152 W. Biesterfield Road,
Elk Grove Village
Phone 847.956.1818
Fax 847.956.4848

Coach: Rob Shepard
Assistant coaches:
Phil Aliano, Julian Barraza
Ryan Zaremba, Scott Scholten
Edgar Soto So., M
Ivan Corona Jr., M
Gio Garcia Sr., M
Manny Pillado Sr., D
Avery Chang Sr., D
Hugo Sanchez Sr., F/M
Artur DaSilva Jr., M
Sergio Aguirre Sr., D
Jonathon Arzeta Sr., M
Carlos Miranda-Gomez Jr., F
Arnold Aguilar Sr., M
David Bahena Sr., F
Deion Morales Sr., D
Jersson Pachar Sr., M
Alberto Centeño Jr., M/GK
Kenneth Kozak Sr., D
Daniel Hadler Jr., D
Eric Pillath Jr., F

Grens edged by Wildcats in early MSL East clash


By Mike Garofola

In his 10 years at the helm as manager of Wheeling, Ed Uhrik didn't believe a Wheeling-Elk Grove match was ever as important as the one played Thursday evening.

Meanwhile his counterpart, Rob Shepard, although only in his first-year, knew exactly what this Mid Suburban League East match meant to his lads long before the two sides began.

"I think both teams thought they would be very competitive this season, so when we saw where Wheeling sat on our schedule, it was important for us to temper the excitement of the guys leading up to this night - then again, when the week began, especially after both teams won on Tuesday, setting up a game between the two top teams in the division thus far," said Shepard.

The Grens would start strongly but after a breakthrough by the Wildcats late in the first half, the visitors came on strong when it counted to secure a 2-1 victory in Elk Grove Village and make a major statement about their ambitions of winning a division title, and a spot in next month's MSL Bowl.

"I know the boys were really looking forward to (tonight) and to be playing in a game that had a lot on it," began Uhrik.

"For us, we couldn't afford a loss to fall (8) points back, but there was a lot there for Elk Grove to gain or lose as well so I really feel with that kind of pressure on both teams it's no surprise the play didn't resemble anything near how we play, and I am sure Rob would say the same about his (team) as well."

For those who thought it would be a fast-paced attacking-and-possession-filled 80 minutes, they were wrong.

The Wildcats may have begun in that lively fashion, with all-everything midfielder Jose Garcia controlling the pace and rhythm in the early exchanges, but that wouldn't last for long.

That's because the Grens (8-2-0, 5-1-0, 15 points) shocked the undefeated Wildcats (11-0-2, 4-0-1, 13 points) with a goal in the sixth mnute to send a big student cheering section into orbit.

"It was the start we were looking for, but we soon got away from doing what we wanted to, and with (Wheeling) doing such a good job of man-marking Gio (Garcia) we started to bypass our midfielders, played a little too direct, and the game quickly settled into a tough, physical match that I know both teams didn't want to play," offered Shepard.

Jonathan Arzeta would give his club the only lead it would enjoy when he finished what Carlos Miranda-Gomez began, going past the outstretched gloves of 'Cats keeper Javier Ocampo, who turned in a quality effort between the sticks for his club.

"We played real nervous during that early part when Elk Grove put us under, and a poor clearing effort, followed by a poor header to try and get the ball out of our box gave their guy a good chance in close, and he put it away," said Uhrik.

However, the Wildcats got themselves back into the game by playing through Garcia, who in turn helped his club possess for most of the next quarter hour, while putting together some dangerous chances during that time.

A couple of well-tossed flip throws from Ivan Mancilla forced keeper Alberto Centeno to come off his line and punch from his six-yard box, while Garcia had a good chance from just outside the edge which Centeno saved.

"It was hard to play our style because of the grass (Wheeling plays on turf) and all of the whistles and slower pace, and it took us awhile to get our attack going," said Garcia.

The Grens did well to put the vaunted Wildcats backline under with several well-struck serves out of the back, while a long freekick from Manny Pillado caused Ocampo into a save.

Later, in the 29th minute, the 'Cats keeper recorded his best save when he went horizontal to turn around a Gio Garcia freekick smash.

One minute later, the match was level when Jose Garcia bent a 22-yard freekick around the Grens wall and off the gloves of Centeno, who extended fully to the left in an effort to keep the blast out of the back of the net.

"It was big to get back even before the break, because it gave us some momentum heading into the half, which I felt we carried with us into the second half," suggested Uhrik.

At halftime, the Grens talked about changing things up slightly.

"Wheeling had man-marked Gio so well in that first half, so we made a few adjustments during the break, and I thought in the first 10-12 minutes of the second half we found (him) underneath a little more," Shepard said. "We did some good things with and without the ball, but we didn't sustain it."

During the first period, the Grens did well to target big man Eric Pillath up top, taking advantage of his height after Shepard brought the junior on, but the home side wasn't able have the same good luck after intermission with Marino Lopez stepping up to win nearly every 50-50 ball to help the Wildcats control the middle of the park.

The Grens also had difficulty getting the ball on the feet of its best attacking players on a regular basis, including Ivan Corona, David Bahena, Arzeta, and of course, Gio Garcia after that opening 15 minutes of the second period.

During that stretch, the hosts would see Bahena turn a fire over the bar on a wonderful snap-shot, and Gio Garcia missing over the bar with his freekick.

"We did not stay composed during those last 20 minutes or so, and I have to admit I could have done better with that as well," admitted Shepard.

"You know your team takes on the demeanor of its coach, and I, on a few occasions, was a little confused and disgusted with how the center official was making his calls. I've got to get better with that, and so do the guys because we have to be ready for this when the postseason comes around."

A two-minute sequence which began with Jose Garcia, Ivan Mancilla and Juan Hernandez prying open the Grens in their own end led to this same trio being the inspiration in what would be the game-winner in the 50th minute.

Avery Chang, who was marvelous along the back all night long for the Grens, made a key block on Hernandez on his drive to the back post, but in doing so the blocked shot turned into a sitter in close, which Mancilla slotted into the back of the net with a cool, calm finish.

"We didn't panic after they went ahead," began the senior Chang. "But we also didn't get back to playing the way we can. It was a little us, and a little Wheeling."

After the Wildcats struck, the next 25 minutes were a whistle-filled, yellow card-frenzied affair, with dissent and unsporting behavior leading to a half-dozen bookings, one of which forced the Grens to play a man down in the late going.

In between, another Gio Garcia freekick sailed over the bar, and some good work in the back from Chang, Pillado and Arnold Aguilar kept the visitors from putting the match out of reach for the homeside.

The Wildcats were booked for a tackle in the 80th minute, giving the Grens a last gasp chance to equalize, but Gio Garcia steered his 22-yard freekick wide of the post.

"It's a disappointing loss, but it's just one loss, and one loss doesn't make a season," philosophized Chang, whom Shepard entrusted to be one of his captains this fall.

"We played hard, but didn't get the result we wanted, and that's tough. But all of us are fine, and now we move on to get ready for another important MSL game with Fremd on Saturday."

The Grens are in the middle of their toughest stretch of games, with Barrington up next on the road on Tuesday, followed by division rival Buffalo Grove, a club which defends its net extremely well.

"This was a good test for us tonight, and one that we surely will learn from going forward," Shepard said on the way out of the stadium.

"This is a good bunch we have here, and they won't hang their heads too long, and that's one of the great things about this team."


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