CHICAGO — The combination of the cruelty and abrupt nature of state tournament soccer is the worst.
The all-or-nothing format is harsh and unyielding, exhilarating for the winners, devastating for those on the wrong side of the scoreboard. On the cusp of achieving something beautiful and profound, one team has everything ripped away. It is devastating and hard to shake.
The memories linger.
The soccer culture at North Shore Country Day runs deep and wide, binding players to a shared and exacting sense of time, place and memory. And they remember the pain.
Latin defeated North Shore Country Day the last two years in the state tournament. The final score was 1-0 in the sectional championship game last year; it was 3-1 in the sectional semifinals in 2021.
“This game today meant a lot to us,” midfielder Henry Gallun said. “The past two years, we have gotten knocked out in the sectional. It feels good to finally get a win and move on to the next stage.”
Daniel Becker created the fast start the Raiders utilized to efficient and highly effective means. It turned the early momentum to their side.
Gallun scored a second-minute goal and contributed a late assist that sparked the Raiders’ 2-0 victory Tuesday over Cristo Rey St. Martin in the championship game of the Class A Marine Leadership Sectional.
North Shore Country Day (15-5-1) returns to the same northwest side Humboldt Park location Tuesday for the Marine Leadership Supersectional against Independent School League rival University (Chicago).
North Shore Country Day captured its first sectional title since the 2019 team that finished fourth in the state. That version lost to University (Chicago), the eventual state champion, in the state semifinals.
The second-seeded Raiders are 0-1-1 against the no. 5-seed Maroons (10-8-3) this season. The first contest ended with a 1-1 double-overtime tie on Aug. 31; the second match Sept. 30 was a 2-1 defeat.
Against Cristo Rey St. Martin, the Raiders built early momentum for a stunning and electric start, The result was a beautiful set piece goal just 1 minute, 12 seconds into the game.
Off a corner from the left edge, Becker served a terrific ball into the box that Gallun finished with an alert and aggressive header.
“You have to look for exploitations wherever you find them,” Becker said. “I think we started off the game with the right mindset. It gave us a strong start and the early goal.
“It was a great flick on the header by Henry. We run the play a lot in practice, and we do it over and over. We know what we’re going to do in that situation. It is all about being in the right place at the right time.”
Cristo Rey St. Martin (16-6-1) was forced to play the game without coach J.P. Morales, who received a red card during the Knights’ 5-3 sectional semifinal victory over Parker on Oct. 20.
“Obviously giving up the early goal like that was not the ideal start,” assistant coach Jesus Martinez said. “At the same time, it didn’t really waver our confidence. I felt like we made the right adjustments, and we played well.”
At 6-feet, North Shore Country Day’s Gallun is an inviting target with the athleticism and skill to elevate and gather the crucial first touch off the scramble, and handle the clash of bodies inside the box.
“A lot of our offense runs through set pieces and throw-ins,” Gallun said. “It’s about me just trying to get a head on the ball, and flicking it to the back post.
“I’ve practiced it a lot, and today it really paid off.”
By winning their sixth-straight game, the Raiders are 8-1-0 since a 4-1 conference victory over Parker on Sept. 26.
Early goals are the best elixir against complacency or fear. Playing from ahead is liberating and mounts the pressure on the opposition.
Though they prefer the lead, North Shore Country Day is fine with whomever scores first.
“We've been doing this all season,” Becker said. “We have been playing from the front, or behind, it doesn’t really matter what the score line is. We always put in the same effort, regardless. We always have the same mindset.”
Keeper Aram Dombalgian registered his third-consecutive shutout of the state tournament series. He has nine shutouts on the season.
North Shore Country Day has a 20-1 scoring-differential during the state tournament.
With Smith Flickinger and Luke Hansen operating as center backs, flanked by Kyle Banner and Thatcher Smith, the Raiders have shown quickness, toughness and an actively disruptive style of play.
“To be perfectly honest, I was a little doubtful at the beginning of the year, because we had a completely new backline,” Dombalgian said.
“I got to work with them a lot, and they have been so mentally focused every single day. I really have to pay my respect to them, and how they have played and what they do out there.
“It’s really important.”
North Shore Country Day refused to rest on its laurels after the explosive start. The Raiders shaped the pace of the game, using the excellent middle attack of Gallun, Razaan Ghazi and Ricardo Gonzalez to feed up-top runs from Becker, Leif Steele and Kai Zavala.
Everything flowed and connected.
Off a free kick from about 30 yards in the 25th minute, Becker played a short ball to the right wing. From there, Gallun drilled a shot into the side netting.
The Raiders proved very effective at creating gilded opportunities in the form of corner kicks or restarts that kept Cristo Rey St. Martin off balance and constantly guessing.
Keeper Anthony Gallegos kept the Knights close with a spectacular save off a penalty kick by Flickinger in the 35th minute. The play was set up after Steele was fouled inside the box.
Cristo Rey St. Martin hovered around, creating some decent chances off the counter, especially with very fleet and mobile forward Jairo Bonilla at the top.
North Shore Country Day had the requisite answer. Dombalgian stopped a rocket ball from 22 yards by Carlos Gonzalez early in the second half.
“We have gone up against phenomenal and very physical players in the ISL the whole year,” Becker said. “It was just great work again by our defense today.
“We have been preparing for this moment the whole season.”
Gallun helped put the game away in the 67th minute. Once again, working against a maze of bodies, he won the ball and made a quick and decisive redirect that Zavala controlled just enough to play over the top for a goal from a couple yards out.
“The ball was kind of bouncing around, and it went off of me, and Kai was there to put it away,” Gallun said.
Henry Gallun earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match distinction for his leadership of the offense.
“Our mentality was just to keep doing what we were doing, but we needed to play at an even higher level. We had a lot of opportunities throughout the game. We just needed to grab the second score and put the game out of reach.”
North Shore Country Day
GK: Aram Dombalgian
D: Kyle Banner
D: Smith Flickinger
D: Luke Hansen
D: Thatcher Smith
MF: Henry Gallun
MF: Razaan Ghazi
MF: Ricardo Gonzalez
F: Daniel Becker
F: Leif Steele
F: Kai Zavala
Cristo Rey St. Martin
GK: Anthony Gallegos
D: Mario Banales
D: John Rosiles
D: Brian Torres
MF: Anthony Rivas
MF: Leonardo Pedraza
MF: Adrian Cervantes
MF: Santiago Perez
MF: Gianni Barajas-Ceja
F: Landon Soto
F: Jairo Bonilla
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Henry Gallun, jr., MF, North Shore Country Day
North Shore Country Day: Henry Gallun (Daniel Becker), 2nd minute
North Shore Country Day: Kai Zavala (Gallun), 67th minute