By Michael Wojtychiw
Taft’s boys soccer team has come so close.
In 2022, the Eagles made it to their second city championship game, but lost in heartbreaking fashion, a shootout loss to Solorio. So when the team took the field at Lane Stadium on Oct. 11, it was looking to do something it had never done in program history: win a city title.
“This is almost surreal.” Taft manager Jeff Lucco said. “I feel like we’ve been really, really close for a few years and to come out and have a first half like that, it’s amazing.
“I’m really happy for these guys. Last year was tough, especially the way we lost. But I told them at halftime, we’ve improved so much this year, I’m so proud of them., It has to be the most decorated class we’ve had.”
The wait was further delayed due to the fact that Goode’s bus was in a minor accident as it was traveling to Lane Stadium for the game and needed to wait for a new bus. The game would end up being delayed for a little over an hour.
However, nothing was stopping the Eagles on this day as they rushed out to a quick lead, eventually cruising to a 4-0 win.
“We came out looking to set the tone early,” Taft’s Adrian Grden said.
And it was the returning players who played key roles in the win. Bart Wojda, a member of last year’s team, has been the leading scorer on this year’s squad and played a big part in the win right away, assisting on a goal by Kurmanbek Madaripov in the sixth minute before putting in a goal of his own in the 22nd minute.
After last year’s loss, Wojda and his teammates knew not only what it took to get to the championship game, but also what they needed to do to come out with the victory.
“It’s an amazing feeling, it’s the first time we’ve won a city championship,” Wojda said. “We have to live in the moment and enjoy while we can.
“This year we were able to keep the ball on the ground. In last year’s game, we weren’t confident on the ball. That wasn’t the case this year.”
“I think what these guys learned last year is things can be taken away from you quickly,” Lucco said. “We’ve had moments where things have slipped away but they haven’t had it affect them as it may have in the past.”
The Eagles weren’t done, however.
Four minutes after Wojda’s goal, Gabriel Vidaurre scored off a pass from Adrian Grden. Both players, like Wojda, were members of the city runners-up next year.
Grden rounded out the scoring in the 36th minute when he put in a Max Gonzalez pass.
One thing that’s been convenient for the Eagles has been that the scoring has come from multiple people and they haven’t had to rely on just one or two individuals.
“We’ve got really good soccer players, these kids are really, really skilled,” Lucco said. “It’s a very well-rounded group. When you have a defense like ours, it gives the rest of the team confidence.”
“We, including myself, have been more motivated to score,” Wojda said. “We want to win the most goals as possible…it’s how you win soccer games.”
Lucco knew his defense would be stout all year, but for his team to not allow a regulation goal in the city playoffs is something that none of the players probably could have imagined.
“Things they do on the ball now, we couldn’t have imagined,” Lucco said. “they let us coach them and that’s allowed them to be extra special.”
“I think our all-state defense, in my opinion, not many teams in the state can score on us,” Grden said. “The state is going to see that.”
The run to the championship game by Sarah Goode was one that included knocking off a number of talented teams, including the defending city champion Solorio in penalty kicks in the semifinals.
Both teams are hoping to make deep runs into the state playoffs and will play for regional finals this weekend. Taft faces off with New Trier in a Class 3A regional final at New Trier, while Goode is in a Class 2A regional final at Kankakee on Saturday.
“We need to have faith in each other and just trust each other,” Wojda said. “The way we act with each other, that’ll help us through the ups and downs.”