Bulldogs shine but can't finish vs. West Aurora
By Chris Walker
Have you heard the one about the forward, the midfielder and the goalkeeper who walk out onto the pitch?
They’re walking alone, they look at each other and suddenly in unison they realize they’re the only ones remaining on the pitch from last year.
This isn’t a joke, though. This is the reality of the West Aurora soccer program this fall. So far though, the joke’s on the opposition, as it was on Batavia on Wednesday during a 1-0 West Aurora victory.
Other than senior goalkeeper Alex Guillen, junior midfielder Jose Gallegos and forward Geo Martinez, the entire starting lineup at West Aurora is new, as well as the majority of subs.
“We’re young, and I’m not using it as an excuse, but it’s going to take us some time,” Blackhawks coach Joe Sustersic said. “We have some talent but we have to learn to gel as a team. I think we have 20 players and 15 are new to the varsity level.”
Generating offense has been problematic for the Blackhawks through two matches. But a surprisingly strong start by the inexperienced defense has kept the Blackhawks undefeated, despite only finding the back of the net once in 160 minutes of soccer.
“Offensively we’ve got some kids with talent but they have to learn how to be leaders and every one has to take their role,” Sustersic said. “Steve Rivera’s a third-year varsity player, but he’s been a role player. Now it’s time for him to come to the big boy table at Thanksgiving time.”
Rivera certainly delivered on Wednesday, despite Thanksgiving being more than two months away. The concession stand wasn’t offering pumpkin pie either, but Rivera obliged in offering a nifty pass to fellow senior Michael Acosta, which proved to be the game winner, albeit not as delicious as dessert.
“We got some nice touches in the middle and then (Rivera) sent it down to me down the sideline and I just hit it in the bottom corner,” Acosta said. “It’s the first left-footed one I’ve scored. It was good. This was a nice win.”
Such a connection proved crucial, especially since the Blackhawks didn’t have anywhere near as many opportunities as the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t have as many chances as we needed to create. You have to credit (Batavia) because they did a good job of containing us,” Acosta said. “We should’ve gotten more, but we didn’t. Still, it was a good win. It’s always nice to get that first win of the season and we hope to build up more from here.”
Batavia (1-2-0) was shut out for the second consecutive time. It occurred despite the fact that the Bulldogs moved the ball and created more than their fair share of scoring threats.
“I thought we did a nice job of combining some quick passing and some nice throughballs,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. “We created a lot of opportunities in the offensive third that we just didn’t finish.”
After a 5-0 loss to St. Charles East last week, the Bulldogs were able to regroup and put forth a better effort against West Aurora.
“We created some chances and put some balls on frame that we should’ve finished, but we didn’t,” Gianfrancesco said. “I thought we did a really nice job of opening them up in the back with our ball movement and with our runs.”
Junior Ian Larson, who is a newcomer as he’s transitioning from Academy play to Batavia, was a pivotal player for the Batavia offense.
Larson helped the Bulldogs' attack with a few opportunities in the first half, but delivered his biggest play of the night nearly midway way through the second half. While the ball appeared to be heading out of bounds down the left sideline, Larson gained possession and snuck past West Aurora defender Luis Gallegos. Larson was unable to get off a shot before Gallegos drew a yellow card for dragging Larson to the turf.
The Bulldogs were all set to draw the match even via penalty kick with 22:57 remaining in the contest, but the attempt from Kevin Collins was sucked up by sophomore Robert Marquez. The sophomore Marquez took over for Alex Guillen in the second half, a move Sustersic decided to use with regard to utilizing a balanced approach to playing time due to the talent of his squad, and the fact that it’s so early in the season and that it was a non-conference match.
“They had been begging for it (a PK) all game, and it was a foul. He took him down from behind,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. “I would’ve had Ian take it, most likely, but he didn’t look like he was ready for it. It is what it is though. It’s a trying moment for any kid anyway.”
Collins’ shot seemingly was drawn to Marquez - almost like a magnet - and there was no suspense as the ball left Collins’ right foot and went right at Marquez.
“I was really nervous out there, just being a sophomore,” Marquez said. “I mean we had the shutout and then they get the PK. I figured we did pretty good.”
With butterflies somersaulting in his stomach, Marquez showed poise in securing the PK. Ultimately, making the big save relaxed his nerves and allowed him to play flawlessly until the buzzer sounded.
“I felt like I could make some plays for my team after that,” he said. “It made me feel comfortable.”
It also left the Bulldogs uncomfortable, as they suffered their second consecutive shutout loss.
“We had the ball for most of the game and we out-possessed them and out-shot them,” Batavia senior defender Nick Samperi said. “We just have to work on shooting, most of all.”
Losing can demoralize a team, but Samperi thinks the team will rise against it and string together some wins.
“The thing with soccer is that you can be totally dominating and still come up with a loss,” he said. “It was a non-conference game so this isn’t something we’re going to dwell on. Obviously it’s a loss, but I would say that in our three games that this was the best time we’ve possessed. We just need to finish. Other than losing, I think we’ll benefit from what we did today.”
On the other bench, Sustersic is pleased with the early success, but still doesn’t know what he has with 15 of his 20 players new to the program and a backline that’s brand spanking new.
“We’re going to get better with every game as we gain more familiarity with each other, but we’re going to be a work in progress,” Sustersic said. “You just don’t know what to expect when you have most guys new to the varsity level and with guys converting from different positions.”
The backline’s early success has been the most surprising. Sustersic expected the effort would be there, but wasn’t’ so sure about the result. It begins with Luis Gallegos playing sweeper back, a position he’s never played before.
“We have Junior Espino and Jacob Sheldon, and they were call-ups last year because we had so many injuries, and they have maybe a total of three games varsity experience,” Sustersic said. “Juan Pablo Morales was an offensive player and now he’s playing defense and then Hugo Nunez, well, he’s my third string goalie so he hasn’t been playing defense. He hasn’t even practiced because he’s in goal.”
It may sound like a recipe for disaster, but so far so good.
“We’re like a patchwork on defense,” Sustersic said. “But we got our second shutout in two games so I’m not going to complain.”
So far, he’s got no reason to. But the DVC schedule awaits, and that’s when the real fun -- or not-so-fun -- begins.