By Kevin Connelly
When Canfield senior co-captain Brady Clark began high school four years ago, he and his teammates set a goal and it was simple: win a district title.
The journey turned out to be anything but simple, but on Saturday night Clark and the rest of the Cardinals were finally able to lift the trophy they had wanted so desperately — and did so by clearing another hurdle.
Defeating two-time defending Division II district champion Lakeview.
It took nearly 74 minutes, but a relentless Canfield team broke a scoreless tie and added another late goal to knock off the top-seeded Bulldogs 2-0.
“This means the world to me,” Clark said as he hugged the district championship trophy. “I’ve always dreamed of this, and to finally be able to be a district champion — and get over that hump — just feels amazing.”
The game-winning score came off the foot of the Cardinals’ other senior captain, Jona Ghossain, with 6:04 left in the game. Christian Hume set up the goal with some fancy footwork inside the box just to be able to center the ball. Ghossain’s initial shot was blocked by Lakeview goalie Jackson Gagne, but on second effort Ghossain was able to get the ball across the goal line.
“I really can’t put how I feel into words,” an emotional Ghossain said. “We’ve been working all year long just for this moment.”
The moment was not lost on the Cardinals’ coach, Phil Simone, who couldn’t wipe the smile off his face watching his team celebrate.
“For our kids, this was their mission,” he said. “To try and come back and meet [Lakeview] in the tournament and beat them. To do it in the district final is awesome.”
The Bulldogs had been the thorn in Canfield’s side, as they eliminated the Cardinals the last two seasons in district semifinal games. Both Clark and Ghossain said their early exits at the hands of Lakeview was not lost on the team before this year’s game.
Canfield was the agressor from the opening whistle and used their physical style of play, and speed on the outside to control the pace of play.
“They had speed up top, they attacked with numbers, and we were back on our heels the whole game,” Lakeview coach Nate Mailich said. “They played a great game and they deserved to win.”
Mailich admitted the Cardinals’ speed was too much for his team Saturday night, and that was the difference in the game. It was the Bulldogs’ third straight district finals appearance, winning the previous two.
“I told our guys before the game that anybody can be on top, but it takes a real team to stay on top,” Mailich said. “These guys have been through a lot. I feel bad for [the seniors], but they played their hearts out and we just got beat by a better team tonight.”
The first goal of the match was followed by a flurry of Lakeview chances, but there were too many Cardinal legs in front of the net for the ball to find its way through. Brett Lewis put the game out of reach with a goal in the final three minutes.
“Maleck Saleh, I think, played the best game of his life,” Clark said of his midfield teammate. “I was so proud of him.
“Also we put [Trevor Wilson] on Matt Pasternak, the district player of the year, and he shut him down.”
Simone also acknowledged the play of the junior midfielder saying, “Saleh played phenomenal.”
With the win, the Cardinals advance to the regional semifinals. Simone said he’s going to let his team celebrate this win first before they worry about the next round.