CHICAGO — With one tantalizing and exhilarating soccer moment, Mia McRoberts and Caroline Rondelli vanquished the ghosts.
The two Jones seniors have been together for three soccer seasons and have much to rejoice in, like qualifying for the city tournament semifinals the last two seasons.
One glaring hole in their resume was beating magnet rival Young.
“It feels like sometimes people look down on us, and now are proving that we can actually be changed and strive to be a team that people are actually afraid to play,” Rondelli said.
A Rondelli flick set up a beautiful hammer-hit from McRoberts in the 52nd minute for the 2-1 Jones victory in Chicago Public league Premier Division South play Wednesday afternoon in Chinatown.
Jones (8-4-0, 3-0-0) won for the eighth time in its last nine games.
In the newly bifurcated Premier Division, the Eagles earned the clear advantage for the regular-season title in the South.
“This was not our best game, but we showed grit. We wanted the ball, and we wanted to win,” Rondelli said.
McRoberts' game-winner was her fourth goal of the year. Rondelli assisted both of the Eagles’ goals.
The Chiagoland Soccer All-State midfielder has a team-best 17 goals and nine assists.
She propelled the Eagles to the quick start by playing a through-ball in space that quick and dynamic freshman Aiyana Wright, who fought off Young’s standout center back Ainsley Christensen for control.
Wright converted for her 14th goal in the sixth minute from eight yards.
“That was really tough, a real battle because she is older and stronger than me,” Wright said. “I was just trying to beat her to the ball.”
Unshaken by the early deficit, Young (3-6-1, 2-1-0) controlled much of the action for the next 20 minutes.
The Dolphins have some brilliant and terrific young talent at the top of the formation with emerging players such as forward Cassie Schumacher.
She has come on significantly in the last two weeks of the season. With another standout sophomore, forward Moira Koleno, the Dolphins combined well and moved the ball sharply in space.
Midfielder Lauren Roche is the Dolphins’ set piece and free kick specialist. She optimizes the scoring attack with her lethal accuracy.
She created several strong chances in the first half.
“I think we responded very well to their early score, and getting a goal back,” Roche said. “I am super proud of Moira for how she played and her effort.
“I think we controlled the game throughout with our passing and possession, and we showed who was the better team. We played really well I think, but that’s a game we know we can do better in.”
The Young build up and cumulative pressure delivered in the 18th minute. Koleno ran free on the right edge and smashed a shot ball from about nine yards.
The ball ricocheted off the near post, allowing a textbook rebound ball by junior forward Evelyn Vaughn for the equalizer.
For about the last 15 minutes of the first half, the game evened out into a classic back and forth affair. Each side generated compelling chances and moved the ball well in space.
Rondelli, who is very skilled, physical and dynamic with the ball at her feet, pushed forward into space for players like Wright, McRoberts and Caroline Patterson.
Young countered with its quickness and mobility at the top of the formation.
Koleno has grown quickly and decisively into a natural leader, the byproduct of growing up with and playing with her older sisters, twins Ella and Sydney Koleno, four-year stars who were part of the graduation exodus of the Dolphins’ senior talent.
The older Koleno sisters bedeviled the Eagles after Young won both meetings last year, including 3-1 in the city semifinal.
“I think that we had a good first half, but the second was not super strong,” Roche said.
“I think what’s holding us back is still trying to figure out our best front three. I was frustrated with the team and the performance today, just because I know we can do better.”
Each team employs young keepers, freshman Ruby Miller for the Eagles, and the Dolphins’ sophomore Marcela Matallana. Young’s standout last year, Zoe Adelstein, is recovering from hip surgery.
The young keepers played well. Miller had five saves, and Matallana collected four.
Jones seized control off a throw-in on the left edge. It yielded the flick by Rondelli that liberated McRoberts in space.
She separated off her defender and created enough room to get inside the top of the box. McRoberts finished with a laser ball from about 12 yards in the 52nd minute.
“That is a play I have practiced a lot with Carolina,” she said. “I knew the girl was on my shoulder. I just wanted to get enough space to get a quick shot off.
“It is just something I have been building on.”
Rondelli has a natural scorer’s instinct. She also has the intuitive feel for knowing how to balance her chances with those of her teammates.
“We have been trying to do that all season with the flick of the header. We have some people who can throw, and it finally worked,” Rondelli said.
“That’s an easy play that can get us goals if we do it right every time.”
The teams have played out similar trajectories, with both starting the year in the City-Suburban Connect Invitational with games against currently ranked no. 3 Lyons, no. 11 Oswego East and no. 18 Hinsdale Central.
Jones suffered 5-0 losses to Oswego East and Lyons to start the season. The Eagles showed vast improvement when the rescheduled game against Hinsdale Central was played April 13. The 2-1 defeat was significant. The Eagles third-straight win since it came when they toppled Young.
“I think this means that we prove ourselves to other teams,” Rondelli said. “We’re on top, and I feel like we can just get better. Today we’d have lost this game if we played it at the beginning of the season, but we have progressed so much.
“We have learned how to play hard the whole 80 minutes, and I think that shows.”
Mia McRoberts earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor for her game-winning play.
“We always want to keep working even when we're winning,” McRoberts said. “We want to keep pushing and keep the intensity. We never want to be caught slow, or being lackadaisical. We always want to be ready to play.
“We did get that one goal scored on us, but we made sure to keep our heads up. We knew this was our game, and that we were ready to win.”
In city soccer culture, regular-season results tend to be overshadowed by the heightened value and importance of the city tournament.
The Jones victory was meaningful on a lot of different levels, according to coach Derek Bylsma.
“It affects the seeding for the tournament and the state playoffs, because we’re in the same sectional,” he said. “On some level, it was a sloppy game, and I don’t think either team played particularly well.
“Both teams fought really hard. We are showing more grit, and we’re building and showing greater fight. I was really happy with their effort. We have some technical things to work on, but I am proud of the girls.”
In contrast Young rued its missed chances, like a Roche free kick just outside the box preceding the McRoberts’ goal that pushed wide left. Roche had another decent shot from about 16 yards that also veered left.
“I think that our team played a tough and physical game for the most part,” Koleno said. “At the end of the day it all comes down to capitalizing on the opportunities we create while giving them fewer opportunities.
“I’m proud of our team. We are much better than our record reflects, and we still have a chance to prove that.”
GK: Marcela Matallana
D: Ella Cutler
D: Ainsley Christensen
D: Sonia Liew
D: Celeste Garton
MF: Lauren Roche
MF: Danielle Lam
MF: Cayleigh Maxwell
F: Kathryn Greenbaum
F: Cassie Schumacher
F: Moira Koleno
GK: Ruby Miller
D: Karina Teliz
D: Patricia Felder
D: Morgan Scott
MF: Sanai Wright
MF: Mari Hamada
MF: Eleanor Ceraso
MF: Carolina Rondelli
F: Caroline Patterson
F: Mia McRoberts
F: Aiyana Wright
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Mia McRoberts, sr., F, Jones
Jones—Aiyana Wright (Carolina Rondelli), sixth minute
Young—Evelyn Vaughn (Moira Koleno), 18th minute
Jones—Mia McRoberts (Rondelli), 52nd minute