Raiders solve Woodstock North, win running away
By Gary Larsen
Whether it was a center back making attacking runs as a midfielder or an outside defender playing up top, Huntley showed throughout its 7-0 win over visiting Woodstock North that it seemingly has interchangeable pieces all over the pitch.
"We have a lot of players that can play any position -- on the wing, in the center, forward or back," Huntley’s Rayman Solis said. "Manuel (Menjivar) plays left back but today you saw him at forward at the end of the game. That's really what's most unique about this team; every player can be very technical at each position."
Huntley improved to 12-1-1 overall with the FVC crossover win, led by an Eddie Gonzalez hat-trick and a pair of Niko Mihalopoulos goals, plus a goal from Jack Bessey and one from Jakub Rys.
Rys is a central defender by trade but Huntley coach Kris Grabner moved him to a defensive mid spot against Woodstock, and the senior captain made it pay off.
After making a few strong runs onto through-balls sent behind North’s backline, only to see Thunder keeper Ricky Rodriguez beat him to the ball, Rys finally buried a late goal on a feed from Christian Ramos.
"We started a completely different lineup tonight," Grabner said. "Eddie (Gonzalez) played big minutes tonight and we wanted to get Jakub Rys some work at defensive mid today. He really runs well. He was non-stop, he was circling his runs, and he was staying on-sides."
Staying on-side was an early problem for the Red Raiders (12-1-1). Good things come to those who wait but when you're over-eager against an offside trap like the one Woodstock North (6-7) stayed with for 80 minutes, that AR's flag goes up constantly.
After the Raiders were called offside eight times against the Thunder’s high line, they finally started to do what needed doing.
"Being patient on the ball and not getting too many players trying to make that run," Solis said. "Swing the ball back and possess it a little before you play that through-ball. Once we started to do that..."
Once Huntley solved North’s offside trap, it put four goals on the board before halftime.
"This was the second time we've seen it so it shouldn't take a while,” Grabner said. "It's a matter of the right kind of ball, and patience, and keeping depth and moving the ball.
“But when you see that much acreage behind them, you're thinking 'I'm going quick with it'. So we were very impatient early in the first half, thinking we could spring everybody through because that's the easy way to go. But on the upside, we got four in the first half and overall, I was very happy with the way we played."
Gonzalez struck first on a through-ball sent ahead by Mihalopoulos at 13 minutes, and the senior made it 2-0 two minutes later when he followed up a Jason Zobott shot that Rodriguez initially stopped at the post.
One day after Huntley played a sluggish first half against Prairie Ridge, and led 1-0 at halftime of in an eventual 5-0 win, the Raiders were happier with their first 40 minutes on Wednesday.
"(Tuesday) was not our game at the beginning," Gonzalez said. "It was very clearly addressed at halftime of that game. The way we started today was the way we came in the second half yesterday. I thought we started out really good today and I think we kept it up the whole game."
Mihalopoulos went in alone on net and showed poise in calmly poking a shot past a charging Rodriguez at 34 minutes to score his first goal of the game. Two minutes later David Pardo sent in a low cross from the right side to the far post, where Bessey gave his side a 4-0 lead.
Rodriguez faced more of the same throughout the second half, and the Thunder keeper did everything humanly possible to keep the Raiders out of net after the break. "He was dealing with breakaways and he had a couple really nice saves," Grabner said.
Rodriguez kept it at 4-0 until the 71-minute mark, when Mihalopoulos took a feed from Solis and again stayed calm in sending it past the charging Thunder keeper. Gonzalez scored his 5th goal of the season and completed his hat-trick on Solis’ second assist of the day at 76 minutes.
“The last two nights (Solis) brought a lot of energy,” Grabner said. “He won a lot of fifty-fifty balls, and he's been winning the ball in the air real well, and tonight he was distributing.”
Solis is embracing his recent role as a spark to the Raiders’ play.
"I try to bring it in,” Solis said. “I sat out the first couple games of the season so all the energy I had came out in these last couple of games. I just try to come out and pump up the guys.
“This core group has been together for so long that we know who can do it and who can't, and coach always preaches that if someone is down on the field, you need to be that person to pick him up, and pick up the team. Lately, I guess, that's been my responsibility."
The Ramos-to-Rys connection ended the day’s scoring in the final minute of play. Huntley hosts FVC Valley Division foe Jacobs Thursday before hosting DeKalb on Saturday.
The thick of the Fox Valley schedule is upon Huntley, and the Raiders know that nothing will come easy.
"The conference looks pretty good this year. I know Dundee-Crown is still undefeated so I know they'll be a tough team to beat, and Cary is always a hard game," Gonzalez said. "And (Crystal Lake) South always brings the fight, too."