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Rachel Hill gets ready to take a shot for the Red Stars against North Carolina. Later the in the match, she scored the lone goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Rachel Hill gets ready to take a shot for the Red Stars against North Carolina. Later the in the match, she scored the lone goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win in Bridgeview. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Red Stars keep powerhouse Courage winless in Bridgeview

By Jeff Vorva

Correspondent

Ever since North Carolina came into the National Women’s Soccer League, it has been a power.

The Courage debuted in 2017 and won the regular-season league title in its rookie season and finished as a runnerup in the playoffs.

In 2018 and 2019, the Courage won two more regular-season titles and two playoff championships, including a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars in 2019 to claim the title.

Due to the pandemic, there was no regular NWSL season in 2020, so heading into 2021, the Courage had seemingly done it all in its brief three-year tenure in the league.

Well…except one thing.

The Courage had never won a game in Bridgeview. In five meetings against the Red Stars on the road, NC had a tie and four losses. That included a regular-season battle that drew 17,388 on July 21, 2019, shortly after the United States Women’s National team won the World Cup.

That losing trend continued Saturday, even if the attendance surge didn’t. The Courage came into SeatGeek Stadium full of steam with a previous 5-0 slugging of Louisville, the Red Stars defense held the Courage to one shot on goal.

Chicago’s Rachel Hill scored in traffic in the 29th minute to give The Red Stars a 1-0 victory in front of a sparse crowd. Attendance figures were not available.

“This is a tough place to come,” Courage coach Paul Riley said after his team fell to 1-2-1. “We don’t play well here. I don’t know what it is about this field or this stadium or whatever it is. We never get a good result here.

“Maybe we’ll have to change hotels or something.”

The Red Stars improved to 2-2-1 heading into the international break and are now in sixth place in the 10-team league after they were 10th two weeks ago.

“Any win is big, and it gives you confidence,” midfielder Sarah Woldmoe said. “It helps our principles and team identity. Any kind of win under your belt is going to reinforce those things and hopefully we can carry that on to the next match and the next match.”

Look who’s back

Alyssa Mautz, who had ACL injuries in 2019 and 2020, was back on the field on Saturday, coming in at the 71st minute mark.

She had 14 touches in the game and nine passes.

Look who’s leaving

Goalie goalie Alyssa Naeher, who has three shutouts in five games this season, and defender Tierna Davidson were scheduled to leave for USWNT camp, which includes four games.

There is a scenario that between the camp and the Olympics, it’s possible these two will not be playing for the Red Stars until August.

Next…

The Red Stars will take a few days off and get back to practice for a 7 p.m. June 19 home game with third-place Washington (2-1-2).

Washington tied Orlando, 1-1, on Sunday and Ashley Hatch scored her third goal of the season for the Pride’s lone score.

Neighbors

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Youth Softball: Lyons-McCook 14U takes 5th in state

By Steve Metsch
Correspondent

David Sandoval and his players won’t soon forget the summer of 2021.

Sandoval manages the 14-U girls softball team in the Lyons-McCook Little League, a team that wound up finishing fifth in their division in Illinois.

“I’m very proud of them,” Sandoval said.

When asked what makes the team special?

“Their heart,” he added. “I think they would run through a wall for me.”

He said being close-knit helped a lot.

“They’ve been playing together, most of them, for seven years,” Sandoval said. “Since they were small.”

Lyons-McCook beat La Grange, 6-5, to win the district championship on July 1. That win put the girls into the state tournament, which was played in Melrose Park.

In the first game at state, Lyons-McCook lost 11-3 to Melrose Park, “a very good team,” Sandoval said.

“But we gave them a good game. We were losing 5-3 in the seventh inning, and then they blew it open.”

Despite the loss, pitcher Alyssa Kunz did well.

“She kept us in there,” Sandoval said. “There’s 21 outs, she had 16 strikeouts.”

Kunz was on fire, striking out 51 in three games at state.

In the next game, an 8-0 win over Moline, she fanned 21 batters. Yes, every out was a strikeout.

Kunz will play high school softball at Morton, Sandoval said.

In the third game, against Belmont, Kunz had a prior commitment and was unable to pitch. Bella Perez struck out nine in a complete game. Lyons-McCook won, 26-13.

Mia Quintero shone at the plate, slugging a grand slam.

Kunz pitched the following game against Peru on July 16. Peru scraped by, 4-3.

“We had a shot,” Sandoval said. “In the bottom of the seventh, it was them winning 4-3, a girl at third, two outs and my daughter up to bat. She had been killing the ball, so I was excited.”

His daughter, Dateli, grounded back to the pitcher to end the game, along with the state title hopes.

“There were tears in the dugout,” Sandoval said. “Laughing. All sorts of emotions. I was very proud of the girls, especially the Belmont game when we didn’t have our stud (pitcher) going.”

There’s no shame in finishing fifth of 11 teams, he said.

“Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes,” he added.

While it gives him hope for the future, more girls are needed at the 14U level. Lyons-McCook had just enough girls for one team. Rather than play in-house, as do most leagues, Lyons-McCook found itself with regular season schedule playing teams from La Grange, Brookfield, Archer Manor and other communities.

This was Sandoval’s third season as the team’s manager. Ramiro Perez and Francisco Ramirez are the coaches.

“We were all coaches,” Sandoval said. “I was just the voice. I consider us all at the same level.”

Lyons-McCook Team Roster
Dateli Sandoval
Isabella “Bella” Perez
Alyssa Kunz
Mia Quintero
Brianna Medina
Serina Akers
Sierra Tovar
Beatrice Zavala
Nyabelle Brambila
Emily Aguero
Melanie Ramirez
Natalie Romero

 

 

High School Football: O’Connor is back in the saddle at Chicago Christian

By Steve Metsch
Correspondent

The new head football coach at Chicago Christian is a familiar face to Knights fans.

Tom O’Connor served the past five seasons as special teams coordinator under former coach Nick Cook. He was hired in May to succeed the coach who brought the program back to the playoffs after a nine-year drought.

Cook stepped down to take a new job in his native Ohio. He is coaching at a Christian high school in suburban Cleveland, according to O’Connor.

A retired Chicago police officer who lives in the city’s 10th Ward, O’Connor is no newcomer to the gridiron. He has more than 40 years of experience coaching football at various levels.

He was the head coach when St. Francis de Sales made its first playoff appearance in 2006. His son, Sean, started as a lineman on offense and defense that memorable season.

Now, Sean coaches the offensive and defensive linemen at Chicago Christian, where he’s been a coach for 10 years.

“As a matter of fact, he got me the job at Chicago Christian when I first came on the staff with Coach Cook,” Tom O’Connor said.

“I had retired and Sean told me, ‘I’m not going to let you sit around on the couch,’” O’Connor said. “Sure enough, I got a call from Coach Cook and he hired me.”

Being able to coach with his son can’t be beat.

“It’s outstanding,” O’Connor said. “The highlights of my coaching career have all been with my son, whether when he was a player or the last three successful seasons here.”

O’Connor expressed enthusiasm about the challenge ahead.

“Coach Cook has established enough of a foundation,” he said. “I intend to follow a lot of the things he did to get us there.”

O’Connor plans to do some tweaking. All new head coaches do.

“But the main fundamentals of what we do and how we do it, that’s going to be the same,” he added.

Cook emphasized getting players into the weight room more often, which resulted in their having an increased commitment to the program, O’Connor said. That will continue.

“That’s what got those young men better — hard work,” O’Connor said.

Looking ahead, he noted that four of the five offensive linemen from last season’s playoff team graduated. That adds to the challenge, he said.

“We’ve got to find some kids, but that’s our job,” he said. “Whoever we get, we’ll coach them up. We’ll take what we’ve got and make them better.”

Some of his best recruiters are his players.

“Our kids have gotten very good at recruiting students in the hallway,” he said with a laugh. “They see guys who should be out there with, put the arm them and, with some positive pressure, they get them out there.”

A highlight for O’Connor is being able to coach with his son.

“It’s outstanding,” he said. “The highlights of my coaching career have all been with my son whether when he was a player or the last three successful seasons here.”

Years ago, O’Connor coached football and baseball at the since-shuttered Mendel Catholic High School, where he taught science before he became a police officer. In the midst of his law enforcement career, he heard coaches were needed at de Sales. He coached there from 1993 to 2006, the last three years as head coach.

“Most of those years I worked midnights so I could coach,” he said.

Now, he is hard at work as he prepares the Knights for what he hopes is another playoff run.

One pleasant surprise this summer has been the brewing battle to see who will be the starting quarterback. Senior Luke Jelderks or junior Brian Brown will get the nod for the season opener, scheduled for Aug. 27 at home against Hansberry, O’Connor said.

“They both fit the offense we’re tweaking a little bit,” O’Connor said. “This is the kind of competition we don’t usually have at quarterback, but we’ve got two kids working at it and it’s making them both better.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited. And, having the spring season we had, it was like college spring ball. Take a few months off and now we’re right back at it.”

High School Football: New coach Pattison looks to turn Oak Lawn around

By Jeff Vorva
Correspondent

When Ryan Pattison was hired as the head football coach at Guerin, he was looking forward to leading the 2020 squad and rebuilding a program.

He did not need to worry about COVID-19 spoiling those plans. That happened when the private high school in River Grove announced it was going to close after the 2019-20 school year.

Pattison admits it was a disappointing blow. But a year later, he is able to try to build another football program — this one much closer to his Orland Park home.

The former Lockport quarterback is the new coach at Oak Lawn. He will replace Harold Blackmon, who parted ways with the Spartans after two seasons.

“I’m really happy where I’m at,” Pattison said. “Everything happens for a reason and I’m starting to believe it. I’m so much happier being here.”

Oak Lawn has not had a winning season since going 6-4 in 2008. The following year, the Spartans finished qualified for the playoffs and finished 5-5, but since then have gone 25-71, including a 1-5 mark in an abbreviated 2021 spring season. The 2020 fall campaign was canceled because of the pandemic.

“It’s been a good chunk of time since we had a winning season,” the coach said. “The potential is there. It’s just about how good they can pick up a new offense or a new defense. If they were in this program for three or four years, we would have the talent to go and make the playoffs and have a winning season.

“The question is how hard are they going to study and how hard are they going to work to catch up. We have about a month and we play a game. This offense needs to be crisp and ready to do this and the defense needs to be crisp and ready to go.”

During the spring, the Spartans lost their first five games by a combined score of 210-28 before closing the season with a 46-28 victory over Argo.

Oak Lawn quarterback Dan Lisnic started during the spring as a sophomore. Photo by Jeff Vorva

“That win was definitely a start, but we have to improve,” said junior quarterback Danny Lisnic, who started under center in the spring.

Having summer football this season is a big help as the Spartans had just a month to get ready for the spring campaign, Lisnic said. He also likes the vibe Pattison brings to the team.

“He brings a lot of energy and it may be the energy some kids need,” Lisnic said.

Oak Lawn players raise their helmets during a recent summer practice. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Another pro soccer team in Chicago is in the House

By Jeff Vorva

Peter Wilt is at it again.

The man who was a huge influence in bringing the Chicago Fire and Chicago Red Stars to the area and helped pioneer other soccer teams in the Midwest, said Chicago is big enough to support another pro team and has hatched the Chicago House Athletic Club, a team that is in the third-division National Independent Soccer League and will play its home games at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.

That’s the same site that on July 14, Wilt and his partner, Night Train Veeck (grandson of former White Sox owner and out-of-the-box innovator Bill Veeck) spoke to the United Business Association of Midway group about their plans for the House.

“We are a community organization that happens to play soccer,” Wilt said. “We want to be a positive agent of change in Chicago. We want to use this as a community asset.

“It really bugs me when you get these wealthy owners that threaten to move to another city. They make it out like it’s their team. This isn’t a typical business where a guy owns a business and it’s his business. This is a community team. You are depending on the community to support you. It’s something that belongs to the people and belongs to the fans.”

Veeck, who said Night Train is his given name, said this is a budding business model in which fans will have a stake in the ownership and there is a clause in which fans could even fire the coach if need be.

“We have ambitious plans,” Veeck said. “We’re working on a fan-ownership concept of a team. Think the Green Bay Packers but instead of giving out certificates, we will offer voting rights and a voice in decisions.”

The fans already had their say as they voted on the name, which Wilt and Veeck thinks is perfect as it embodies the city’s architecture and music among other things.

House officials had a Moniker Madness for the fans in which 68 names were considered and 67 were eliminated bracket style. The House, Second City FC, Point Chicago and the Sting were in the final four.

Other interesting nominated names included Chicago Hope, the Raccoons, River Rats, Onionmen, Bricklayers, Knuckles, Stockyards, Goats, Riot and Murder Hornets.

The team is going to practice at the Pilsen Athletic Football Club and plans on target marketing the city and suburbs.

Wilt said that the team will engage communities as much as possible and coach CJ Brown, a Chicago Fire legend, will also be active in getting the word out on the team.

Officials will also pepper the roster with Chicago-area talent.

Wilt said he knows attendance will be small at the beginning, but crosses his fingers he can reach 5,000 fans a game soon.

The first home game is Aug. 21 against the New Amsterdam FC. The first NISA match will take place Aug. 7 against Detroit City FC at Keyworth Stadium in Detroit.

The team has played two preseason games and is 1-1, which includes a 2-0 victory over Steel City FC on Saturday in Kankakee.

Troy McAllister has taken an interesting journey to Sandburg

By Jeff Vorva
Correspondent

Yes, new Sandburg football coach Troy McAllister had an interesting tenure at Phillips as he led the program to two state championships – the first and second in Chicago Public League history.

But, man, the coach’s resume before he got to Phillips is pretty darn intriguing, as well.

The new era of Sandburg football started Tuesday, July 6, with the start of summer football practice. Because of what McAllister accomplished at Phillips, Eagles fans are excited about this hire and drooling over the fact that maybe he can bring the Eagles up to elite status.

“It’s a similar situation in that you are trying to change a culture and mindset to say, ‘Hey, we can do this,’’’ McAllister said. “You want it where it’s not just a dream, it’s a reality.

“That was the same situation that we had at Phillips. We were trying to get the mindset around getting away from the negativity and focusing on the task at hand.”

McAllister was born and raised in Kingston, Ontario, where he played football. He played and coached at Queen’s College in Kingston and earned a master’s degree in education from D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York.

Armed with that degree and some college coaching experience, he came to Chicago, attended a job fair at the United Center and came away with a job teaching kindergarten at Dulles Elementary School.

His first coaching job on American soil was mentoring grade school athletes in flag football.

He said that some people didn’t take his abilities seriously because of his Canadian background.

McAllister spent a year coaching an inner-city youth program – the Little Mighty Men, a feeder for Dunbar of the Chicago Public League.

He was bumped up to freshman coach at Dunbar for a year, then took over at Phillips.

In 2014, he was hired to coach at Evergreen Park, but that fell through before he even coached a game because of a paperwork snafu.

So, he went back to Phillips and made history by winning two state titles.

Now in Orland Park, he is taking over a program that has finished above .500 once in the last eight seasons.

Year-in-and-year out, the Eagles have to battle mega powers Lincoln-Way East, Homewood-Flossmoor and Bolingbrook in conference games.

That’s not going to change no matter who the coach is. McAllister wants the Eagles’ mindset to change.

“They have to know they can go and compete at the highest level,” he said. “They have to compete against the highest level – they don’t have a choice. If you don’t want to compete, you don’t have a chance.”

For now, he is getting the troops to buy in to how important these few weeks of summer ball are.

“Every drill in practice and every minute in practice – you have to embrace it and use it to get better,” McAllister said. “You hope that it leads to an improved win and loss record, but over time the big deal and the big push is that it’s going to make you better people.

“That’s the goal of any high school coach. That’s our goal at Sandburg as well.”

The Eagles will host Richards in a 7-on-7 game on Friday, July 16.

 

PHILLIPS TURNAROUND
Prior to Troy McAllister’s arrival at Phillips, its football program qualified for the state playoffs just once in its first 31 seasons. Here is what the Wildcats did in his 11 seasons at the CPS school:

Year Record Postseason

2010 2-7 Did not qualify

2011 7-3 Qualifier

2012 5-4 Did not qualify

2013 8-4 Qualifier

2014 12-2 Class 4A runner-up

2015 14-0 Class 4A state champ

2016 11-2 Qualifier

2017 14-0 Class 4A state champ

2018 9-3 Qualifier

2019 9-2 Qualifier

2020 — No fall season

2021 3-1 No postseason

Total 94-28, eight playoff appearances, two state titles

 

Sandburg defensive players get after it during the first day of summer practice in Orland Park. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Two more own-goals help vault Red Stars into second place

By Jeff Vorva
Correspondent

For a few hours on July 18, the Chicago Red Stars were in first place.

After a 3-1 victory over the OL Reign in front of an announced crowd of 3,301 at SeatGeek Stadium improved their record to 5-4-2, the Stars were on top of the NWSL world with 17 points.

A few hours later, Portland beat Orlando, 2-1, to grab first place; but considering that on June 26, Chicago was 2-4-2 after a 3-0 loss to Racing Louisville and were in eighth-place in the 10-team league, this was a huge jump.

“As you can see, this year it’s going to be a super-tight table,” Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo said. “It’s going to be constantly changing. We’re excited to be there but there is a lot of work ahead.

Chicago coach Rory Dames is happy a three-game win streak vaulted the team from eighth to second, but the final eight games of the 24-game regular season will be when he starts to take notice.

“When we get into that last third, I’ll start worrying about the table,” he said. “I know that it’s packed. In this league, everything goes in ebbs and flows.”

The Red Stars set a strange NSWL record by scoring two more own goals, which came in the 48th and 55th minute. They have a league-record-breaking five own-goals, all which have come in the past three games.

Mallory Pugh forced the first own goal to go off of the Reign’s Celia Jimenez Delgado. Pugh’s corner kick caused a second own goal, although both Pugh and Rory Dames said the goal should have gone to defender Tatumn Milazzo, who was right in front of the net and appeared to have tapped it in.

Dames said he would have the league review it. The NSWL could reverse the decision and give Milazzo, an Orland Park native and Andrew graduate, her first career goal.

For now, the Red Stars have the weird own-goal record and the season is almost at the halfway point for them. The team has 11 goals – six credited to the Stars and five own-goals.

“Goals are goals,” Dames said. “As long as the ball goes in their goal and not ours, I don’t care who gets it.

“I didn’t know ‘own goal’ would be our leading scorer. Cheapest goal scorer we ever had.”

Pugh scored the third goal of the game in the 64th minute, and in doing so became the first Red Star with more than one goal this season. She is the first to be credited with an offensive goal since June 19, when Morgan Gautrat scored in extra time of a 1-1 tie with Washington in Bridgeview.

The Reign (3-6-1), which entered the game tied with Portland for the NWSL-lead in goals in the first 15 minutes with four, did it again Sunday when Bethany Balcer scored her fourth goal of the year and second against the Red Stars this season in the 12th minute.

Red Stars veteran Vanessa DiBernardo logged her 10,000th minute of play Sunday and became just the sixth player in NWSL history to play 10,000 minutes for the same club. Photo by Jeff Vorva

10,000 Club gets bigger
DiBernardo became the sixth player in NSWL history to pass the 10,000-minute mark with the same club. She is the first Red Stars athlete to play that many minutes for the team.

“Ten thousand minutes – that’s crazy,” Pugh said. “I’ve always hated playing against (her). She’s all over the field all of the time.”

DeBernardo wasn’t the only player to hit the milestone in the contest.

Chicago’s Kaelia Watt, who assisted on Pugh’s goal against the Reign, also hit the 10,000 milestone. She has also played for Houston.

Former Red Star Sofia Huerta passed that mark late in the game for the OL Reign.

Up next
The Red Stars have a rematch against New York/New Jersey Gotham (4-1-4) at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

In the second game of the season, the two teams had a 0-0 draw in Bridgeview.

Gotham is unbeaten in six straight games after beating Washington, 3-2, on Sunday. Margaret Purce scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the 76th minute.

Olympics ready to roll
Gotham will be missing Carli Lloyd, Kailen Sheridan and Evelyne Veins against the Red Stars as that trio is playing in the Olympics, which starts Thursday. Lloyd, 39, it the oldest U.S. women’s soccer Olympian ever. Sheridan and Viens are playing for Canada.

The Red Stars have four in Olympic competition playing for the United States – Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger.

TIGHT TABLE
Heading into this weekend’s action, here are the top seven teams in the 10-team NWSL:

Team W-L-T Points

Portland 6-3-1 19

Chicago 5-4-2 17

Houston 5-4-1 16

NY/NJ 4-1-4 16

Orlando 4-3-4 16

North Car. 5-4-1 16

Washington 4-3-3 15

Mallory Pugh had a hand in all three Red Stars goals in a win over the OL Reign on Sunday in Bridgeview, but two were ruled own-goals. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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