Hilltoppers edge Warriors to claim win in opener
By Matt Le Cren
There were a slew of fresh faces on the field Wednesday night when Glenbard West took on Willowbrook at Memorial Field in Glen Ellyn.
Glenbard West graduated nine seniors from last year’s 13-4 squad and took the pitch with 12 new players to go with seven returnees.
Willowbrook was even greener. The Warriors have just four players with varsity experience, only two of which suited up for this game.
Not surprisingly, it took awhile for both teams to adjust to the pace of varsity play. In the end, Glenbard West got a beautiful goal from one of its newcomers and hung on for a 1-0 victory.
“Obviously it was [our] first game of the season so it was kind of tough to get into the rhythm,” Glenbard West coach Maciej Kusmierz said. “We had moments where we did some good things and then we had moments that we need to improve.
“It’s always nice to get a win. We had a couple chances [where] maybe with a little bit more composure and a little bit more luck, we could have maybe gotten another goal.”
The goal the Hilltoppers (1-0) did get was first-rate. Senior Jamie Hernandez sent a long diagonal ball from the left side of the midfield to junior Steven Rojc streaking up the right wing.
Rojc, who was making his varsity debut, settled the ball and moved into the penalty area before beating Willowbrook goalie Asmir Perviz with a laser to the upper far corner with 13:23 to go in the second half.
“At first I thought the kid in front of me was going to get the ball and it kind of skipped and I saw the ball in front of me,” Rojc said. “I knew the goalie was cheating toward the near post so I figured if I sent it far post it would get past him.”
“It was a great half-volley on the first touch and a very nice goal on Steven’s part,” Kusmierz said. “A very nice set-up.”
The Hilltoppers set up several dangerous scoring chances over the first 65 minutes but had nothing to show for it. John Emanuel had the first of several near-misses for the hosts when he crashed in but headed a Mario Sotelo corner kick just over the crossbar in the seventh minute.
David Ortega was another player who lacked luck as he had three solid headers but sent two of them high and had the other saved by Perviz.
Perviz, a sophomore playing in his first varsity game, was impressive in making three saves and confidently coming off his line to grab several high balls.
He rushed out to knock away a breakaway by Ortega in the 10th minute. Rojc quickly got to the rebound but his long-range shot was headed off the line by Willowbrook defender Riad Perviz.
“He started playing keeper about a year ago and we saw good potential in him,” Willowbrook coach Peter Ginter said of his rookie keeper. “He’s got good athleticism and we worked really hard with our inexperienced keepers and he’s doing a good job for us.
“He’s got a good mentality for a keeper. He’s not afraid to come out and cut down angles, he’s not afraid of high balls, so we’re very pleased with him. We were really concerned about having a good keeper and he’s only a sophomore.”
The Warriors (0-3) have four sophomores, nine juniors and a freshman on the roster, so scoring understandably has been a challenge thus far.
But this game produced rays of hope despite the shutout because Willowbrook arguably was the more dangerous team for long stretches.
Glenbard West goalie Robert White had to make four saves before being relieved by Alex Ruckstaetter with 10 minutes remaining and the Warriors barely missed two other shots.
The visitors had four quality chances in the first half. Junior forward Mike Rogalski had a running 22-yard shot stopped by White with 17:00 left and two minutes later saw a 19-yard free kick just miss the outstretched foot of a teammate in front of the net.
Rogalski created some nervous moments for the Hilltoppers on free kicks. A 20-yarder from just outside the top of the box was blocked by the wall with 2:30 remaining in the opening period.
The rebound went straight to Lucas Betts, who unleashed a hard header that White had to make a diving save on.
“Mike had a very good game today,” Ginter said. “He gave us a lot of good possession in the middle of the field.
“I thought we had more chances than they did and I liked our effort today. I thought we created more scoring opportunities in this game than in previous games and that’s a good thing. Now the next step is scoring on those opportunities.”
That’s something the Hilltoppers figured out first with a good second half.
“We just needed to get one,” Rojc said. “We needed to keep possession better and [his goal] was just good timing.
“Their goalie had some good saves. I thought we played well. Possession-wise we did better in the second half. We had some nerves and kind of settled down.”
Kusmierz wasn’t surprised by the first-game jitters for his Hilltoppers, who compete in the IMSA tournament this weekend.
“Willowbrook was playing tough,” he said. “It took us awhile to break them down. We have a brand new team this year. A lot of new juniors have to fill in some big shoes so we have to keep on working on it and hopefully the next few games we’ll be better as far as quality of the game is concerned.”
The Warriors were unable to put any shots on frame after Rojc’s goal, though Andre Milcent struck a ball in traffic that rolled just wide of the left post with 8:45 left and had a desperation turnaround shot from 25 yards out arc high over the pipe with 15 ticks remaining.
“Our possession game was a little bit better, our communication and defense was better,” Ginter said. “We just need to keep possession in the opponent’s end when it really counts and create a little bit more pressure.
“We’re playing a new tactical system and the boys are starting to understand it so I think that things are looking up after today’s game. We’re really looking forward to our next game on Friday against Prosser.”