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Lay, Lyons defense never rest vs. Downers Grove North

By Bill Stone, 04/06/23, 10:15AM CDT


Lions remain unscored upon after 2-0 league win

DOWNERS GROVE -- Defending has become a highly-regarded expectation for Lyons.

For senior Chandlar Lay, this means being a central defender for the first time on the Lions’ traditionally stingy backline.

“Honestly, I feel like I like it a lot more. It’s a good fit,” said Lay, the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match. “I think there’s more communicating on defense. (Head coach Bill Lanspeary and assistant coach Andy Newcomb) have really been working on it with me to get better back there. They’re really helping me understand it a lot more.”

On Tuesday, there was added meaning for Lyons in the game at Downers Grove North. Besides goals to remain undefeated and unscored upon in the young season, it was the first step toward winning a sixth-straight West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship.

The result was a 2-0 victory that continued several themes for the Lions (5-0-0), the no. 4 team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25.

For one, it was Lyons 37th-consecutive league win. For another, freshman Carolina Capizzi and sophomore Caroline Mortonson once again scored goals in the first and second halves, respectively. The Lions held a 20-2 advantage in shots.

And Illinois State-bound senior Katie O’Malley notched another assist.

And after five games, the Lions have outscored opponents 17-0. Last season’s Class 3A sectional finalist allowed only seven goals against en route to a 20-2-0 record.

Downers Grove North (1-2-2) was held scoreless for a third-straight game.

After their 0-0 tie against Maine South on March 16, the Trojans lost the tiebreaker to the Hawks for the Elk Grove Invitational title. Downers Grove North fell to then 12th-ranked Naperville North 3-0 on March 21 before a 13-day break before Lyons came calling.

The Lions are ready for another big season.

“Winning conference is huge for us, because it just keeps the team very motivated,” said junior central defender Brennan Israel. ““It keeps a good start to the season, and it just brings the team so much happiness to play well and then take the win every single time (so far)."

Israel is the lone starter back on defense. Tuesday’s formation also featured juniors Caroline McKenna and Avery Wengerd on the outsides with juniors Jillian Herchenroether and Abby Brown relieving them.

Israel was a central defender last season with the graduated Katie Fulscher.

The goalies also are new. Sophomore Nora Ezike and senior Sara Schinker have replaced graduated standout Izzy Lee, now playing for Illinois. As usual, each played one half Tuesday; they combined for just one save.

“Our defense has really done a nice job. Their communication has gotten a lot better from the beginning of the season,” Lanspeary said. “They’re just getting more comfortable with each other. And not only our backs, but our midfielders and forwards do a nice job of pressuring and keeping the ball for us, too.”

Lay had five goals and three assists as a midfielder last season but began playing some defense last fall. That became an even better option after she tore an MCL and returned to action in February.

“I told (Lanspeary) that I feel more comfortable playing center back so if he could see how I looked there. Then he told me it’s a good fit,” Lay said.

“She’s done a nice job back there,” Lanspeary said. “She and Brennan seem to be developing a pretty nice chemistry. So far so good.”

Israel added that the two also have a strong friendship outside of school and that has hastened their rapport and teamwork.

“I feel like already we’ve already had chemistry, because we played together in the field last year,” Israel said. “We’ve been talking a lot more, and we have been trying to move the ball smoothly from the back to get some good chances at the goal.”

Even with the Lions’ clear domination in possession time, scoring was not easy against Downers Grove North -- as Lanspeary expected. The game was played almost exactly a year to the day (April 5, 2022) the Lions needed an overtime goal by current junior Josie Pochocki to prevail 1-0 and avoid going to penalty kicks to decide the winner.

So far this season, the hosts have had trouble generating offense regardless the foe.

Downers Grove North has three goals that came in a win over Elk Grove 2-0 and a 1-1 tie against Maine West in their first two outings, both in the Elk Grove Invitational.

“I think we have a lot of good ideas,” Downers North senior co-captain and regular midfielder turned defender Ellie Watts said. “We need to work on finishing in front of the goal and scoring more. That’s our one fault right now, but we’ll get there.

“I think we all worked hard (Tuesday). We put our heart on the field. It’s obviously a hard matchup. They’re a great team, but it’s a learning experience. We’ve not had a ton of practice. The weather’s been bad. We left it all out there. That’s all you can ask for, really.”

For the first time this season, Downers Grove North coach Brian Papa returned to a four-player defensive line. When Naperville North used a three-forward offense to defeat the Trojans 3-0 in their previous game, Papa said he realized he needed to switch back.

“We weren’t able to handle that (with Naperville North). We really lost possession and everything,” Papa said.

“We’ve been switching around the defense,” added senior defender and co-captain Katelyn Hennelly. “I feel like it’s been tough, putting the pieces together, but it’s getting there for sure.”

Lyons used just two forwards, starters Mortonson and Niahm Griffin. O’Malley also was prevalent in the attack, most often with electric runs along the left side of the field.

One of them finally got the Lions on the board at 35:34. Capizzi initiated the scoring play from the center of the field with a pass to Pochocki, who then fed O’Malley along the left side. O’Malley’s blast was thwarted by Downers Grove North goalie Elizabeth Reilly (7 saves), but the ball squirted loose; and Capizzi converted the rebound.

Capizzi now leads the team with four goals.

“I was just trying to make as many runs as I could into the box,” Capizzi said. “I had a feeling that the goalie might bobble the ball, because she did that one time, and I didn’t challenge it. So, I made sure to try and challenge the ball.”

“O’Malley made a heck of a play and (Capizzi) was there to finish it,” Lanspeary added. “She’s done that a number of times where she’s off the ball and reads the game well and puts herself in a good spot to finish.”

Downers Grove North thwarted several potential threats from the Lions’ speed by creating offside traps.

“I played center back for the first half. I don’t usually play there, but I’m big on the offsides line,” Watts said. “But we don’t practice it often. Once we all decide to step and hold the line, we do; and we’ll catch them.” 

Lyons had additional offensive frustrations with two second half shots off the crossbar. In the 52nd minute, Mortonson passed to the top of the box and O’Malley fired a left-footed blast that shook the middle of the crossbar. Freshman Zibby Michaelson also struck the bar in the 61st minute after Peyton Israel hustled to keep the ball from crossing the end line and quickly crossed.

“We played a lot of defense, and I think we did really well,” said Downers Grove North’s Watts. “But obviously when you’re defending for 70 percent of the game, they’re going to get more chances. And they’re going to capitalize on one of them.”

Lyons finally found breathing room with 8:15 to play. Mortonson took a pass from O’Malley along left wing and delivered a dart into the upper-right corner of the net. 

It was the second goal this season for Mortonson, who last season was among the Lions’ top scorers with 11 goals and eight assists. O’Malley (10 goals, 5 assists in 2022) now has a team-best six assists along with two goals.

“As long as we’re generating chances, like we did today, good things will happen. You get worried when you’re not generating those,” Lanspeary said.

Capizzi even joined the act defensively. With the Lions still holding their one-goal lead in the 43rd minute, Downers Grove North senior Kailyn Ziroli took the Trojans’ lone second half corner kick from the right corner.

It was a good one that forced Capizzi, guarding the near post, to poke the crease-intended serve straight into the air with her head. Schinker grabbed the ball and ended the threat.

“I actually kind of lost the ball in the sky. But I still tried to head it,” Capizzi said. “I was like, ‘We’re not getting scored on. It’s really important for me to win the ball.’” 

Downers Grove North’s only shot on goal was a solid, 38-yard free kick by Ziroli that Ezike saved off the skip in the 25th minute.

“They had the possession time, because we kept turning the ball over. They kept countering on us and when you’re playing defense 60, 70 percent of the time, you’re just going to break once in a while,” Papa said.
“If we connect passes, they have to play defense. What we were doing was trying to make that extra pass. We were trying to go long a little too much, bypassing the midfield. Our midfield has to start connecting passes. Then you’re going to see results on offense. That’s a work in progress.”

Starting lineups

GK: Nora Ezike
D: Caroline McKenna
D: Chandlar Lay
D: Brennan Israel
D: Avery Wengerd
MF: Josie Pochocki
MF: Carolina Capizzi
MF: Izzy Wirtz
MF: Katie O’Malley
F: Caroline Mortonson
F: Niahm Griffin

Downers Grove North
GK: Elizabeth Reilly
D: Katelyn Hennelly
D: Kailyn Ziroli
D: Ellie Watts
D: Caroline Siebert
MF: Lexi Keown
MF: Addison Liszka
MF: Sophia Patrey
MF: Annika Isacson
F: Kaitlyn Parker
F: Kate Goray

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Chandlar Lay, sr., D, Lyons

Scoring summary

First half
Lyons: Carolina Capizzi (unassisted) 35:34 

Second half
Lyons: Caroline Mortonson (Katie O’Malley) 71:45