CHICAGO — The game is often pretext, the emotional intensity and depth of feeling in Chicago Catholic League games create their own culture.
The game in question almost never matters — football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, whatever. The mood and necessity for achievement hangs over the procedings, coloring and shaping the events, large and small.
The start of divisional play only amplified the stakes and deepened the resolve of both sides. At times, the players (and the coaches) almost lost their heads.
Symbolically the game is the best and most effective means to measure the state of things. If nothing else, Brother Rice and St. Ignatius offered a textbook variation of a passion play.
“We have been playing a lot of games stacked up, and now the Catholic League, and we are just trying to do everything we can to bring out our energy,” St. Ignatius midfielder Nick Rezza said.
The game featured eight yellow cards, a St. Ignatius assistant coach being removed from the sideline, offsetting first half penalty kick goals and plenty of charged encounters.
In the rapid and intense back and forth, Brother Rice secured the upper hand.
Midfielder Bruce Harris worked a beautiful give-and-go in concert with Salvador Perez for the 54th minute game-winner in the Crusaders’ 2-1 victory Tuesday night in the West Loop.
Both teams played their third game in four days, coming off group play Body Armor games Saturday and Monday.
St. Ignatius (3-6-0, 0-1-0) stormed back from a late two-goal deficit against Warren on Monday only to suffer an excruciating late-game loss. That followed a penalty shootout defeat Saturday.
Brother Rice (5-2-1, 1-0-0) split its two pool games, recovering from a competitive loss against talented Niles North to cruise past Kankakee, which is currently ranked in the Chicagoland Soccer Class AA Super 7 poll.
“I think what changed for us is the fact that we realized we needed to step and win,” Harris said. “The first half was acceptable, except for probably the last 10 minutes.
“I felt like we were the better team, and we knew we had to come out with more energy and take the game away. We knew that we had to act fast.”
Just moments preceding his game-winner, Harris worked a terrific action with forward Cristian Morales. It ended with a spectacular save from Wolfpack keeper Gabe Smith on Morales’ shot.
The moment provided the blueprint the Blue Division game-winner.
“Their keeper was very good, but I saw that he wasn’t very tall,” Harris said. “I felt like I could get the ball to the top right. It’s always worth a shot, and I ended up getting one inside the back post.”
His sixth goal of the year came from about 14 yards.
“We came into the game with a lot of energy,” Morales said. "This is the start of conference, and you always want to win that."
The Crusaders showed no ill-effects or heavy legs from the backlog of games. In the fifth minute, Perez got deep and blasted a hard, lined ball that Smith blocked with a spectacular lunging stop.
While the ball deflected out to the left edge of the box, the official called an ensuing collision a foul against St. Ignatius. Morales blasted his penalty kick goal in the lower left corner in the sixth minute.
“We kept a really good possession there, and we always try to keep the ball and just make quality chances at the goal and never really force anything,” Perez said.
“Everything just came naturally.”
The early psychological momentum flowed to the Crusaders.
“It felt really good,” said Perez. “Coming into the game and having that early advantage, and knowing we could keep rolling and move higher, and keep up that fast tempo.”
St. Ignatius quickly stabilized, and arguably had the better of the play over the next 20 minutes of action. The team generated two corner kicks, and took advantage of some dead ball actions to create its own brand of pressure.
Rezzo had a free kick from 24 yards just skip over the top of the bar in the 16th minute.
“I think as a team we are still trying to come up with an identity,” Rezzo said. “We had chances on the ball throughout the game and at the end of the game.
“I think everybody just has to connect a little more, and eventually those shots are going to start falling.”
The Wolfpack are a team in transition. Their top player, Chicagoland Soccer all-state midfielder Oscar Quinn-Pasin, transferred to the IMG Academy in Florida for his senior season.
The middle of the St. Ignatius attack, with Rezza and returning players Roman Marsh and Colin Chough, is the most experienced and impactful part. Diego Garcia and Dawson Kraft have shown explosiveness and creativity at the top.
The hosts struck back in the closing seconds of the first half, giving Brother Rice a dose of its own medicine.
Off a counter, midfielder Braxton Harris broke free up-top for a breakaway. Crusaders defender Jimmy Gricus was called for the foul as Harris pushed toward the goal.
Rezza scored his seventh goal of the year on the PK with just 41 seconds remaining in the half.
“Last year, even as a winger, I played more defensive,” Rezza said. “Now the offense is a lot more spread around, and I’m getting a lot more chances. I am doing my best to try and put them away.
“I think our offense can definitely do better, but it’s really more of our larger identity as a team than any individual player.”
Rezza nearly created a second equalizer in the 60th minute when his rocket ball from the top of the box smashed off the crossbar.
Until the closing moments, St. Ignatius feverishly sought a way to get back into the game.
“We just have to keep winning these battles in the end,” Rezza said.
Bruce Harris earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honors for his game-winning play.
“I practiced that shot a lot,” Harris said. “I have a pretty good left foot, but as I pushed in there, I traveled outside of my right foot, and I saw the opening.
“It felt pretty good to win our first conference game, and I think this will help us set the pace for the rest of the Catholic League, and hopefully our season.”
GK: Colin Welniak
D: Javier Franco
D: Christian Potoczny
D: Jimmy Gricus
D: Jovani Zuniga
MF: Salvador Perez
MF: Julian Zambrano
MF: Angelo Piech
MF: Bruce Harris
F: Cristian Morales
F: Tyler Wojcik
GK: Gabe Smith
D: Carter Harris
D: William Hebbeln
D: Bryce Lynch
D: Thomas Schmiedeler
MF: Nick Rezza
MF: Nathan Schneider
MF: Colin Chough
MF: Roman Marsh
F: Diego Garcia
F: Dawson Kraft
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Bruce Harris, sr., MF, Brother Rice
Brother Rice: Cristian Morales (penalty kick), sixth minute
St. Ignatius: Nicholas Rezza (penalty kick), 40th minute
Brother Rice: Bruce Harris (Salvador Perez), 54th minute