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St. Charles East forwards wear down Oak Park and River Forest

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 04/02/23, 8:15AM CDT


Saints stay perfect, score last 3 goals for 5-2 win

OAK PARK — The term triple option refers to an American football offense designed to fool defenses with multiple rushing choices.

St. Charles East has a futbol scoring-equivalent with the devastating three-forward attack of Ella Stehman and Mia Raschke on the outside and Grace Williams in the center.

Few teams have the size, athleticism and speed to slow the trio down.

The scary part for future opponents is that they are only improving.

“I think we are all willing to take hits for each other, … and I think we really work together really well,” Williams said. “It has definitely helped that it’s the same three. So, now we are just super comfortable playing together.”

Oak Park and River Forest fought admirably and tenaciously. The hosts pulled even with the Saints at 2-2 in the 52nd minute.

“I was impressed that we didn’t give up,” Huskies’ midfielder Cate Ryan said. “I feel that is one of the strengths that we never put our heads down over the score.”

However, the math favored St. Charles East with its multiple options, assaultive attack and sustained ability to create pressure. Eventually Oak Park and River Forest wore down.

Raschke scored a brace in the first 10 minutes, and Williams added a goal and assist as the Fighting Saints, ranked sixth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, posted a 5-2 road victory Saturday morning in front of a crowd of about 150.

St. Charles East (7-0-0) now has a 25-5 goal differential.

Oak Park and River Forest (1-2-0) suffered its second-consecutive defeat after an season-opening 2-1 win over cross-town rival Fenwick. 

The Huskies pulled even with St. Charles East in the 52nd minute after a goal by midfielder Gweny Lopez off a beautiful scoring sequence with Ryan.

But the visitors went on to conclude a 3-0-0 week, that included shutout victories over Burlington Central and at Notre Dame (Peoria), by registering the final three goals.

To underscore St. Charles East’s strength, versatility and scoring prowess: 10 different players have scored a goal season; and 11 have recorded an assist.

Playing at right forward, Raschke scored in the second and 10th minutes, taking advantage of her speed and quickness to get on the outside edge.

“I think when we get the ball in the middle, I feel like we all just want to press up from the start and get the other team almost scared,” Raschke said.

Williams assisted the first goal; midfielder Alli Saviano provided a follow-up helper.

On the first tally, Raschke effectively scored into an open net from about three yards in the second minute.

Then working off a beautiful center ball from Saviano, she drilled home the game’s second goal from about 12 yards in minute no. 10.

Playing its first game in nine days, Oak Park and River Forest showed guts and a steely composure.

Following the early first goal, the Huskies immediately worked the ball into the box, and Lopez nearly scored from about nine yards.

“I think everyone was a little nervous coming into the game, because we knew that this team was going to be really good; and we’re still pretty early in our season,” Lopez said.

“Every game is going to be a mental challenge, and we have to show that resilience and know how to pick ourselves up after they score. That’s what the game is all about, how do you pick your team up and how do you keep up the energy and the intensity.”

Oak Park and River Forest responded impressively in the aftermath of the second Raschke goal.

In the 12th minute, forward Kiki Lemon broke free down the left edge on a counter and delivered a beautiful ball off movement to the cutting Ryan on the right edge.

Ryan slipped a defender, and smashed home a clean shot from about 13 yards that narrowed the margin.

“This was the first time we played them, so coming into the game, we had the mindset of just playing our game,” Huskies’ coach Christine Johnston said.

“We’ve worked really hard in our last couple of practices. It’s hard to bounce back when you’re down right away 2-0. But … we are learning new things, learning every day and growing as a team.”

Oak Park and River Forest moved through the balance of the first half with toughness and grit, and kept the Saints’ attack off the board.

That momentum carried into the start of the second half. Ryan and Lopez showed excellent control and quickness in the middle of the attack.

Keira Kleidon and Lemon also got deep into the box, challenging gifted sophomore keeper Sidney Lazenby several times.

St. Charles East’s high-pressure, high-risk style sometimes comes back to haunt it. Oak Park and River Forest made them pay in the 52nd minute. Ryan broke free and slotted the ball to the jetting Lopez on the left wing.

Lopez forged a tie with a sharp shot from about nine yards.

“We have been playing with the same team for a long time, since we were like years old. We also play on the same club together,” Ryan said.

“This is my last year, and I just want to go out there and play my heart out. This is just our third game, and now we have to start stepping up and hopefully start winning some games.”

As good as Williams and Raschke were at the front of the St. Charles East formation, midfielder Kara Machala was the lynchpin for the Saints.

Her playmaking, shot-creation and ability on set pieces effectively turned the game in the Fighting Saints favor.

After Ryan, Gomez, Lemon and Kleidon brought Oak Park and River Forest back to even, the relief was brief.

Soon after the equalizer, Machala hammered a ball off a free kick from the 25-yard line that forced keeper Jackie Bolinger to make a spectacular deflection.

On the ensuing corner from the left edge, Machala crafted a beautiful looping ball that rangy and dynamic defender Mackenzie Loomis timed perfectly in the 55th minute.

Her run coincided with the ball’s arrival at the mouth of the goal, and suddenly the Fighting Saints were back in front.

“I know Loomis. She’s tall; she’s strong; and she can definitely hit the ball,” Machala said. 

“We were talking before, and I said I am going to hit your head and just knock it in. She got it in.”

Machala earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for her outstanding play.

The Northern Illinois recruit controlled the action, established the crucial forward pace and distributed the ball beautifully.

She put the game out of reach in the 70th minute, playing a ball in space that Williams controlled, then blasted home from about 16 yards for her team-best seventh goal.

Williams also owns three assists. Raschke has six goals and two assists.

“We knew from the start whether it was one goal or two, we were going to need to score,” Williams said.

“Once you get one, you are going to get another one, and we just talked about responding to their goals. Unfortunately, we didn’t respond after their first goal, but we showed perseverance, and I think our fitness level also showed.”

Machala and midfielder Tia Bernstein are tied for the team lead in assists with four apiece.

Bernstein set up the final goal. It was the first in the varsity career of freshman midfielder Payton Rivard, whose blast from 22 yards curled beautifully past the reach of Bolinger in the 76th minute.

“It’s amazing being able to play with so many great forwards. … That really helps out our team,” Machala said.

Bolinger acquitted herself quite well in net for Oak Park and River Forest. The junior showed excellent timing, good reactions and a solid presence on her line; she stood up to the near-constant pressure the Saints created and posted nine saves.

The Huskies scored the most goals in a game this season against St. Charles East and broke its three-game shutout run. 

“I think coming back from spring break is a tough time for any team,” Johnston said. “We had players missing, and some players coming back from vacation. 

“Now we are just looking at coming back together, rebuilding and figuring out what works and get back into our groove. Now we can figure out who’s jelling together, and just go to work.”

Starting lineups

St. Charles East
GK: Sidney Lazenby
D: Amanda Stepien
D: Mackenzie Loomis
D: Lauren Silvestri
MF: Georggia Desario
MF: Alli Saviano
MF: Kara Machala
MF: Tia Bernstein
F: Ella Stehman
F: Grace Williams
F: Mia Raschke

Oak Park and River Forest
GK: Jackie Bolinger
D: Kylie Houghton
D: Tess Wright
D: Isabella Kalina
D: Bella Amunategui
MF: Gweny Lopez
MF: Cate Ryan
MF: Abby Cockerill
MF: Addison Bliss
F: Keira Kleidon
F: Kiki Lemon

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Kara Machala, sr., MF, St. Charles East

Scoring summary

First half
St. Charles East—Mia Raschke (Grace Williams), second minute
St. Charles East—Raschke (Alli Saviano), 10th minute
OPRF—Cate Ryan (Kiki Lemon), 12th minute

Second half
OPRF—Gweny Lopez (Ryan), 52nd minute
St. Charles East—Mackenzie Loomis (Kara Machala), 55th minute
St. Charles East—Williams (Machala), 70th minute
St. Charles East—Payton Rivard (Tia Bernstein), 76th minute