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Game story: Oak Park and River Forest topples York in battle of unbeatens

By Bill Esbrook, 09/08/23, 12:00PM CDT


Huskies credit total team effort in 3-1 league-opening win

ELMHURST -- It’s still somewhat early in the season, but not too early to be impressed when a team is still undefeated.

And when two unbeaten conference rivals face off, especially when they’re the number 3 and 4 teams in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, you really sit up and take notice. 

That was the case Thursday night, when third-ranked Oak Park and River Forest (5-0-0) marched into Elmhurst to take on host York (4-0-0) in the teams’ West Suburban Conference Silver Division opener.

Both sides played extremely well, but it was the visitors who set the tone for the game.

Oak Park and River Forest scored two quick goals, then withstood a second half onslaught by the Dukes for a 3-1 win. The triumph ended York’s seven-match league victory run, which included a 6-0-x conference championship mark last season. The Huskies and Hinsdale Central tied for second in 2022 at 4-2-x.

Junior and two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater Easton Bogard scored twice in the first half for the Huskies. Diego Zarate, a senior midfielder who played a simply marvelous game, scored the dagger late in the second half to put the match out of reach.

“This was probably our best game of the season against a really tough team, and we got the result we wanted,” said Zarate. “This year I feel like we’re all motivated as a team, and we’re playing together.”

Oak Park and River Forest coach Jason Fried thought the fast start propelled his team to the victory.

“I thought we came out really good,” he said, “really organized, and played some great soccer for the first 25 minutes. We didn’t create a ton of opportunities, but we were organized on the defensive side as well.

“But it’s hard to maintain that for a full 80 minutes, and York did a good job of coming back. The tide kind of switched a little bit in the first half, and then it evened out at the end of the half.”

Down 2-0 at the break, Aaron Jobi struck just after intermission to halve York’s deficit, but Dukes coach Jordan Stopka felt that his team was back on its heels from the very beginning.

“The biggest thing we talked about -- at half time and postgame -- was that we almost looked scared out there,” said Stopka.

“It was like our aura of confidence was stripped away in the first two or three minutes, and instead of trying to make a play, we were trying not to make a mistake.

“We emphasized that you’ve got to be able to fail and learn from that, because good teams are going to take advantage.”

Oak Park and River Forest put away the opener in the 11th minute when junior midfielder Bryce Richards sent a perfect corner kick into the box. From there, Bogard put if just past the Dukes keeper.

The senior completed his brace with authority less than 2 minutes later. He took control of a pass from senior Cole Shepherd and found the back of the net with a 25-yard rocket.

York regained a bit of its composure late in the half. A shot after a long run by midfielder Gustavo Herrera was right on target but was saved by Huskies keeper Cameron Smith.

The home team trailed 2-0 after 40 minutes.

“At halftime we talked about how to break them down,” said Herrera, a senior. “We pressed high, because we noticed they were playing three in the back. We wanted to pinch our wingers to really press them.”

And just 15 seconds after the start of half number two, it looked as if Herrera had cut into the Huskies lead.

He made a run off the kickoff into open space and fired a hard shot from a tough angle on the left flank that looked like a goal.

But the ball hit the inside of the far post and instead of bouncing in, it bounced outside the goal line and directly into the hands of Smith, who had been closing down the angle at the near post.

“I just shook my head,” said Herrera, shocked at the goal that wasn’t. “But I felt like that near-miss kind of lifted us up, and we got it going.”

York stayed on the attack, and in the 43rd minute Jobi found the back of the net after an assist from Jayden Waski to make it 2-1.

“They (York) came on strong in the second half,” said Fried. “They came out and got that quick goal, and it was a learning moment for us.

“Then I thought they did a really good job for the next 15 minutes or so with their press and their organization. That kind of rattled us, but you can bend as long as you don’t break.

“We got organized, kind of regained control and slowed them down. We gave them some chances but got the ball right back, so they didn’t get the momentum. We took the momentum and then Diego (Zarate) had a great moment.”

In the 60th minute, Zarate won possession of a goal kick at midfield, dribbled past several defenders and blasted a shot that flew into the upper left corner of the net.

“It was a good goal,” said Zarate. “It made me feel good, but this win tonight was not just about one person. It was about the whole team.”

The tally made it 3-1 and took some of the wind out of the York’s sails.

“Our center back actually almost won that ball,” said Stopka. “It was a pretty good tackle, but I thought ‘Now he’s out of position.’ And literally right after I said that in my head, the ball was in the back of the net.

“It was a good strike by that kid (Zarate). Actually, none of their goals were slouchy tonight, and they even hit the post a couple of times too. It just shows how much prowess Oak Park and River Forest has on offense.

“They’re a quality team and have quality players all over the field. They play the game the right way.”

York wasn’t presented with any top-quality chances in the final quarter of the game due to the staunch play of the Oak Park and River Forest backline.

As a matter of fact, it was the Huskies that almost added to their goal total down the stretch.

Bogard had two Grade A opportunities to get his hat-trick: one shot bounced off the crossbar; the other hit the post.

Oak Park and River Forest senior defender Ben Naber and his teammates shut down the Dukes the rest of the way.

“We just played so good as a team,” said Naber. “Everybody was running around finding their spots, and that made it easy for everyone.

“I just give this win fully to the team, because we worked so hard for this one. We focused on staying calm. We knew that York was going to come out with a lot of energy, and we had to match it.”

“This was a big confidence booster for us. We have a lot more conference games to go but definitely a great start.”

Herrera added that despite the defeat, he was proud of York’s effort, especially in the second half.

“We moved the ball amazingly, and we were breaking them down. But we’ve just got to get the ball into the box.”

“We have some big kids for crosses, and somewhere down the road this season we’re going to get some headers in.”

Game notes

Prior to the game, both coaches talked about the importance of the early-season conference matchup.

“It’s the biggest of the year so far,” said Stopka from York. “It starts a three-game stretch against top 25 teams for us.

“The fact that Oak Park and River Forest is such a quality opponent and that it is also a conference game makes this a big night. We lost of a lot seniors, but we have a new group of kids that fit in well.

“Currently our best in-form player is senior captain Rico Herrera, who just came off a two-goal, one-assist game in a 3-0 win versus Downers Grove North. Damian Glodz has also scored two goals for us in the last two games."

Fried, of OPRF, said “both these programs have strong teams and have had some great matches in the past.”

Fried added that Richards, Bogard, Zarate, Naber, Charlie Maguire, Isaac Felder and Nate Day have all had great starts to the year.

“It’s good to have games like this early in the season to test your team,” said the coach. “We’ve had a strong start to the season. We won the Joe Novy Classic (at Addison Trail) last week, but we need to focus on the process each day.

“Lots of little gains will add up."

Starting lineups

Oak Park and River Forest
GK: Cameron Smith
D: Ben Naber
D: Isaac Felder
D: Izzy Erwin
D: Charlie Maguire
MF: Cole Shepherd
MF: Josh Kitterman
MF: Diego Zarate
MF: Nate Day
F: Bryce Richards
F: Easton Bogard

GK: Diego Ochoa
D: Freddie Steen
D: Ethan Welz
D: Alexander Menolascina
MF: Oliver Connor
MF: Will Carter
MF: Gustavo Herrera
MF: Michael Greco
F: Aaron Jobi
F: Jayden Waski
F: Damian Glodz

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match:Diego Zarate, sr., MF, Oak Park and River Forest

Scoring summary

First half
OPRF: Bogard (Richards), 11’
OPRF: Bogard (Shepherd), 13’

Second half
York: Jobi (Waski), 43’
OPRF: Zarate (unassisted), 60’