience playing a great team like this,” she said.
“This game is going to help us, because I feel like we played really hard today, and we are going to keep that mentality going for the rest of the season.”
Lyons just had too many offensive options.
Capizzi took charge midway through the first half. She intercepted a ball, made a quick dance move to free herself, and blasted a left-footed ball from about 14 yards in the 22nd minute.
“The physicality and the speed of play to high school has been the biggest adjustment,” she said.
She earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP the Match honor for her excellent play.
“I’ve had a lot of experience playing up in club, and that is reflected in my play. I am just having to learn to step up my physicality and play harder.”
Mortonson knows what she is going through. The two mirror each other.
Now they get to play off one another.
“I think we do really well with our possession,” Mortonson said. “I feel we maintain the ball really well, and we are using everybody’s skills and being able to switch the field.”
Capizzi finished the scoring from about six yards after Mortonson’s cross in the 55th minute.
“This was our best game so far this year,” Lyons coach Bill Lanspeary said.
“Downers South is a terrific team, and they play fast and hard. They made our kids step up tonight, which was good to see.
“Right now, we are awfully dangerous in the middle and on top. The last few years I think our defense overshadowed our offense. So far, I think our offense is now overshadowing what our backline is capable of doing.”
Despite the loss, Downers Grove South saw reason for optimism from its toughness and tenacity withstanding the Lions’ pressure.
“It’s a challenge anytime you play a talented group like Lyons,” Mustangs’ coach Chris Hernandez said. “With Emily and her hamstring, we were missing a big part of our attack, and also our All-Sectional center back Teyani Sharkey.
“I thought in the first half we dug ourselves a hole by getting scored on in two situations that could have been avoided. I think collectively as a group we did a nice job in the second half. I was hoping we’d get one of those set pieces toward the end when we had that flurry, but it just didn’t happen for us today.”
GK: Nora Ezike
D: Caroline McKenna
D: Izzy Wirtz
D: Brennan Israel
D: Avery Wengerd
MF: Josie Pochocki
MF: Carolina Capizzi
MF: Niamh Griffin
MF: Caroline Mortonson
F: Chandlar Lay
F: Katie O’Malley
Downers Grove South
GK: Hannah Fedinec
D: Aubrey Molinari
D: Mallory Crowley
D: Micah Olson
D: Gabby Okuku
MF: Skylar Swanson
MF: Ashley Molinari
MF: Krystal Flores
MF: Grace Rappel
MF: Nuria Calderon
F: Emily Petring
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Carolina Capizzi, fr., MF, Lyons
Lyons—Katie O’Malley (unassisted), eighth minute
Lyons—Carolina Capizzi (unassisted), 22nd minute
Lyons—Capizzi (Caroline Mortonson), 55th minute