Conceding an equalizer minutes before halftime is frustrating. But it’s a particularly bothersome prospect when you’ve outplayed your opponent for the better part of 40 minutes.
New Trier boys soccer completely controlled the opening half of its Class 3A sectional final match against the Leyden Eagles. But a quick counterattack from the Trevians’ opposition, paired with a moment of brilliance from Oliver Salgado, the Eagles’ star midfielder and All-State selection, changed the outlook of the contest.
But New Trier reset at halftime and opened the second on a mission to regain its lead. Senior Aidan O’Neill found the back of the net five minutes in, giving the Trevs a 2-1 lead and propelling them to their second straight sectional title on Friday, Oct. 27, in Evanston.
“Thirty-eight minutes of that first half we dominated, but we slipped up for two minutes and we let up a goal, and we knew that just couldn’t happen in the second half,” O’Neill said. “Our whole message during halftime was to win the full 40 minutes, have no slip-ups and stay focused 100 percent of the time.”
After waiting through a near-hour-long delay prior to the match because of a referee shortage, New Trier opened the night with an aggressive attack that generated several shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes.
New Trier’s attack broke free in the 22nd minute when sophomore Calyx Hoover found senior Ethan Green, who got behind Leyden’s defense and chipped a shot past the keeper for the Trevians’ opening strike.
“It was kind of a broken play to begin with, but Calyx got the ball and he found me in wide open space,” Green said. “I was just in acres of space, and all I had to do was just flick it over the goalie; Calyx did all the work for me.
“I was ecstatic,” Green added. “It was a huge momentum shift for the team and I think the rest of our play for the rest of the game just took off from there.”
The Trevs continued to steadily pressure the Eagles, but the team’s attack could not find its second goal. New Trier’s stellar midfield play limited Leyden’s ability to generate consistent ball possession, and the Trevs’ backline quickly squandered any potential Eagles’ threats in the first 35 minutes.
But Leyden took full advantage of its lone scoring chance, capitalizing on the rare moment of opportunity allowed by the Trevians to even the score.
“It certainly made our halftime talk pretty simple because we knew that we needed to manage moments of transition better, and they showed the quality that they had going forward,” New Trier coach Matt Ravenscraft said of the Eagles’ equalizer.
“We clearly knew who their special players were and they showed that they can hurt us if given the chance, so I think it was a lesson that the boys took to heart very quickly and they dealt with those moments much better in the second half. We came out strong in the second half. That response … a goal in the first five minutes of the second half, was crucial and I’m really proud of the boys.”
New Trier came out from the break firing — and it was only minutes before the Trevians turned their ferocious attack into another goal.
Senior midfielder Cole Driscoll showcased skillful on-ball composure as he cleverly dribbled past multiple Leyden defenders to deliver a well-placed cross to O’Neill, who buried a shot in the bottom right corner of the net.
“It was all kind of a blur to be honest,” O’Neill said of the strike. “Cole made an incredible play dribbling past three kids to the endline, he made a really nice move and just cut it back to me and I think it flicked off one of the defenders, but I was just in the right spot and right place and had my head up and was able to slide it into the bottom corner.”
Ravenscraft added that the early score gave New Trier “belief” and put the Trevs “in the driver’s seat.”
“It meant that they had to come at us a bit more, which just meant there was a little bit more space for us to play our game,” he said.
Leyden’s best chance to again equalize came not long after New Trier took the lead. The Eagles generated a serious threat when a centering attempt from an attacking winger found the foot of their sliding striker inside the box. But the ball hit off the goal post and the Trevs’ keeper, Shafer Brahm, was able to corral the loose ball.
New Trier’s strong defensive play — led by the team’s backline of seniors Liam Myers, Harrison Hahner and Kevin Farina — kept the Eagles attack at bay for the rest of the night.
“They’ve battled all year,” Ravenscraft said of New Trier’s defensive backs. “They have chemistry and they have trust and it takes a lot to break those boys down. … It was a really stellar performance.”
New Trier returns to the state’s elite eight in Class 3A for the second consecutive campaign.
It has been yet another standout season for one the state’s elite soccer programs. The Trevians victory on Friday was the team’s 20th of the year.
“Winning sectionals is hard; winning big games is no easy feat but this group has really shown throughout the entire season that they’re built to win big games against big-time opponents,” Ravenscraft said.
The Trevs will compete in the supersectional on Tuesday, Oct. 31, in St. Charles. They will face the winner of Saturday’s sectional final between York and St. Charles East.
But regardless of their opponent, the Trevs are eager to avenge their supersectional, double-overtime loss against Stevenson last season.
“We feel hungry,” Ravenscraft said. “Obviously we were very close. That (Stevenson) loss still stings and I think that has really propelled us and driven us. And from the coaching staff, that’s where we want to be. That’s the stage where we want to be every year and we’d like to go even a little bit deeper this year.”
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.