Every player on Oak Park and River Forest High school’s varsity soccer had a reason to celebrate on Senior Night after beating the top-ranked team in the state on Oct. 10. St. Patrick (19-1-2) hadn’t lost a game all season before the Huskies took them out with a 2-1 victory.
“We needed something like this,” said head coach Jason Fried. “To be honest, the last two to three weeks we haven’t really been clicking. We have been practicing so hard, and something we noticed is that the guys have really been listening the last week and a half and it finally came out today.”
In the two weeks before the match against St. Patrick, the Huskies suffered losses to Lyons Township and Maine West after only losing once in their first 11 matches. To make things more difficult, they had to face a tough Glenbard West team on Oct. 8 to end their losing streak.
It turned out that facing the Hilltoppers was just what OPRF needed to get back on track before facing the Shamrocks (the Huskies beat Glenbard West 1-0).
“We don’t have a lot of experience going up against [St. Patrick’s] formation of three in the back, five midfielders and two up top,” said junior Ben Ryan. “Our first exposure of that was against Glenbard West the game before. In practice, Fried set up the formation with cones and showed us where the gaps were and what positions we should be in to receive the ball.”
Even with the preparation at practice, the Huskies had to deal with the Shamrocks’ physicality. Throughout the first half, St. Patrick didn’t allow OPRF to get the spacing it wanted and was able to shut down the offense.
However, OPRF held its own defensively and denied the Shamrocks scoring opportunities until 1:07 remaining in the half. St. Patrick’s Sebastian Modzejweski drew a penalty in the box. He gave the Shamrocks a 1-0 lead heading into halftime after finishing off the penalty kick.
“They were moving the ball a lot quicker than us and being more proactive in the first half,” said Fried. “But once we started playing our game and matched them physically, we were able to come out with a bit more energy.”
OPRF lived in the Shamrocks’ half of the field once the second half was underway. The Huskies tied the match when Evan Brown found a streaking Ben Ryan on the other side of the box to score the goal. OPRF continued to punish the defense with more shots on goal and played off the momentum they gained from Ryan’s score.
“I think we had a great rotation with our subs and we had a lot of energy going in that second half,” said Fried. “You need every player to be ready to beat a team like that so we need people to cycle in and be fresh and I think every player who came in kept it simple, kept the ball moving, and I think that was the difference.”
At the 11:08 mark, Mateja Tadic stole the ball and found Brown heading down the left sideline. With a defender draped all over him, Brown fired a missile into the right corner of the goal to give the Huskies the lead. They had another shot at extending the lead after Tadic drew a penalty at the 7:20 mark, but the PK sailed over the goal.
St. Patrick never recovered and repeatedly tried to draw fouls late in the match. The officials weren’t buying the flops, and OPRF pulled off the upset.
“This win gives us a lot of confidence,” said Ryan. “We knew this was going to be a tough game with their record as impressive as it is. They also have a big reputation, but we knew we could pull this off.”
With the playoffs looming, OPRF has a tough slate ahead of them. After facing some of the top teams in the state in LTHS, St. Patrick, and Glenbard West, the Huskies are set to face York (ranked 56th in state) and Fenwick (66th in state).
However, OPRF (28th in state) views the tough schedule as an opportunity to prepare for the playoffs.
“They simulate the playoffs better than the games where we beat teams by six or seven goals,” said Ryan. “We think the exposure against [top tier opponents] is something that prepare us for the playoffs, and we love the competition.”