Boys soccer: St. Charles East blanks Geneva, now 11-1
Jake Walker took a brutal shoulder to the face after attempting a slide tackle to stop the Geneva rush upfield Thursday.
Walker, a St. Charles East sophomore, walked off the field under his own power. He returned minutes later to see the Saints finish the job they started, a 3-0 victory over Geneva at Burgess Field.
A constant force around the ball, Walker will make plays that won't make it into a stat sheet: hustle plays, winning balls in the air and in space.
It's helped him make his own mark for the Saints (11-1-0, 2-1-0).
"I like to be a backbone in the air," Walker said. "And by doing that, I go for every single header ball, no matter what opponent I'm up against. From the start of the season, [Saints coach Vince DiNuzzo] has been preaching about me being more decisive out of the air. My goal is to strive toward that."
Taking some lumps through contact is just another element Walker can bring.
"If I am going to be a backbone in the air, I like to be tough on the field as well," Walker continued. "Even if I get knocked down, I like to go back in as quickly as possible."
Walker "has stepped up, filled in nicely doing a really good job," according to his coach.
"He's a natural center back. We have a couple other guys that are playing there that aren't natural center backs," DiNuzzo said. "He has that instinct of just being a ball-winner [and] not letting anything over his head. Being a little bit more organized and [being] tenacious in terms of fighting for loose balls and finding the free man coming across."
The Saints' win was their fifth straight since their only loss, 3-2 to Lake Park on Sept. 7. On the season, they've posted seven shutouts -- a testament to their collective defensive tenacity and goalkeeping through a combination of Tyler Benhart and Jordan Rolon.
"We've been improving gradually [as a back line]," Walker said. "At the start of the season, we struggled with set pieces on corner kicks or free kicks. But with the changes DiNuzzo makes [throughout a given game] with corners, free kicks and zonal defense, we've been improving a lot. The goals have been getting less and less."
Rolon had eight saves in his first career varsity start and played the entire game.
" ... He earned his first start [tonight] after working very hard in practice," DiNuzzo said. "He was solid today. A couple distribution errors, but nothing that would be cause for concern."
St. Charles East took a 1-0 advantage into the half after Sebastian Carranza connected on a penalty kick with 21:32 remaining in the half.
Geneva (2-7-3, 1-1-2) had a seemingly golden chance to equalize on a penalty kick with 2:57 before the half, but Christian Diaz missed the shot wide left. In the second half, Josh Ruiz later corralled a rebound off a save by Geneva goalie Hayden Vostal on a free kick for the 2-0 Saints' lead.
Carranza scored his second goal of the game just shy of three minutes remaining after blocking a Geneva free kick with his body deep in Vikings territory. With the Vikings attack primarily upfield, he controlled the ball and knocked it home to put an exclamation point on the win.
Geneva (2-7-3, 1-1-2) continues to seemingly play more effectively in the second half of games. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it isn't translating into finishing at the net.
" ... It shows when we don't finish and they [Saints do] finish; they had like four chances and they finished three of them," Vikings coach Jason Bhatta said. "We had more than that. We didn't finish any of them, so it's kind of where we're at."
"I told the boys: 'We can play with a lot of these teams that are going to be top seeds in our sectional and things like that," Bhatta continued. "But, we've just got to take our chances when they come and be better in moments."