Stellar Goalkeeping Leads Newman to Soccer Victory

Stellar Goalkeeping Leads Cardinals to Soccer Championship Victory
Posted on 05/25/2024
SoccerBy Larry Moko 

Backed by the stellar second-half goalkeeping of Grade 9 student Anthony Villella, the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals rallied to win the senior boys’ high school soccer championship game Thursday.

Newman captured the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league title with a 3-2 decision over the visiting Bishop Ryan Celtics.

The contest went to overtime and Kenan Hodzic’s second goal of the game – late in the first 10-minute session -- proved to be the winner.

Both teams advance to Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference AAA semifinals on May 28 against Halton opponents.

The Cardinals won a silver medal at the OFSAA championship last season.

Newman coach Gerry Moretuzzo praised the performance of Villella, whose saves included a diving block of a Maksim Palisak’s penalty shot when the score was 2-2 in the second half.

“We were worried at the beginning of the year because we didn’t have a goalie,” Moretuzzo said. “We had four kids try out. I was a little apprehensive to ask a Grade 9 to step up and play senior, but he earned the right to be on the team and he won the starting job.

“He’s mature beyond his years. At the start of this game he made a bit of a mistake, but he redeemed himself. He was a warrior the rest of the way.”

The Celtics applied pressure in the second overtime in particular and Villella was called upon to make quick reaction saves in close off shots by Marko Josipovic and Luke Pacenza.

“He was fantastic,” Moretuzzo said of the rookie keeper. “On the penalty shot, and on balls in the box, it was like he was 6-foot-5 today.”

First-place Newman fell behind 2-0 in the first half on goals by Ben Fox and Xavier Sepe. The Cardinals then cut the margin in half when Miles Phillips chested the ball down before passing to Massimo Cuda who headed the ball in off the crossbar.

Newman then tied the score in the 51st minute on Hodzic’s penalty kick.

“I could have done better on (Bishop Ryan’s) goals,” Villella said. “There was a bit of miscommunication.

“I just had to stay composed. It felt great to win.”

Newman finished the regular season with a 7-0 record. And the league championship was its second straight. The Celtics were 4-2-1 before opening the playoffs with a 4-0 win over the ACMT Jaguars.

“It was a tough, clean game,” BR coach Joe Cvitak said. “Bottom line is they wanted it more.

“It’s three years in a row we’ve met them on their home field (the Celtics took top honours in 2022). This game could have gone either way.”

Bishop Ryan will have to travel to Oakville for its GHAC semifinal against the Loyola Hawks, while the Cardinals play host to White Oaks Wildcats.

“We have a young team,” Cvitak said. “Our team is primarily Grade 11. It’s a growing experience for us. We played well. I’m proud of our guys.”

Hodzic said it was personally satisfying to score on the penalty kick because two years ago against BR in the overtime he failed to connect from the spot.

“We were ready for this moment,” Hodzic said. “Everyone was dialed in from the start. We’ve bought in since November (including a showcase tournament in Miami). We wanted to win because this is our last time together with this group.”

Other Newman players include Joshua Mayich, Ethan Crossan, Lucas DiMarco, Zack Lukezic, Mateo Soares, Stefan Trkulja, Cristiano Kremenjas, Paolo Fazzari, Logan Ras, Macauley Wellstead, Michael Ciarmoli, Adams Yusuph, Bohdan Zuzanskyy, Miguel Monzon, Juan Franco-Trujlo, Sebastian Ochoa-Aispuro, Nowah Annandsingh, Peter Ojelade, Matthew Matuvi, Tatenda Maningi, Alex Lucato, Mohamed Abdo, Tony Matuvi and Nick Hrvatin.

“We could have gone into this game thinking even if we lose we still play at GHAC,” Moretuzzo said. “But we wanted to keep winning to have a positive mindset.”

In the senior girls’ soccer championship, played at St. Thomas More, the Cardinals prevailed 2-1 in overtime. Francesca Pugliese opened the scoring 45 seconds into the game for More before Newman’s Isabella Cichhi  replied five minutes later. Newman then out-scored the Knights 4-1 in the shootout.

The Cardinals will be the visitors against Oakville Holy Trinity in their May 27 GHAC semifinal. Also on Monday, the St. Mary Crusaders are home for a girls’ AA soccer playoff against King’s Christian of Oakville.

More photos on the HWCDSB Athletics Facebook page here