A little rain didn’t stop the OPRF soccer team from getting their second victory in the Pepsi Showdown Tournament on Thursday night in Oak Park.
The Huskies defeated Loyola 3-1 in their third game of the annual tournament, and advanced in the Muscle Milk bracket to play Wheaton Academy on Saturday.
The Huskies (4-5-1, 0-1) got on the board early as senior midfielder Okker Verhagen scored after getting past two Loyola defenders on the right side with 33:39 left to play in the first half. OPRF dominated with ball possession throughout the rest of the first half, and took eight shots on goal. Head coach Pat Wright knew that the focus coming into Thursday’s game would be taking more shots and making the opposing defense work harder.
“We’ve made some changes over the last few games,” he said. “The big thing is that we’re taking more shots and putting more pressure up on top. That’s something that wasn’t happening in the first two or three games, so it’s really good to see that.”
The Huskies would take seven more shots on goal in the second half, and an early goal by senior forward Noe Espinosa gave them some insurance. Espinosa fought through traffic in front of the net to score on a play after an OPRF free-kick with 38:30 left in the game to take the 2-0 lead.
“We worked on scoring a lot more in practice and getting that extra drive to get a goal,” said senior midfielder Pat Callahan. “It worked in (Thursday’s) game. We got the ball moving and we just finished.”
The Huskies’ final goal came also after a free-kick, this time it was Callahan who put it in the back of the net after he connected on a pass from junior midfielder Steve Hawthorne with 17:40 left to play.
“Our forwards and midfielders are gaining more confidence,” Wright said. “It’s good to see them move the ball around and try some things.”
Huskies senior goalkeeper Liam Sorensen stopped 4-of-5 shots he faced against the Ramblers. The only ball to get past him was off of a Loyola penalty kick with 14:30 to go in the game.
The rainy conditions were a challenge for both sides, but Callahan said that there may have been an advantage offensively.
“The conditions were tough,” he said, “but it helped out both teams on offense because the ball was skidding and it kept the defense on their toes. It put more pressure on the defense because they had to control it.”
Wright said he’s excited to see his team improving each game, and that the players are ready for the challenges ahead for the remainder of the season.
“I’m really happy that we’ll play Saturday for a chance to get back up to .500 and move on from there,” he said. “The kids are starting to see it and starting to believe in it. It’s hard when you lose, you start not having fun. But these kids are buying back into it, which is great.”