Neuqua Valley made it harder than it had to be.
Ryan Ross made it look easier than it actually was.
Despite being down a player for the final 72 minutes, Neuqua Valley knocked off South Elgin 2-0 in Upstate Eight Valley action Tuesday in Naperville thanks to two spectacular goals from Ross, the second of which was shorthanded.
The host Wildcats (8-5, 5-0) lost one of their best players when senior midfielder Xavi Ortiz was ejected for dissent with 32:33 left in the first half. But thanks to Ross and a stellar defensive effort, they held on and have now won four straight games and seven of their last eight.
“Once we went down a man, we were already up 1-0 at that point so that was very helpful,” Ross said. “We already had the momentum and we ended up just dropping the other forward back to keep the lineup normal except for now were just playing with one up top.
“I knew I had to step up and take the part of two forwards there, so I had to work twice at hard.”
The Ball State-bound Ross, who leads Neuqua with nine goals, had given the Wildcats the lead at the 35:14 mark when he bested a South Elgin defender in a physical one-on-one battle during which both players had possession before Ross beat Storm goalkeeper Colton Wenig from 10 yards out.
Ross’s second goal was even better.
He was surrounded by four defenders as he dribbled from right to left in the penalty area, but cut back twice and finally got a sliver of an opening before sending a wicked left-footed shot past a screened Wenig and inside the right post with 8:48 left in the first half.
“I was dribbling it across the face of the goal and there were guys on all sides of me, so I was throwing some moves out, some scissors, to throw them off a bit,” Ross said. “Then I actually used the defender as a screen on my shot so the goalie didn’t even see it coming.”
The Wildcats could see what was coming when Ortiz was sent off. They had only one shot on goal after that and the Storm (3-3-2, 1-2) outshot them 16-6.
Ross’s second goal, however, proved to be a big psychological edge.
“When [the referee] gave [Ortiz] the card, I think everyone realized that for the next 72 minutes it was going to be a war,” Neuqua Valley goalkeeper Brady Moody said. “I think getting that second goal really helped us calm down and then [at] halftime we talked about how they’re the ones chasing the game, not us.”
Moody earned his fifth shutout by making eight saves. The sophomore had to make several sprawling stops, including back-to-back denials of Isaac Perez and Kristoph Mikhail with 18:30 to go.
But Moody got plenty of help from defenders Jack Schoonenberg, Jacob Graham, Max Plesh and Joe Algrem. Plesh saved a goal by blocking a shot after Perez got past Moody with 5:46 left.
“It’s all about working hard and working for each other in back, just the constant effort from everyone,” Plesh said. “It takes everyone to get behind the ball. All of mids and even Ross at times came back to help in that effort when we were down a man.”
Neuqua’s hustle made it look like the teams were playing at even strength.
“They worked hard,” South Elgin coach Nathaniel Bowman said. “They played the ball pretty well and possessed well, which is typically what we do well, but [Tuesday] was just a bit of an off day.”