Saints draw with Streamwood, win tourney title
By Chris Walker
Seemingly out of nowhere there’s a very good new high school soccer rivalry between St. Charles East and Streamwood.
The two teams met on Saturday at noon in the championship match of the 20th Annual St. Charles East Invitational at Norris Stadium.
The teams battled for 80 minutes of scoreless soccer. Tournament rules use a points system to determine a champion and no games have overtime or penalty kicks.
Teams were awarded six points per victory, three points for ties, as well as one point for each shutout and one point per goal during each game, with a maximum of three additional points per game.
St. Charles East went 3-0-1 in the tournament and collected 32 points, while Streamwood finished 2-0-2 with 25 points so the Saints were crowned champions.
“To be honest, I was disappointed because I didn’t think that we were able to play our particular game,” Saints coach Paul Jennison said. “It’s tough with the wind in your face and the ball always in the air.”
It won’t take long for the teams to battle for supremacy, as they’ll resume their rivalry once again on Thursday back at Norris Stadium in an Upstate Eight Conference, River Valley Division game.
“It’ll be a real competitive game, especially with what just happened here today,” St. Charles East defender Cooper Macek said. “That tie doesn’t sit well with either team. We both fought hard so (Thursday) should be interesting. We’ll see how they come out and how we come out.”
The rivalry was born last year.
Streamwood suffered through some rough seasons, going 3-17-4 in 2010 and 5-14-4. They were shutout in both matches against the Saints (2-0 in 2010 and 3-0 in 2011) during those years, but were strong last year and are very good again this fall.
When the teams met during conference last year, the Sabres handed the Saints their only conference loss, a 1-0, nailbiter. The teams, as luck would have it, would both win regional titles and then meet with their seasons on the line in the Class 3A York sectional semifinals.
The rematch didn’t live up to its billing as the Saints seemed destined to move on, winning 4-0 over the Sabres.
While both teams lost key players to graduation, many are back this fall, and it’s obvious they haven’t forgotten last year. Bodies were flying all over the field on Saturday and contact wasn’t deemed foul-worthy by the officials.
The rematch is less than a week away.
“To be honest, I think it's going to be more difficult for them than us because they're coming back into our place," Jennison said. "They've already put in a fantastic performance, and I'm sure (Streamwood coach) Matt (Polovin) was extremely happy with the way they defended, but at the same time, I felt we still had the lion's share of possession and I thought we did have the majority of the game at our disposal.
“Therefore, I think going forward our lads will be recharged and ready to try and get one back after having a draw here."
The loss of goalkeeper Mike Novotny to an injury on Thursday didn’t appear to affect the Saints, especially since they limited Streamwood’s opportunities for replacement keeper, Chris Lucatorto.
With Homecoming later in the evening, such an exciting event was undoubtedly in the heads of many players, but it really didn’t appear to show in how they played. Whether it was a morale boost or not, Novotny was on the sidelines with his team, in a walking boot.
The big difference maker on Saturday was the wind. St. Charles East had it at their backs in the first half, but played better against it in the second half.
“With the ball in the air that much we weren’t able to move and get into position and connect as a team,” Jennison said. “In the second half we were able to build up some confidence and keep the ball down more.”
Dan DiLeonardi, Evan DiLeonardi, Jordan Moore, Taylor Ortiz and Andrew Shone had the best scoring chances of the match for the Saints, while Streamwood’s best opportunities came from sophomore Brian Benitez.
St. Charles East (10-0-3) lost a potential header goal with just less than seven minutes left in the first half on an off-sides call. Dan DiLeonardi also nearly gave the Saints the lead with 16 seconds left before halftime, as he outran Streamwood junior Mike Delaney and went on-one-one with keeper Sergio Blanco, but was forced to take an off-balance shot.
Streamwood (10-2-2) really didn’t challenge the Saints in the second half, at least in regard to breaking the 0-0 tie. The nature of the game was extremely physical, with officials blowing their whistles on many occasions but neither team getting yellow carded.
The Sabres finally came alive offensively in the final 10 minutes of the game and nearly stole the victory. They were unable to do anything with a corner kick with 9:40 remaining, but just getting that chance seemed to inspire the visitors.
Then, with 5:02 left, Benitez got the ball up in front of the goal but was denied by Lucatorto. Benitez would get another chance 17 seconds later, only to see his shot clank off the cross bar.
“We held them to zeroes and had a couple chances to win,” Polovin said. “I think that’s phenomenal for these guys.”
And now they’ll get a chance to continue the rivalry on Thursday.
“Isn’t that great? We got to play a game like this and then come back in a few days and do it all over again for real,” Polovin said. “It’s a big conference game.”
The fact that the teams will see each other five days apart means the teams will have familiarity with one another, but after last season, and thanks to both teams being well scouted, such knowledge is probably overvalued.
Regardless, even if the teams didn’t play on Saturday and Thursday was to be their lone meeting in 2013, it goes without saying that Jennison and Polovin would know what to anticipate from each other’s’ squads.
“We knew what to expect from them coming in so playing today and then again doesn’t change anything,” Jennison. “It won’t change the way we play and what we do, but it has to do with conference and that’s always big.”
Polovin knew the Sabres wouldn’t have to stop TC Hull, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Hull pretty much victimized every opponent a season ago. Still, Polovin knew his defenders and midfielders would have to step up to slow the DiLeonardi brothers and others.
“We weren’t really marking a certain guy, one-on-one, it was more of us working as unit and with our stopper sweeper,” Polovin said. “We were just a unit defending up the middle and to the side because they have some dangerous forwards in (Andrew Shone, Eric Dietrich and Taylor Ortiz). As a group (our guys), I thought did a great job.”
St. Charles East’s backline also stepped up, although they weren’t nearly as busy as the Sabres. While the backline often goes unheralded, the Saints know they wouldn’t be undefeated heading into October without their hard work.
Kevin Heinrich, Jacob Sterling, Brandon Villanueva, Kyle McLean and Macek are all coming up time and time again with big efforts, and they shined again on Saturday whenever their numbers were called.
“Kevin is playing great and Jake’s always solid,” Macek said. “After playing last year as a sophomore, Brandon has really stepped up his game and is also a good threat on offense and very quick.
“Kyle’s also been great and nothing to knock Kyle, but it’s competitive between he and I to see who is going to get the nod, and that’s good because we’re all fighting to make the team as good as we can.”
The Saints have now shut out 8 opponents and surrendered just 7 goals in 13 games. They’ve only allowed more than one goal in one match (a 2-2 tie vs. Lyons Twp.)
“We’re all good buddies and we each have each other’s back,” Macek said. “We’ll go in hard for tackles and we all have that good teamwork aspect. We’ve bonded well as a whole team, but especially in back. We all know each other very well and are solid.”
Polovin had hoped to get more guys involved in the offense, realizing as the game progressed that a single goal would likely be the difference between a draw and a victory. After beating the Saints 1-0 last year, duplicating the feat appeared within the Sabres’ grasp.
“I told the guys in the second half that just because we have the wind we can’t be complacent,” he said. “I told them we need to step up even more. I think that’s what they tried to do and we tried to get more guys involved. I like the outside backs to be involved offensively as well.”
Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. at Norris Stadium.
While Streamwood won’t have any matches, but only practices, before Thursday, the Saints will travel to face Geneva on Tuesday.