OAK PARK — The 2023 season-opener for both Oak Park and River Forest and St. Ignatius on Monday night at Huskie Stadium certainly had the makings of an intriguing matchup.
Both the home-standing Huskies (Class 3A) and Wolfpack (AA) won regional championships each of the past two seasons and both clubs got off to fast starts last fall. The Huskies rattled off five-consecutive victories to open the season, while the Wolfpack began the year with a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1).
And don’t assume a Class 3A school automatically has an advantage over a smaller-school counterpart. The Wolfpack are no strangers to playing big schools. In fact, they were a Class 3A squad in 2019 and captured a regional title that year.
The match lived up to expectations. St. Ignatius grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 8th minute, but Oak Park and River Forest tied it up four minutes later.
After a deadlocked half, Gabe Smith, the Wolfpack’s junior goalkeeper, kept his team in the match with nice saves as Oak Park and River Forest maintained offensive pressure throughout the second 40 minutes.
The Huskies, ranked eighth in the Chicagoland Soccer First 50 poll, broke the deadlock with two late goals and registered a 3-1 nonconference triumph.
The victory was career win no. 100 for Oak Park and River Forest coach Jason Fried, who is now in his eighth season at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division school. Over that span, his teams have posted a 73.8 percent win percentage from their 100-33-8 mark.
“I’ve been blessed to have some really awesome coaches with me and players and families,” Fried said. “I give them a lot of the credit. It’s great, because we have won a lot of games in a pretty quick period, but it’s not the biggest thing for me.
“Some of these guys that I’ve been with two, three, four years. I think I’m more grateful for that.”
“I think that’s pretty cool,” Huskies’ junior midfielder Bryce Richards said of Fried’s 100th victory. “He’s very motivational. He wants to see us all get better. He’s trying to help us all develop as players, because he wants to see us all go beyond high school soccer.”
Richards netted the go-ahead goal for the Huskies in the 74th minute after taking a pass from two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater Easton Bogard deep in the Wolfpack’s zone. He maneuvered into the middle and slid a shot past Smith.
“Me and Easton, we’ve played together for a few years now, and we know each other,” Richards said. “We just made eye contact. I made the run though, and he slipped me in.”
Bogard, a senior who earned Chicagoland Soccer’s Man of the Match honors, also assisted on the Huskies’ final goal. Senior midfielder Cole Shepherd scored in the 80th minute.
“It is a good victory. Ignatius was never going to be an easy game. It’s a good first win, but we are aiming for higher things,” Bogard said. “I think last year, we had a very technical team in comparison to my sophomore year. but what made my sophomore year team so great is the bond that we all had. We really gave everything we had to each other.
“Now we need to try to develop those bonds and have the willingness to die for each other on the field like (we did) my sophomore year.”
Prior to the second half tallies, Smith stood out for St. Ignatius. The junior stymied the Huskies, who generated prime scoring chances during the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Smith made a point-blank save on Richards in the 47th minute. In the 50th minute, he leaped to make a save on senior midfielder Diego Zarate, who blasted a shot from around 20 yards.
When asked if he and his teammates were frustrated that more shots didn’t find the back of the net, Bogard replied, “Of course, it’s always frustrating, but there are certain things you can sense that are coming, and we knew it was going to eventually come. We said at halftime if we get one there’s going to be another, and we were right.”
The Huskies recorded nine of their 11 shots on goal for the match during the second half.
“Gabe came up big,” said Wolfpack coach Matt Miller. “He probably made four or five impact saves.”
“Going in, they’re probably going to be the hardest team on our schedule,” Smith added. “This is really promising for us. We looked great defensively; we held our own. Those last 10 minutes it kind of all fell apart, but I’m really happy with the way we played.
“I’m actually very proud of everyone. It’s great; it’s our first game of the season, a new squad. We’ve got a lot to play for this season, because we’ve got a lot of seniors. It’s just a great squad this year.”
In the first half, St. Ignatius senior midfielder Nicholas Rezza scored on a header off a free kick to give the Wolfpack their only lead of the game.
However, Bogard responded with the game-tying goal. He made a nice move to get around a Wolfpack defender along the left side and put the ball into the right-hand corner of the net.
“The first half, I thought we looked a little exposed defensively, especially the first 15 minutes. That comes with jitters and stuff sometimes,” Fried said. “I thought as the game went on, even when they broke through, we stayed very organized. And we didn’t really let up any shots on net.
“They’re a good team,” Fried said of the Wolfpack. “They’re very organized and well-coached. They have good players. For our first game out, that’s a great team to play. I felt we did a good job keeping the ball and creating chances, but obviously we have to give them credit, too. They bent a lot, and they didn’t break either. It’s a good team test for us, but we know we also have to keep improving.”
St. Ignatius recorded three shots on goal for the match. They had an opportunity to take a 2-1 lead on a penalty kick in the 53rd minute. Rezza took the shot, but it sailed over and wide of the net.
“I wouldn’t say that we were frustrated,” said Miller when asked about his club not getting more shots on goal. “I think everyone knew we were playing against a very high level (Class) 3A high school, and we knew we just had to be patient and just be disciplined and maybe catch them on a counter. That was the goal.”
Miller said the beginning of the season gives him and the coaching staff the opportunity to learn more about their players and how they adapt to certain situations.
“You get to learn about the kind of effort they put on the field,” he said “You can see what kind of shifts they put in. You get to see what they’re like with possession of the ball, and out of possession of the ball. Our focus is not only what we do with possession of the ball, but what we do off the ball.”
GK – Gabe Smith
D – Caden Walker
D – Bryce Lynch
D – Carter Harris
D – Leonardo Diaz
MF – Roman Marsh
MF – Patrick Rostan
MF – Enzo Santillan
MF – Colin Chough
F – Nicholas Rezza
F – Nathan Schneider
Oak Park and River Forest
GK – Christian Dussias
D – Ben Naber
D – Isaac Felder
D – Diego Zarate
D – Izzy Erwin
MF – Easton Bogard
MF – Josh Kitterman
MF – Charlie Maguire
MF – Nate Day
F – Bryce Richards
F – Carlo Lissuzzo
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Easton Bogard, sr., MF, Oak Park and River
St. Ignatius – Nicholas Rezza (unassisted), 8th
OPRF – Easton Bogard (Nate Day), 12th
OPRF – Bryce Richards (Easton Bogard), 74th
OPRF – Cole Shepherd (Easton Bogard), 80th