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Game story: DeLaPaz gets message, leads St. Charles North over East in cross-town final

By Jared Birchfield, 09/03/23, 5:45PM CDT


Senior records assist, game-winner for 2-1 title win

ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles North scoreboard displayed a message late in the first half of the scoreless St. Charles Invitational championship match Saturday between the North Stars and cross-town rival St. Charles East. 

It flashed “Goal Needed Here” with an arrow pointing to the "0" on St. Charles North’s side.

Walter DeLaPaz took the suggestion to heart. He assisted to change the number "1," when the North Stars scored the first goal of the contest seven minutes into the second half. Then, he quickly answered St. Charles East's tying goal after only 74 seconds in the 76th minute to drive the North Stars to a 2-1 win, possession of the tournament first place cup and hometown bragging rights.

St. Charles North, ranked 21st in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, can enjoy the trophy for a year, but will have to defend its town cred on Sept. 21 when eighth-ranked St. Charles East returns for a big DuKane Conference match September 21.

Both teams had an unproductive first half with only three shots-on-goal taken. The squads finally got their mojo working in the final 40 minutes.

Forty seconds into the second half, St. Charles East’s Giuseppe Avendano got off a close-in shot that St. Charles North (4-1-0) goalkeeper Alex Curtis stopped. A DeLaPaz corner kick at the 37:10 mark of the period went past the goal.

DeLaPaz set in motion the play that put the North Stars on the scoreboard in the 47th minute.  The senior midfielder smashed a free kick 40 yards from the right side of the pitch. Freshman forward Dino Valenti, standing just outside the goal, headed the shot toward the net but Fighting Saints keeper Jordan Rolon deflected the ball. It bounced right back to Valenti, who tapped it in for the score.

“I got the shot, and I headed it,” said Valenti. “I kept on going through and shot it in with my left foot.”

St. Charles East (4-1-0) coach Vince DiNuzzo switched his formation in the second half to 3-5 2. The change paid off when Fighting Saint Aiden Maloney found the back of the net in the 74th minute. Running up the right sideline, the senior corralled a pass 20 yards from the goal, dribbled in and then punched in a shot from five yards to tie the match.

“Coach DiNuzzo had a position change for me, and I went out wide,” Maloney said. “I went to right wingback, but I played higher to create more chances for the team. I saw the opportunity from the through-ball from Brandon Pinto. I knew I had to shoot it, so I took the chance. It went in, and we celebrated.”

The rejoicing was short-lived.

DeLaPaz took the lead back for the hosts for good with 4:25 left.

From the right sideline, forward Trevor Mirra crossed the ball to the senior midfielder, who was in the center of the pitch. DeLaPaz corralled the ball and blasted it in from 30 yards.

“I was sticking with the play,” DeLaPaz said while holding the first-place trophy. “I saw one of my guys (Mirra) dribbling down the line. I saw the slot ball played back, and I was wide open. I turned, took the shot and made it,” 

DeLaPaz was named Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match for his contributions to the North Stars offense.

The last of St. Charles North keeper Alex Curtis’ seven saves was the most critical. An unhampered Maloney blasted the ball from 30 yards with 1:57 left on the clock. The senior keeper dropped to his knees and blocked the potential equalizer.

Curtis was pleased with his effort, but a goal Leyden scored against him in the team’s pool play 2-1 loss weighed on his mind.

“I was just playing with confidence today and knowing that I needed to get to the ball first,” the keeper said. “I think I did well, but they’re definitely some things I want to clean up.

“The first goal Leyden scored on me, I should have saved it. There’s always something I need to work on, like I just needed a stronger hand (to stop St. Charles East’s goal). I just barely touched it.”

Rolon saved five shots for the Fighting Saints including a diving grab of a midfield blast by Valenti in the second half.

Both teams lost players to injury early in the contest. North Stars defender Ashton Goettel had to leave the match after colliding with Curtis five minutes into the first half. Later St. Charles East's Omar Ontiveros was hurt in a different collision with the North Stars keeper.

St. Charles North coach Eric Willson had to juggle his line up to replace Goettel.

“We lost one of our best center backs, Ashton Goettel, early in the game, and that’s super difficult to try to deal with,” Willson said. “Guys stepped into roles they’re not used to playing for so many minutes.

"Ryan Knenlein was phenomenal today. We had to bring Ryan in to play the outside back. We had to bring in midfielder Cole Weddle to replace Goettel. There’s just a lot of moving parts that just had to happen when Ashton goes out. I thought everybody responded really, really well in that spot.”

Both coaches thought their players were not in top form for the entire match.

“I think (the team) thought that the game would come easy to us, and that just wasn’t the case today. I thought we played a lot better in the second half,” DiNuzzo said. “We didn’t concede a lot chances to score and for them to get two on us means there are some things we need to clean up in the back.

“It was cruise-controlled during the first half. It was just us feeling them out. After that it was just like ‘OK, move the ball and see where we could find some space.’ But we saw some things today that hopefully will help us in the future. We just didn’t play well today. I think they outworked us for a large majority of the game.”

Willson thinks the rivalry is part of the reason.

“I didn’t think that either team played their best version of soccer here” said the North Stars coach. “I think when these two teams play each other, there are times when that’s the way it works. They’re working so hard. It’s a battle. Nobody could really keep the ball for a period of time.

“Both teams had some chances. You've just got to keep on pushing, keep on working. I think our guys did that. We just happened to be fortunate enough to find the second goal.”

DiNuzzo liked the play of reserve forward Connor Sychowski.

“Connor played really well today; he’s a sophomore,” the coach said. “He’s been flirting with 35 minutes a game. Today he just kept on working, created some chances. He was also creating some problems with his movement. His work-rate was through the roof.”

Starting lineups

St. Charles East
GK: Jordan Rolon
D: Brandon Garland
D: Griffin Counts
D; Jake Walker
D: Michael Grezenko
MF: Garrett Melton
MF: Santi Porcayo
MF: Aiden Maloney
MF: Giueseppe Avendano
F: Omar Ontiveros
F: Ryan Groselak

St. Charles North
GK: Alex Curtis
D: Casey Kriz
D: Ashton Goettel
D: Stefano Nava
D: Daniel Brown
MF: Cole Weddle
MF: Walter DeLaPaz
MF: Diego Torres
F: Dino Valenti
F: Trevor Mirra
F: Oliver Longosz

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Walter DeLaPaz, sr., MF, St. Charles North

Scoring Summary

First half
No scoring

Second Half
SCN: Valenti (DeLaPaz), 47’
SCE: Maloney (Pinto), 75’
SCN: DeLaPaz (Mirra), 76’