Wildcats fall to Mustangs in initial UEC match
By Anthony Zilis
After suffering a 5-1 loss to Hinsdale Central last week, Metea Valley had plenty to reevaluate.
The back line, which graduated several players, needed plenty of work after the season-opening loss, and coach Josh Robinson said work rate simply needed to be better.
In a 2-0 home win over West Chicago on Tuesday, in which goals from Dakota Rowsey and Chris Freeman made the difference, the Mustangs showed they've already improved plenty.
“We came back from that loss pretty nicely,” Rowsey said. “[The Hinsdale Central loss] was a reality check because they were such a good team.
“It was so hard-fought and they kind of dominated us the whole game. There were some kids on our team that didn't think it was going to happen, so when it did happen, we were in shock and then we went into practice and we were (mad) and it helped us a lot.”
Meanwhile, West Chicago coach Jose Villa knows his young team still has plenty to improve upon after its first game in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division, where the school moved this season.
“This is obviously a disappointing loss,” Villa said. “We did an okay job of competing. We didn't win 50-50 balls, we didn't challenge much, lost a lot of first and second balls.
“Hats off to Metea who came out here and worked hard. They worked hard for every single ball. I think they had something prepared and they stuck to their gameplan and executed. They finished their opportunities.”
Metea's chances started early. Brandon Espino's sixth-minute through pass found Chris Freeman on the right side of the penalty area, but his shot went wide.
Four minutes later, Freeman dribbled up the right side of the penalty area, but his shot from a tough angle was off-target.
West Chicago (0-3-1) had a chance to open the scoring when Eduardo Suarez connected with Misael Duran's corner kick, but his header was tipped over the crossbar by Metea goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Metea (1-1), though, had a majority of the goalscoring opportunities in the half, including a header by sophomore Brandon Howard in the 23rd minute off of a free kick by Patrick Regal.
Two minutes later, sophomore Michael Adams laid off a pass to Rowsey just outside the penalty area and the junior nailed a shot into the opposite upper corner.
Rowsey, who scored two goals last season, opened his account in what could be a breakout year for the junior.
“He's a very good player and he has improved a lot since I've been playing with him back in middle school,” Freeman said.
“He was a hard-worker. I think that's why he was able to get his goal, because he worked for it. He has to be [a big part of the team this year]. He's one of our key players, so we look up to him for a lot of great stuff.”
Four minutes into the second half, a give and go with Adams had Freeman through on goal, and the speedy forward finished for his second goal of the season.
Freeman created problems for the West Chicago defense all game, and Rowsey thinks the whole Metea offense is affected by the senior's play.
“He's a game-changer,” Rowsey said. “He was our only forward up there today, and for being one guy versus their back line, he probably ripped them up more than anybody else. He checked, he could turn and take anybody on, he can turn faster than just about anybody on the field.
“It's pretty easy when he can always hold the ball to get past and make runs in. He's probably going to get a lot of assists this year just by holding the ball, and he's obviously got a rocket.”
The Mustangs had a few more chances to widen the gap, but they couldn't beat goalkeeper Paolino Mansera again.
West Chicago wasn't done, however. In the 72nd minute, Suarez's shot from inside the box was saved by Howard.
In the final minute, the Wildcats had their best chance of the game when Oswaldo Estrada received a cross inside the box and shot, but Howard was once again able to make a diving save.
Despite the loss, West Chicago senior Vicente Tirado has seen development from the young players on his team, especially starting defenders Suarez and Renato Bonilla, both freshmen.
“They've developed. I think you've seen improvement and hard work from each one of them,” Tirado said. “It's hard work for them and it's a challenge. I think they're doing great at it. First year, it's going to be a challenge but I think they've been doing amazing for freshmen playing at this level.”
Villa knows that the Upstate Eight Conference schedule isn't going to get much easier, but that's not necessarily a negative.
“Going from DVC to the Upstate Eight, I think it's a more consistent conference,” Villa said. “I know Metea is a strong team. Neuqua, Waubonsie are strong teams.
“We had some of those teams like East Aurora on our schedule already, so we know that they're strong teams and we don't expect anything less than a tough game every single time. Nothing's going to be handed to us. Obviously the conference race isn't over. We just need to take from this and learn from this and execute on our next game.”
After a tough defensive outing last week, the Metea back line of Brandon Howard, Nate Donovan, Ian Connelly and Grant Bolle held strong for the shutout.
With the memory of last Wednesday's defeat in the back of their minds, the Mustangs showed on Tuesday that they'll be a tough team to contend with in the UEC.
“What Hinsdale Central and Coach Wiggins did to us, I think just gave us a reality check just of how far we are away from where we want to be,” Robinson said. “[Tuesday was] just a solid bounce-back performance from the boys.
"We struggled really bad last Wednesday, and we had four really good days of training. Just some of the things that we changed and messed with and tried to fix, they worked really well. I think the boys had a little more desire and effort to what they were doing, a little more thought process to what they were doing.”