by BRYAN EVERSON
There are plenty of moving pieces in high school soccer. Aside from just graduating seniors or the occasional transfer, the option to play travel due to positional depth can also make it hard to project the landscape from year to year.
Judging from roughly 70 minutes of play, though, Utica Eisenhower is very much the same quality of team as its 2016 incarnation.
The Eagles, whose only loss last season came in the playoffs to eventual Division 1 champion Stoney Creek, were a force to be reckoned with last Friday night, getting the best of Adams in a 3-0 victory.
“The whole team played well,” Eisenhower coach Mehrdad Nekoogar said. “For this game being our first especially — we haven’t even had an opportunity to scrimmage — I was very pleased. I thought we moved the ball well. We controlled the whole game. In reality, we could’ve had more goals, but it was good because it gave me the opportunity to play everybody and it’s a very good start for us.”
Lightning on the horizon forced the game to be called to a halt prematurely with 9:51 remaining in the second half, but the storm unofficially arrived earlier with senior Gabriala Jodzis, a first-team all-state forward who proved her pedigree with two goals and an assist against the Highlanders (0-1-1).
Jodzis gathered a pass from fellow senior Jillian Winarski and after several dribbles inwards laced a shot into the upper-right corner past goalkeeper Maggie Rogers to give Eisenhower a 1-0 lead with 10:35 left in the opening half.
Just 20 seconds later, a penalty drawn by Jodzis when she was brought down in the box allowed her to step up and convert a well-placed spot kick tucked just inside the left post to double her personal tally as well as the Eagles’ lead.
Less than five minutes into the second half, freshman Meike Ingles capped off the scoring for Ike (1-1-0), using a sliding volley to convert a follow-up opportunity from inside 10 yards to increase the lead to three.
The high-pressure tactics employed by Eisenhower led Adams to switch to a three-player front for a good portion of the match going forward in an effort to bypass potential turnovers in the midfield, leading to several chances late for the Highlanders, including junior Haley Wentzloff’s run onto a cross from the opposite endline, but her narrow effort to pull one back for Adams went off the post.
“Absolutely, [their coach] had to [switch formations],” Nekoogar said. “You’re behind, so he tried to go with three [attackers] on top, but it opened up [the game] even a little more for us to have more counterattacking.”
The season opener was also an opportunity for Nekoogar to fidget back and forth with his own tactical approach.”
“We tried some different formations today, so hopefully I’ve figured out what formation is going to suit us best for the future,” he said. “The first half we had three in the back, and in the second half we went to four in the back. I was just messing around with the formation every 10 minutes just to see what’s out there for us.”
Aaron Donaghy, who coached the Highlanders to a district championship in 2016 and returns several Division 1 talents, tipped his hat to the Eagles’ quality.
“It’s Ike; they were ranked second last year,” Donaghy said.
“They’re phenomenal. Super fast, great on and off the ball. It was a great challenge. I thought we did better in the second half. We had a couple chances and obviously they had a couple as well.” With a number of key players back from last year’s top-notch roster, the expectations again are high for Eisenhower. “They’re hungry,” Nekoogar said. “We have a lot of experienced players back. I think as long as we stay healthy and hopefully some luck goes our way and we’ll see how we do in state finals.”
Swinehart Field will host a crosstown rivalry in the Eagles first game after spring break. They’ll take on Utica on April 12.