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Game story: Evanston defense holds Libertyville at bay

By Rusty Silber, 04/07/24, 8:00PM CDT


Wildkits take 1-0 Malnati win in Top 10 battle

EVANSTON -- One goal made all the difference for Evanston.

The Wildkits (6-0-0), ranked ninth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, began their run in the 6th annual Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Classic with a 1-0 Group B victory over Libertyville on Saturday morning.

The visiting Wildcats (2-2-0), who are ranked ninth, lost their second game of the event after a 2-0 home defeat to no. 7 Naperville North on Thursday. 

Evanston put together a combination play in the first half that stood up for the rest of the match. Wildkits' senior forward Jocelyn Leigh put the finishing touch on the goal in front of the net after an assist from teammate Bridget Durkin in the 24th minute of play. 

"We talk a lot about getting the wingers wide and being able to switch the field," said Leigh, a returning Chicagoland Soccer all-stater. "Durkin is really good at being able to cut in, and we talk about dropping back in the space for the pass. 

“I just saw and knew that I had to cut back in like I normally do. She just hit a perfect ball to me. I just had to go in the hardest that I could to get to the ball and get the ball to go in (the goal)."

Evanston has a different look this season due to graduation. Both new and returning players are stepping into bigger roles. 

"The big thing is that we've got a lot of young players, and they bring a lot of energy," Leigh said. "They just go all out, and they are hungry to play. Last year, we had a lot of great leaders, and they had a different quality. I just learned a lot from them, and I could go to anyone of them. Being a captain this year, I try to think what the players did last year that I can pass along this year."

Durkin has a knack for setting up game-winning goals. She’s dangerous taking the ball to the end line.

"When I see the two players parallel to each other, I know I can beat them," said Durkin, an All-State Watch List member from last spring. "My angle is already cut off for a shot. I can trust my forwards coming in. I have the speed to take it to the line and cut right back up. At that time the defenders are behind me and there's a clear path there. It all comes down to practice and what I love to do -- take the ball to the line."

Defending a one-goal lead, Evanston's backline made sure that Libertyville's attack was limited to only a few chances on goal. 

The defense has young components in freshman Maizlyn Kelly and sophomore Damilola Adeniyi. Junior Maddie Ball and senior Sydney Johnson bring maturity to the equation. 

"Our backline is entirely new again this year," said assistant coach Ryan Berkley, who was filling for coach Stacy Salgado, who attended an out-of-town wedding. "We've had three years of that, and every year we're wondering how it's going to look. Seeing them have a voice for the team and to command from the backline is great to see. It's great to see the chemistry that they've developed."

Kelly, one of the youngest players on the Wildkits, didn’t play like a rookie. She made numerous plays and was disruptive when Libertyville tried to set up in its offensive third of the field. Her efforts earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match honor. 

"As a freshman you have to do what you have to do," Kelly said. "It's all about working hard with the team. None of this is possible without these awesome teammates that I have. I have been playing for many years, and it’s all the work that you put in. I really wanted to stop (Libertyville), just make a turnaround and get the ball to go forward."

Libertyville had some several chances on goal, especially in the second half. But Evanston keeper Shea Lucas was on guard. She saved several high shots and a combination play late in the match. 

"I thought Libertyville was creative up-top. They had opportunities to shoot that they didn't take," said Shea who earned the shutout with five saves. "It wasn't until they had a wide-open shot that they took it."

The Wildcats had some chances late in the final quarter of the match. Sophomore Shea Krakowski put three high shots on goal but Lucas brought the ball down each time. 

"I thought they were good opportunities," said Krakowski, who made the Watch List as a freshman in 2023. "I think the team set them up really nicely, by moving the ball and possessing it. They did a good job setting the ball to me, and I was able to take my chances. I thought I could put those in. The next time I will be ready to make them.

"Each game we’re definitely getting better and better. Our possession in each game has improved, and we're creating more from the opening game to now. Our desire to win has definitely increased. Later in the season we will create big things and bigger opportunities."

Libertyville made a determined attempt to find the equalizer.

"I thought we got a little more confident going forward," Libertyville coach Daniel DePaz said. "We were a little bit timid looking at their forwards. (Evanston) has some fast forwards. I think our defense was sitting back a little bit.

“Second half, we … put a little bit pressure up higher on the field. We kind of shrunk the field down a little bit, and it created a little more space for us to continue possessing the ball. We did have some pretty good opportunities even though we didn't get anything. But there some good positives to come out of this game."

Libertyville held the edge in play, but the credit defensively went to the Wildkits, who stepped up to another level. 

"(Evanston) had a very well-organized backline," DePaz said. "They had some speed and size. They were very physical. It made it very hard to move around. They did a nice job with us."

The solid win against a top-level club gave Evanston a chance to see where its young team is headed.

"I like the way they battled out there," Berkley said. "We haven't had the competition like Libertyville in our season yet. Sometimes it can be hard when you get pressure more than you're used to. I thought our girls did a really good job adjusting and kind of worked out the kinks as the game went on. Libertyville had more attacking opportunities. It’s good to see how your team progresses."

Starting lineups

GK-Brianna Valdez
D-Anna George
D-Gianna Amidei
D-Erin Kelly
D-Lainey Chang
MF-Molly Koch
MF-Meg O'Donnel
MF-Tess McGormley
MF-Shae Krakowski
F-Sydney Dulak 
F-Maddy Kopola

GK-Shea Lucas
D-Sydney Johnson
D-Damilola Adeniyi
D-Maddie Ball
D-Maizlyn Kelly
MF-Mia Derer
MF-Sydney Ross
MF-Maddy Varela
F-Jocelyn Leigh
F-Alexandra Merriam
F-Bridget Durkin

Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Maizlyn Kelly, fr., D, Evanston

Scoring summary

First half
E-Jocelyn Leigh (Bridget Durkin), 24'

Second half
No scoring