Falcons play well but fail to finish vs. Conant
By Bill Stone
The result this year for senior goalkeeper Patryk Openchowski and the Conant soccer team against Wheaton North may have been the same, but the feeling after Tuesday’s 1-0 victory in Wheaton was quite different.
”That was really a long time ago. We also had a really different team (in 2012),” Openchowski said. “I feel like this year we have a lot more new players and everyone’s still trying to get used to each other. It’s early in the season where we don’t have that team chemistry. A win’s a win, I guess, both ways, so I’m just happy.”
Openchowski only needed to make six saves, but he had a couple of big ones to keep the Cougars (2-1) in charge. Senior center midfielder Victor Moskal scored the only goal with 16 minutes, 22 seconds remaining off a sidelines throw-in by junior Joey Connolly.
Openchowski made perhaps the save of the game with 31 minutes left when his right hand thwarted Aaron Deeke’s header directed to the left post off a right-wing cross by Zach Oslund.
”I was too late to it, and (Deeke) was just wide open. I was just positioned well. I just caught it with one hand, but I got the second one on it right there,” Openchowski said. ”There were some dangerous chances (for Wheaton North), but my defense seemed to hold up and then I seemed to just stay in the zone and didn’t let anything in, which is good from my side.”
Conant now is 2-0 in Lake Park’s Hillner Classic tournament – both of them shutouts -- heading into Thursday’s game against Huntley.
The Cougars also won last year’s tournament meeting 1-0 over the Falcons (1-2) in Hoffman Estates with a goal in the 72nd minute. Conant was a 3-0 winner over York Saturday after losing the non-tournament season opener 5-0 to Evanston Thursday.
”I thought today, probably a fair result would have been a draw. (Wheaton North) played well enough to get at least one goal, but our goalie played well, and he made some big saves toward the end,” Conant coach Jason Franco said.
”We’ve really been talking about being more organized, trying to take away the space. It takes some time, but they’re starting to figure it out a little bit. They’re only in game three. Hopefully by game five or six, it’s a little bit more streamlined.”
Speed and space made a difference on the goal. The throw-in was set up by an excellent give-and-go play down the right sideline involving outside midfielder Matt Moglia.
Moskal hustled to the near post and flicked Connolly’s throw-in from about 22 yards out into the upper right corner for his first goal of the season.
”I usually like to head towards the goal, but I usually aim for inside the 6 so the forwards cane get on it, but that one went right over the goalie and right on the back post,” Moskal said.
“We try to flick it on and I just got on the good side of this one. Both teams definitely had some good spurts, but we ended up on the (right) end of it.”
Conant came out strong, nearly scoring in the first minute before an offsides call, but the Falcons slowly gained steam and played solidly the middle third of the contest. They controlled the final 11 minutes of the half by dominating the center of the field. The second half opened with the teams exchanging excellent chances over the opening 10 minutes.
Time expired as the Falcons quickly took a corner kick after Oslund’s free kick from beyond midfield to Jackson Duncan was deflected. Wheaton North is now 1-1 in Hillner Classic play going into Thursday’s game against Buffalo Grove.
”I thought we had the bulk of the possession. I thought we looked extraordinarily dangerous,” Wheaton North coach Tim McEvilly said.
”I can’t watch us play the first 40 minutes and think there was anything we could have really done better. I felt similar about the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half. We created lots of opportunities.”
A big factor in the shutout was Openchowski and an inexperienced Conant defense continuing to gain confidence after a rough opener.
Deeke and the Falcons’ Zoran Tanasic and Dan Norton, already with two goals this season, often created havoc from center midfield. After just one Wheaton North shot over the first 29 minutes, Tanasic got the ball at the 30, turned and found himself wide open, and put a blast over the goal. It was the Falcons’ first of five shots to end the half that included two nice Norton shots over the net from 27 and 35 yards out.
With less than eight minutes to play, Openchowski hustled and thwarted Tanasic’s breakaway off a pass by Norton.
”It went off my leg. It was like a last-minute save. I really hoped that didn’t go in,” Openchowski said.
Although the Cougars’ starting defense was an all-senior crew of Nathan Marasigan, Branden Dos Santos, Kyle Brown and Griffin Wooley, Marasigan is the only defensive regular back from last season. Dos Santos is a converted midfielder, and Brown and Wooley were on the junior varsity. Matt Myers, Bobby Wozniak and Ben Hyde also helped defensively as subs.
”This is going to kind of be our typical game, I think, a little ugly, good goalkeeping, a kind of fortunate goal to score off a flick on the header like that,” Franco said. “We got some good chances on the counterattack. We’re not going to play possession soccer very often. We’re looking to get it into our fast forwards and make something happen.”
Wheaton North senior Alex Jiskra made six saves. He reacted quickly to make a great save on speedy Conant senior Ejike Okpa after he stole the ball from a defender with 28 minutes left.
After his goal, Moskal nearly struck again with his head. He put one shot wide with 14 minutes left after the Falcons attempted to clear Marasigan’s free kick from midfield. Moskal headed Brown’s throw-in over the goal with nine minutes to play.
”We could tell they were starting to pick up their game, starting to find us,” Moskal said. “We were definitely getting a bit tired towards the end, but our motto’s always defense first so we found the midfielders and we just stayed tight on them.”
The Falcons are in the midst of experimentation since they return just seven varsity players from 2012 and have just seven seniors. McEvilly has been subbing liberally as he continues to find player strengths and the best field combinations. Four sophomores saw action, including starting inside defender Armand Torres.
”That goal off a throw-in, it’s a mistake of inexperience. It’s one of those things that you just have to try to learn from and try to build from there,” McEvilly said.
”We are subbing lots of kids in and out and I don’t know if that’s slowing us down to maintain the same rhythm of play that we’ve had before. That might be something we have to look at. We’re not a big team (in height) so we have to be faster than everybody and sometimes it’s easier to be faster when you have fresher legs.”