Broncos back atop MSL West
By Mike Garofola
It was a big night in the MSL Thursday evening - for that matter, it was a big week as well.
All of the top clubs were involved in key head-to-head matches, and seeing how the eventual results moved the table around was akin to watching the roulette wheel go round-and-round with nobody knowing where it would stop.
On Thursday, Barrington hit a lucky number two – the number goals it scored against host Fremd in a 2-1 win. That win allowed the Broncos to come away with three important points to send them over the Vikings and to the top of the MSL table, with the final week of the regular season left to play
The final week in the MSL figures to be one of the best finishes in recent memory.
"This is the way it should be every year," Fremd coach Steve Keller said.
"The conference is very strong, top-to-bottom this season, and everybody at the top is close, so I’m happy to see such a competitive league this year. Even though we didn't get the result we wanted tonight, we competed and played hard, which I’m happy about. I just wish we played with a little more urgency in that first half."
"We might have been ultimately okay with a draw tonight, but obviously the three points is much better for us," Barrington coach Scott Steib said.
"Fremd is coached so well every year, especially late when Steve (Keller) gets his guys so strong for a late run in the MSL and the state playoffs. They always play so hard and really come at you, so getting the win at least puts us up on them, instead of looking up at them and maybe chasing three or four points."
No strangers to each other when it really counts at this time of the campaign, the two clubs have participated in four of the last seven MSL Cup matches, with the Broncos (13-2-3, 6-1-1, 19 points) riding a two-game win streak over the Vikings.
That both are in the thick of the title race is of little surprise, although Fremd had to ride out a rough patch earlier in the season.
The Vikings came out of their four-team invite with Schaumburg, Hinsdale Central and Peoria Notre Dame with an overall record of 2-5-2, which included three losses at the prestigious Best of the West tourney.
"We lost nearly everyone from last year’s team and it took our juniors, most of them JV players a year ago, to get themselves comfortable at this level, and deal with the speed of play at the varsity level," said Vikings captain Nathan Dolan, who is only one of three holdovers from the 2012 team which lost to eventual state medalist Stevenson in a sectional semifinal.
"I was never concerned about the early going, and you can see how far we've come since that bad loss to Sandburg in the last game of the Best of the West tournament. Even though we fell a little short tonight, we'll be fine and we’ll be right there at the end."
Thursday’s match, played on a wonderful fall night in Palatine, went just as expected when two clubs with size, speed and strength come together: at full tilt, right from the opening whistle.
Most MSL matches -- aside from the more technical play seen from MSL East leaders Elk Grove and Wheeling – are not for the faint of heart, with 50-50 challenges on the floor or in the air always hard-fought, with little room available to possess.
"Both teams play hard, and very physical,” Steib said. “It’ not dirty or chippy, which usually means it's not very pretty , but you better be ready to play that way for 80 minutes in order to survive.”
Although it was a fast-paced, high-octane opening quarter hour, there wasn't much possession as each club tested the others backline with plenty of over the top and direct balls, with the hope of exposing or prying open two very stout defensive units.
"When you have a backline like the one in front of me, you rarely have to worry,” Barrington keeper Pat Deroche said. “I can just concentrate on my job in goal." Deroche entered the match with 9.5 clean sheets to his name, for a Barrington team that has only given up nine goals in 18 games.
"Pat has made it look almost easy at times back there for us, and coach (Joe) Zimka said Pat makes the hard saves look easy this year, after putting in so much extra work during the offseason," said David Conrad, who made his first appearance of the night a big one for the Broncos and his mates.
Steib introduced Conrad, Andrew Simek and Griffin Claes in the 17th minute. Seconds later, Conrad drove home his second goal of the season after Jamie Tausend initiated it with a strong, long throw into the box.
Perhaps the real hero on the Conrad strike was senior Connor Hennelly, whose clever little put-back of Tausend’s throw bounced over the Vikings’ backline to an opportunistic Conrad, who finished past a helpless Will LeFevre.
"That first one was a tough one to give up, and although I didn't get a real good look on their second one, it's not the type of goal we can concede, to go down two goals in a game of this importance," Keller said.
Andrew Simek was officially credited with the Broncos’ second goal at 20 minutes, but it could have very well been an own goal after another long throw from Tausend created all sorts of trouble in and around the six-yard box, after Claes and Conrad kept the ball alive.
Eventually, the ball bounded off the underside of the woodwork, then took a bounce out of the reach of LeFevre, and over the endline.
The Vikings limped into the intermission period, but started brightly afterwards, much to the delight of Keller.
"We talked and sorted a few things out at the break, and I was real pleased with the work rate and effort we came out with, especially (Zach) Stoffstall,” Keller said.
Keller said what he liked best from the big junior striker was how he demanded the ball in the attack, while telling his manager he would take the freekicks and corners.
"He was dynamic in that second half, and wanted the ball played through him as much as possible, and you can see how much different of a team we are when he plays like that," Keller would say afterwards.
The Vikings would slowly get themselves back in the match, forcing Deroche to become more active between the sticks with a long serve from Luke Kosacz forcing a save, and another when a Schoffstall corner was punched up and over the bar in the 46th minute.
Barrington’s Giles Phillips cleared a potentially dangerous ball out of the box just afterwards, while a series of long throws from Schoffstall continued to keep the Broncos under for the first 10 minutes of the second period.
"Giles, Jason (Frenk), Tausend and Tyler Anderson have been our top story of the year as our backline, and tonight was no different when Fremd came at us in the second half," said Steib.
The Broncos dodged a bullet when Deroche inadvertently put the ball down in his box, then picked it up, giving the Vikings a chance from 10 yards out.
Barrington loaded up its endline with wall-to-wall black shirts before Deroche stopped Schoffstall’s' point-blank cracker. The rebound fell to Matthew McCarty, who watched in anguish as Frenk made a goal-saving clear off the line.
This wild moment in the 60th minute led to another three minutes later, when the center official ruled a hand ball in the box, much to the astonishment of the Broncos’ bench.
Dolan calmly stepped up and drove home his spot-kick to set up a frantic 20-minute finish.
"Our first half of play wasn't the best, but we've become a real good second half team, and I felt we were ready for anything Fremd threw at us, especially after the put in the PK," said Conrad.
Although the Vikings created several long throws by Schoffstall, just a few needed to be hauled in by Deroche, including a well-struck header from Dolan.
Play continued to be at a high tempo, and the pressure was on both backlines, with the aforementioned Broncos quartet keeping everything in front of them while the Vikings unit of Jonathan Smith, Tomas Peleckas, David Blanchette and Luke Kosacz did the same, while also adding numbers when Fremd countered.
“Smith and Peleckas each had a good night for us, they did a lot of extra work for us on both sides of the ball," said Keller, whose club was unable to muster anything on frame in the closing minutes as it searched for the equalizer.
Conrad pointed to a recent MSL result that has helped propel the Broncos moving forward.
"Our loss to Conant (1-0) the other night was the wake-up call we all needed, and since then we've bounced back to win three straight to put ourselves back on top," said Conrad.
The Broncos received a No. 1 sectional seed this season, “and a win like tonight really helps validate that top seed, and that's something I’m really proud of for the boys, who continue to work hard to get better,” Steib said.
"Nothing is settled yet in our division, with us still having Schaumburg this Saturday, then Hersey and Hoffman next week, while Steve gets Buffalo Grove and Conant, which obviously put that loss on us this week.
"Tyler, Andrew Simek, Sean Kim, Casey Slingo all made big contributions tonight, and our defense once again kept a very good side from getting in too often, and that's how you win a big game like."
The Vikings (6-6-4, 5-2-2) host New Trier (9-1-6) this Saturday at 3:00 in an annual non-conference match with the perennial CSL power.