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Preview story: Taft looks to make history against Goode in city title game

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 10/11/23, 2:45PM CDT



By Patrick Z. McGavin

CHICAGO — Bartosz Wojda has had a year to ponder what might have been.

The leading scorer for Taft, a dynamic and gifted forward, is one of four returning starters from an Eagles’ team that led Solorio 1-0 for more than 61 minutes in the Chicago Public League Tournament championship game a year ago.
With Taft just minutes away from the first city championship in program history, Solorio scored a 74th-minute goal that eventually forced a shootout. Several tantalizing scoring chances eluded Taft’s grasp in regulation and overtime, and what looked so promising eventually became a heartbreaking 5-3 shootout loss.

“(We) know what it felt like and don’t want the same feeling to come back again this year,” he said. “I feel a lot more confident, and the team is ready to do everything we can to win this time.”

The new season and a somewhat new roster have led to the same place. The Eagles, ranked 19th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, are back in the city championship game, returning to play no. 22 Goode at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Lane Stadium.

The game is being broadcast live on WCIU-Channel 26.

Class 3A Taft enters the final after surviving a 4-3 semifinal shootout against Young. The scoreless regulation and overtimes gave keeper Alberto Alizo his fourth-consecutive shutout during the city tournament.

Taft (12-6-1) has kept Steinmetz, Payton, Amundsen and the Dolphins out of the goal.

Emerging program Goode, who were previously ranked seventh in Chicagoland Soccer’s Class AA Super 7 poll, beat Solorio 1-0 in the other city semifinal to avenge a regular-season loss against the Sun Warriors, who were a state finalist last season.

Keeper Jose Martinez shut down the Sun Warriors. 

“The players really understand our system and know it’s not just about scoring and attacking,” coach Andres Zaragoza said. 

“It’s more about being more level with the defense and the offense at the same time. I think that is why we got to this point. We are working better as a team than as individual players.”

Goode (11-2-1) has posted other impressive wins this season including a 3-2 victory over Washington in the quarterfinals, and a 2-0 victory over currently 23rd-ranked Notre Dame on Sept. 9.

Forward Edward Mulgado is the team’s top-attacking talent with 15 goals and eight assists. Midfielder Omar Perez is the top creator and facilitator with seven goals and nine assists.

Midfielder Abel Barrera is another player Taft will have to account for.

“They beat Solorio, they beat Washington, and they beat Notre Dame,” Taft coach Jeff Lucco said. “You have to be a good team to make it through the Public League tournament.

“It’s usually not a fluke team. If it is a fluke team, it’s because they’re good. The first year that we made it, in 2016, I don’t think people expected us to make it, but we were good that year.”

With just four returning starters, Taft was somewhat of a blank slate that entered the year with more questions than answers.

An early season win over currently ninth-ranked 9 Leyden showed promise and the potential of what the team was capable of.

“We just kept going,” Lucco said.

He said the team’s performance during the prestigious Barrington Classic at the start of the season offered deeper and compelling evidence the Eagles were made of sterner stuff.

“I think some of the returners were hesitant, because they knew how many guys we lost from last year,” Lucco said.  “During Barrington, the Conant game (Aug. 28) was the turning point. They put one away late, but that Conant team was a team that had a lot of buzz at the start of the year. 

“The game was what high school is all about. It was fast, and back and forth. Even though Conant scored with like four minutes to go, I think that gave the boys a belief.”

The next day, Aug. 29, the Eagles suffered another late loss against no. 20 Streamwood 2-1. Defeats are often more illuminating than victories, and Lucco saw the signs of a team finding its identity and personality.

“With that tournament, I saw that there were a lot of pieces there,” he said. “We started moving the ball. That’s where it started clicking. I kept telling them we had the potential to be a really special team this year.”

The Eagles feature depth and skill. Fifteen different players have scored at least one goal, led by the 15 goals and five assists of Wojda.

“I think last year most of the team, we’d just kick the ball up the field,” he said. “Now we have learned and move the ball on the floor.”

Defender Matthew Gruszka, another returning starter, said with 10 players back who played in the city championship last fall the Eagles have a familiarity and recognition of the magnitude of the game.

“I think it is very beneficial having already experienced the atmosphere at Lane Stadium, with a fully packed crowd, I can comprehend what the fans look and sound like, which I think relieves a lot of the pressure that we felt last year,” Gruszka said.

“We are very motivated to not let the game slip out of our grasp again,” he said.

Gruszka said this iteration of the game for Taft will be less focused on individual talent. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

“We are not as dependent on single players, and we are able to find confidence and play more as a team rather than depending on a few players for success,” he said.

“We are better and more rounded this year.”

Forward Gabriel Vidaurre, who has scored four goals, is the other returning player at the top of the formation.

Defender Daniel Korniat, who came off the bench in last year’s game, is another player with city title experience. 

The Eagles hope the third time playing for the city championship is their time.

“Last year it seemed like almost all of our goals came from, in one way or another, from fouls and long balls,” Korniat said. “It was more about protecting our lead. 

“This year we have specialists in just about every aspect of the game. We have some amazing creativity and attacking chemistry between the players, and we plan to show that Wednesday night in the finals.”