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‘Disciplined’ Saints scrap out 1-0 win over St. Francis

The Holy Cross men’s soccer team completed a road trip sweep Wednesday night, defeating St. Francis 1-0, days after a 2-1 triumph at Governors State. The Saints are now 2-1-0 in conference action and 4-2-1 overall since a season-opening blowout loss to Bethel. With the victory, Holy Cross now carries seven points to place 4th in the CCAC standings. The Saints started 0-3-2 within the conference last year, so head coach Omar Gallo is pleased with the early success in 2022.

“It’s always important to start strong, and anytime you get wins on the road, it allows you to have more confidence for your home matches,” Gallo said. “Anytime you can get the results on the road — especially a W — it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders as you continue to move forward.”

The match began unfavorably for Holy Cross, as the Saints were pitted against a strong wind in the first half. St. Francis outshot Holy Cross 11-6, but sophomore goalkeeper Claudio Fuentealba recorded four saves to take a scoreless tie into halftime.

As the second half began, Gallo directed several key changes that opened up the offense. Senior midfielder Marcos Hernandez and sophomore midfielder Archimed Sabu were moved toward the middle of the field. The Saints also focused on feeding the attack through the center and attacking midfielders along with the striker. When it all came together, Holy Cross turned the tables and outshot St. Francis 12-9 in the second frame.

In the 67th minute, Holy Cross struck for the game’s only marker. Sophomore forward Kevin Vidana found the back of the net for his first collegiate goal. Though the official assist was attributed to freshman midfielder Tristan Alfaro, Gallo cited sophomore defender Martin Von Thun and his throw-in as the spark plug. 

“This year, we haven’t been able to capitalize off [Von Thun’s long throws]. Sure enough, the goal came off a long throw from Martin,” Gallo said. “What impressed us the most was Kevin’s discipline to be in the right position at the right time. The ball came out to where he wanted him to be, and he took an unbelievable strike.”

Both teams played with a high sense of urgency and intensity on a chilly evening in Joliet. By the time the Saints wrapped up their 1-0 victory, the stat sheet included 36 total fouls and 7 combined yellow cards. Four of the previous six Holy Cross-St. Francis matchups had ended in draws, so the Saints’ frontman expected and embraced the physical nature of the contest.

“I don’t think there’s any problem with having our guys play at a level that involves a bit more intensity than usual, as long as we’re disciplined and doing what we need to do to get the result in a professional way,” Gallo said. “That’s what you want from your players — to rise to the occasion. The physical component is one of the pillars of the game, and we’re able to compete at that level this year, so it’s not a problem for me.”

Just like the women’s team, the Holy Cross men will return to South Bend on Saturday for an Alumni Day battle with St. Xavier. The Cougars are scuffling early in CCAC play with just one goal scored in three conference games. They were also beaten 11-0 by Rio Grande back on August 25. The Saints will then wrap up September and the homestand with a non-conference date with Calvin College on Tuesday.

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Holy Cross women earn draw with St. Francis

The Holy Cross women’s soccer team wrapped up a two-game visit to the Chicago area by tying the University of St. Francis, 0-0.

Tuesday night’s result marked the Saints’ fifth draw of the year, but this one was especially crucial in the context of conference play. Holy Cross dropped its first two CCAC matches at home, but has now secured four points in two road games after a Saturday win at Governors State. 

St. Francis entered the contest on an offensive power surge, having netted eight goals in its previous two outings to obtain a record of 6-1. However, Holy Cross was up to the challenge, holding the Fighting Saints to less than two goals for just the second time this season and outshooting the opponent 25-16. For Saints head coach Omar Gallo, Tuesday’s defensive statement was all about adjustments.

“The game plan was to defend in a mid-block, but what I appreciate the most about this women’s team is their ability to improvise and adapt with the flow of the game,” Gallo said. “St Francis’ front six is unbelievable in the attack, and, with them putting three in the back, our girls identified that immediately. We had to change our style defensively and went into a high-pressing mode, eliminating their buildup from there.”

Though little squeaked through the Saints’ cohesive back end, whatever did was managed well by sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Primack. The Illinois native made six saves en route to her fourth shutout of the season and second consecutive clean sheet. As Holy Cross prepares to enter the heart of conference play, the netminder is on her game.

“The best way to describe [Primack] is consistent,” Gallo said. “The goalkeeping position is all about confidence, and right now she’s riding the wave of her confidence. When she was called upon in these last couple games, she stepped up and made some key saves.”

Further up the pitch, the Holy Cross offense pressured St. Francis with a season-high 25 shots attempted. In the Saints’ first two CCAC losses, they were outshot 54-27 by Cardinal Stritch and Judson. Since that troubling start, they have outdone Governors State and St. Francis by a margin of 44-33 in the shot department. Senior midfielder Lauren Cernak has spearheaded the turnaround, posting a team-best nine shots on Tuesday. She also scored and assisted twice in the week leading up to the St. Francis match. Coach Gallo set a six-shot goal for her on Tuesday, and Cernak exceeded expectations.

“The conference knows who [Cernak] is, so she’ll be manmarked at all times,” Gallo said. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to find ways to be creative and put her in situations where she’s had success in the past. She’s been able to buy into that over the last couple games, and setting a target for her really paid off.”

Holy Cross now carries an overall record of 2-2-5 and a conference mark of 1-2-1. The Saints currently sit in 9th place among the CCAC’s 14 teams, but the remaining nine conference matches yield ample opportunity to climb. With September nearing its close, the Holy Cross women are poised to emerge from the pack.

“What I enjoyed about my team is that they were frustrated after the game because they wanted to win,” Gallo said. “It shows me that I have a group who’s hungry right now.”

Looking ahead, the Saints return to South Bend to host CCAC foes in St. Xavier (Saturday) and Indiana University-South Bend (Wednesday). St. Xavier, much like St. Francis, carries a dynamic offense into the contest after a 5-2 victory over Governors State. The Cougars have been vulnerable on the back end, though, allowing multiple goals in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, IU-South Bend is off to a brutal start, allowing 50 goals and scoring none in an 0-7-0 opening.

“We have to build off the momentum of our defensive work that we’ve had the last two games,” Gallo said. “If we do well defensively, we should put ourselves in position to get a W. Though the results have been great on the road, there is a sense of urgency to get three points on Saturday.”