Hilltoppers give Lions all that they can handle
By Dave Owen
Glenbard West’s stifling defense proved to be a tough hurdle Tuesday, but Lyons Township’s 1-0 win in Glen Ellyn allows the Lions to focus squarely on the biggest conference barrier of all.
A 3 p.m. Saturday match between LT (7-1-3, 3-0) and Hinsdale Central (10-0-2, 3-0) at Bennett stadium will almost certainly determine the West Suburban Conference Silver championship.
“Every game in conference we’ve been looking at that day's game and that game alone,” LT senior forward Pearman Clarke said. “We had to win every game to make Hinsdale important.”
“This keeps us in the hunt for the conference championship,” LT coach Paul Labbato said. “This was a much needed win, and it’s a little bit of a trap game – but not too much of a trap because the last time we were here we lost to Glenbard West. We knew it was going to be a battle, and they did a nice job.”
Glenbard West (6-3, 1-2) loomed as a challenge, having lost just 1-0 at Hinsdale Central on Sept. 10. And the Hilltoppers' battling squad lived up to billing early and often on Tuesday.
The Lions produced four quality chances in the first 10 minutes, all thwarted by a Glenbard defense that had allowed just two goals in its previous five games.
Peter Kass was denied on a diving save at the right post by Hilltoppers’ goalkeeper Robbie White in the fourth minute to begin the early Lions’ onslaught.
LT's leading goal scorer Matt Murphy was twice narrowly denied on early threats. He nicked the crossbar with a 6-yard one-timer off a Patrick Duncan cross at 31:40, and only an incredible defensive play by Glenbard’s Nathan Gaertner had repelled Murphy’s first big chance three minutes earlier.
Murphy fielded a Harry Hilling pass and dribbled past White on his attack up the middle. But his chance at an empty net was denied when Gaertner made a tremendous and clean sliding play from the side to sweep the ball off of Murphy’s foot and out of bounds.
“We played good defense, and we played our hearts out,” Glenbard senior midfielder Paul Selman said. “They (LT) have good height, and height is our weakness against every team we play. But we have some speed and good defense.”
Midfielder Selman used his speed to make several nice open field defensive plays and Shawn Herrera, Ivan Barajas, David Ortega, Robert Schoeneich and Gaertner were other consistent stalwarts at midfield or defender spots.
“The key is just communicating with each other,” Selman said. “We have great captains in Ortega and Ivan. They’re pointing us where to go. And playing simple really helps us. If we go fancy, it’s not doing anything for us.”
The LT defense has also been simply great, as Tuesday’s win marked the fourth shutout in six games for a corps led by defenders Joe Lupano, Dustin Warf, Kevin Kokaska and Emilio Godinez and goalkeeper Peter Nolan.
Kokaska and Spiros Kass made excellent defensive plays/steals in the first half to deny Hilltoppers’ chances near or in the box.
At the offensive end for the Lions, Frankie Kocimski’s powerful throw-ins provided another challenge to the Hilltoppers – and one of those led to the lone goal of the match.
Kocimski’s toss into the box to Spiros Kass with 25:11 left in the match resulted in a whistle against the Hilltoppers and an LT penalty kick.
Murphy powered the ensuing PK into the lower left corner of the net to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
“I couldn’t see if it was a handball or whatever it was,” Labbato said, “but we got lucky and got a penalty kick and Matt Murphy stepped up. I was pretty excited for him to get back on track scoring.”
Murphy’s other great chances earlier in the match included his point-blank header of a 35-yard Kocimski throw-in just over the net.
“We were pretty dangerous,” Labbato said. “In the second half I thought we possessed the ball better and moved it better. Glenbard West wasn’t able to create many chances that half because we kept (the ball) longer.
“In the first 20 minutes I thought we could have had a few goals, but then to Glenbard’s credit they got back into the game and played us even for 20 minutes there at the end of the first half. But in that second half I really felt we locked down the defense and did all the things that we were supposed to do, and combined well up top.”
The Hilltoppers’ strong finish to the first half culminated with a Mario Sotelo to Ian Winans pass that set up a corner kick 45 seconds before halftime.
A Steven Rojc throw-in set up another shot on goal that Nolan batted away as time expired.
LT was quickly back on the attack after the intermission, as Selman’s speed denied a Duncan to Murphy drive up the right wing with 38:10 left.
“Glenbard can defend really well,” Clarke said. “They shut it down in the back. We only scored off a PK, and that was pretty lucky for us. But all the credit goes to Glenbard. They didn’t let us play our game. We tried to play on the ground but it didn’t work as much.”
In the ensuing 10 minutes, Hilltoppers’ keeper White swatted away a Hilling corner kick and made a save on a 28-yard Cristian Sanchez shot.
“Harry Hilling and Cristian Sanchez in the center mid dictated that second half by playing to feet and had good movement afterward finding seams,” Labbato said. “They did a nice job.”
Glenbard’s William Lanzillo sent a 25-yard shot just wide off a nice Selman pass with 29 minutes left.
But after Murphy’s PK finish, the Hilltoppers had just one more close-in chance the rest of the night (Winans’ header wide at the far post off a Herrera cross with 5:35 left).
A Herrera 45-yard free kick with 2:05 to go was batted out by Nolan to Peter Kass to start an LT counterattack.
Lanzillo sent a 35-yard shot wide with 40 seconds left for the last literal longshot bid to tie.
Even with the hard-fought 1-0 final, LT’s offensive potential and depth was on display.
“Murphy has just been on fire this season, Frankie has popped in a couple, and I like how it’s a wide range of who’s scored, too,” Clarke said.
“Leo (Gabrek) and Shunsuke (Fujii) have gotten goals too in important matches, so I think the depth on the bench is really great to have for us.”
Forward Cole Gilchrist also came off the bench Tuesday to generate chances on the right wing.
Selman sprinted all over the field to both deny LT threats and spark Hilltopper opportunities. His quick emergence last year as a junior sparked the Hilltoppers to a 13-4 record, and his improvement has continued.
“I need to work a lot on my play, but Coach (Maciej Kusmierz) and my teammates have really helped me telling me where to go,” Selman said.
“Since I use my speed a lot, it’s really hard for me to trap the ball and go with it. So they’ve been really nice helping me along the way, and I’ve come a long way in soccer.”
Glenbard endured its third straight one-goal match in WSC Silver play, but an easier schedule the rest of the way should bring much different results and bigger scoring numbers.
“We just have to play simple – simple passes lead to offense,” Selman said. “And we need to play together and play with our hearts out there. It’s our senior year for most of us, and we’re just going to give it our all.”