AT Boys Soccer toppled the defending state champion West Chicago (1-1-0) by a score of 1-0 during an epic showdown on Saturday to start out the season 2-0-0.
The win was the second combined shutout of the season for goalies Mateo Gomez and Joey Dionne. It also put AT in great position to win the Joe Novy tournament, which hasn’t yielded an AT victory since 2016.
The shutout streak started on Thursday night with a convincing 5-0 defeat of Proviso West. A strong performance from the defense made for an easy night for Gomez and Dionne, with the only save of the game coming in the first half. Several players showed promise and confidence in their varsity debut.
“No way I just did that in the first game of the season,” said junior midfielder Emilio Macias after scoring two of AT’s five goals.
Despite the success against Proviso West, bigger challenges were ahead for AT. On Saturday, the team was set for a 60 minute showdown against the defending state champion Wildcats of West Chicago in the 93 degree heat.
Tension and nerves ran high for the Blazers.
“Don’t be scared. No one be scared,” co-captain David Peters told his team before the game. “We need to play confident.”
The game started out with a strong showcase from West Chicago’s offense. Distress broke out near AT’s goal numerous times and attempts to clear the ball away proved fruitless. West Chicago fired on the collapsing AT team numerous times until Gomez swallowed up the ball with a diving grab.
The poor start created frustration and miscommunication for the Blazers. Coaches were frustrated with players, players were frustrated with one another, and poor communication ensured that one Wildcat was always left uncovered.
The Blazers headed to the bench bickering at the first of the two required water breaks.
“We’ve got two corners. We’re wasting one of them,” said head coach Ryan Dini. “Let’s not make it so hard on ourselves.”
AT regrouped and a great shot from midfielder Sebastian Alicea gave the Blazers a much needed energy boost.
Then, with just minutes left in the half, co-captain Alex Sandoval fired the perfect shot on a free kick, scoring the first and only goal of the game. AT went wild as the Wildcat confidence instantly dissipated.
“Don’t lose our heads,” said Dionne.
Gomez and the Blazer defense completed the first half shutout, with Gomez totaling two saves.
After discussing strategies at the half, Dini reminded his players of the gravity of the game.
“This is a hard tournament. There’s a lot on the line. These are the defending state champions you’re playing right now,” he said. “They are going to come out with everything they have.
“We gotta make it easy on Joey (Dionne),” said Sandoval. “It’s whoever wants it more now. Nobody wants to lose this game. We wanna win this,” he said.
“They’ve lost it already; we just have to stay together,” added midfielder Matias Aguilar, referencing the wounded pride of West Chicago.
The Blazers returned to the field with the wind, scoreboard, and confidence on their side. The one to zero lead was well defended for 20 minutes as the game remained a stalemate.
In the last 10 minutes, however, the Wildcats were poised to pounce. Chaos broke out by AT’s goal and several shots on goal and corner kicks had everyone holding their breath. Dionne emerged as a hero, amassing three incredible saves. With four seconds remaining, Peters kicked the ball far out of bounds and the clock ran down to zero, finalizing the win for AT.
After a brief celebration, AT got back to business.
“We’re two and zero but that doesn’t give us the right to celebrate,” said Dini. “We still have to beat Glenbard North.”
Peters felt the win foreshadowed what’s next for the team.
“This [win] just tells me we’re gonna do really big things this year,” he said.
AT will continue the Joe Novy tournament and look to stay undefeated on Tuesday against Glenbard North. (1-1-1)