NORTHFIELD -- The Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic is one of the top in-season tournaments in the state. With half the field ranked in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, navigating through the gauntlet of teams to the championship game is an achievement in itself.
Both Evanston (8-1-1) and Lyons (10-0-0) earned their second appearance in the title game. The Lions made it to last year’s championship against Loyola, but the teams were declared co-champs due to weather and then scheduling conflicts. Evanston lost 1-0 to Glenbrook South in the second edition in 2018.
After its 4-1 win Saturday, no. 3 Lyons finally got a chance to celebrate a Malnati’s title.
“It's fantastic,” Lyons manager Bill Lanspeary said. “They're a special group. They worked. They worked really hard, and we had a tough week. I mean, Glenbrook South, Lake Forest, Loyola, New Trier. Back-to-back-to-back against all these tough teams and continue to play the way we're playing. It's unbelievable. Fantastic.”
“I think we've learned where our strengths are,” Lion Katie O’Malley said. “I feel like we're known a lot to have strong forwards. But I think our defense also showed itself to be strong and kept it connected throughout the back to keep us with the possession.
“I also think playing these teams now is going to help us with our conference games coming up.”
The Lions, coming off their of a win over then fifth-ranked New Trier in the semifinals, got out of the gate quickly, scoring two goals in the first eight minutes and setting the tone for the game.
Defender Caroline McKenna got the Lions on the board 5 minutes, 55 seconds into the game when she slotted a ball home courtesy of senior forward O’Malley.
O’Malley got into the scoring action just three minutes later when she took a pass from Avery Wengerd for a 2-0 lead.
“I think it helps with our confidence to score really early on,” O’Malley said. “If we can score now, we can just keep going. I think we got up on our half of the field a lot more.
“And then it just got us to connect more, switch the field and keep the ball so we can go to goal.”
Being down 2-0 within the game’s first eight minutes can deflate any team, but then seventh-ranked Evanston had been down before, so the Wildkits weren’t rattled.
“I think this season, we've kind of gotten used to being down and pushing, pushing back after that, because we've been down 1-0 a few times,” Evanston’s LIly Shure said. “But I just think we're playing a little too frantically and not having enough confidence in ourselves and what we've been able to do in the past.
“I think, yeah, it was just a little discouraging. But then in the second half, we came out for energy. And I mean, we've scored a lot of goals within like a short amount of time this season. We knew we were still in it, and we can make it a close game.”
The Wildkits did apply some pressure, but it didn’t prevent Lyons from building its lead. In the 31st minute, Zibby Michaelson put in a ball from right in front of the net off of a pass from Caroline Mortonson.
Mortonson, who seemed to be all over the field causing havoc, took the ball down the left sideline. It looked as if she tripped over the ball while battling a Wildkits defender, fought through it and drove to the direct left of the net before passing the ball to Michaelson.
Going down the sideline and crossing over is something that Mortonson says the team practices often.
“I feel like we’re really dangerous when we drive to the end line, because we have people crashing the box,” she said. “I feel like our outside forwards and all of our forwards work to get in the middle, because our midfielders and everyone who's running are really good at finishing and placing them in the right spots.”
Down 3-0 going into halftime wasn’t where Evanston wanted to be, but the team knew that there was still a lot of time to get back into the game.
The Wilkdits looked like a different team coming out of the break and put a shot just wide minutes into the half and earned a free kick to put pressure on the Lyons. They also formulated a strategy to slow down their opponents.
“At halftime, we talked a little bit about forcing them inside, because they're really dangerous when they could get down the line and cross it, especially number nine (O’Malley),” Shure said. “We were trying to force her into the middle where we had more players, and it was easier to slow it down so we can get our players back.
“I think in the first half, they were just attacking so much that by the time we actually won the ball there was nobody up for us to play the ball to.”
Adriana Merriam and Jocelyn Leigh put pressure on the Lyons goal in the second half, forcing Lyons’ keeper to make multiple saves to keep the Evanston off the board.
The Wildkits were finally able to break through when senior Shure put the ball past Sara Schinker, Lyons second half keeper, with 17:04 remaining. Nora Ezike started the game.
“I was kind of in the right place at the right time,” Shure said. “Sydney went to finish it but there was a player from Lyons and the goalie right there. It kind of just fell to me. I tried to lift it up, because the goalie was on the ground.”
The goal, the first against Lyons this season, gave Evanston hope for a comeback.
“To get a goal in the second half showed the girls that they can do it,” Evanston manager Stacy Salgado said. “We missed a few chances early, which I think could have really changed the flow of the game.
“What I love about this team is they don't give up. They like to compete -- regardless of the score or outcome. That mindset is exactly what we need going forward."
Though ended, Lyons clean-sheet streak through its first nine games was especially impressive given the team rotates goalies. Each has nearly the same amount of minutes played through 10 games.
That hasn’t affected the Lions' performance their manager said.
“We have faith in both keepers. The team just knows everybody's just going to do their job. They don't do anything but their job, and they know that our keepers are gonna do their job,” Lanspeary said. “The keepers rely on the players in front of them. They communicate with them and do a nice job.”
Freshman Carolina Capizzi capped the game’s scoring nearly exactly two minutes after the Evanston goal on an unassisted tally.
Both teams’ managers are happy with how their teams are coming out of the tournament as they prepare for some big tournaments and their conference seasons.
Evanston takes part in the Tournament of Champions in Iowa later this month; Lyons enters the Naperville Invitational later this week.
The tough tournament run, the teams played five games in eight days, will require some recovery time.
“It was a tough week physically and mentally for the girls -- so much great competition in such a short time, for all the teams really,” Salgado said. “Having to stay locked in for so many minutes in a row is a challenge. There were so many things we wanted to build and work on as a team after a game, and not having time for practice made it difficult.
“We were able to play top teams early in the season which we can build upon as we move into conference play and playoffs. I like this tournament, because we see teams we don't typically see in the regular-season but could face down the road. It's a great check-in for us. Although we didn't have our best game at the end, which happens, I am proud of the girls for getting themselves there.”
GK: Nora Ezike
D: Caroline McKenna
D: Chandlar Lay
D: Izzi Wirtz
D: Avery Wengerd
D: Brennan Israel
MF: Josie Pochocki
MF: Carolina Capizzi
F: Niamh Griffin
F: Caroline Mortonson
F: Katie O’Malley
GK: Ariel Kite
D: Anna Bergmann
D: Molly Riley
D: Jordin Kadiri
D: Madeline Bell
MF: Sydney ross
MF: Mia Darer
MF: Shayna Da Silva
MF: Lily Shure
MF: Adriana Merriam
F: Jocelyn Leigh
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Katie O’Malley, sr., F, Lyons
L: Caroline McKenna (Katie O’Malley), 6th minute
L: O’Malley (Avery Wengerd), 9th minute
L: Zibby Michaelson (Caroline Mortonson), 30th minute
Evanston - Lily Shure (unassisted), 63rd minute
Lyons - Carolina Capizzi (unassisted), 65th minute