Quick start helps Eagles get past Falcons
By Dave Owen
Fast starts usually lead to happy endings for Leyden.
A goal early Saturday against Wheaton North continued that formula for the host Eagles in an eventual 2-1 nonconference win, but not without a wave of fierce challenges from the visitors.
“Before the game we always talk about getting on the team first, so then we have the momentum and they’re putting their heads down,” Leyden senior midfielder Kevin Flores said. “Usually when we score first we end up winning.”
Tony Guzman’s goal off a Dario Salgado cross in the fourth minute of the match provided the fast startfor the Eagles (8-8-1) and adding to a rough pregame for Wheaton North.
The Falcons inadvertently went to Leyden’s East campus before a late arrival at the West Campus field.
“We weren’t ready,” Falcons coach Tim McEvilly said. “We got here late because we were over there (at East Leyden), we’ve got Homecoming, so we weren’t mentally ready in the first 10 minutes. But I thought they did a great job after that of playing some good soccer.”
Wheaton North’s good soccer would kick in quickly, but not before the Eagles’ nice early strike.
“Up the left side Dario beat his guy and made a nice cross in,” Leyden coach Mark Valintis said. “Tony was making a nice near post run and headed it to the far post.
“It’s one of the more beautiful goals we’ve scored all year. Unfortunately that was our highlight today and everything I think kind of dropped off after that.”
The Falcons (4-9-1) began their comeback in the 11th minute, when Jackson Duncan’s nice pass sprung Zoran Tanasic free on a breakaway up the left side.
But Leyden sophomore goalkeeper Alfredo Recendez raced out to a make a foot-first sliding block of the shot attempt.
“Alfredo Recendez, our goalie, played very well,” Valintis said. “He had to be quite aggressive coming off the line with the amount of through balls that they sent through, and if he’s not as aggressive and not as into it, they get on the end of some of those and it’s a different game.
“They even had one in the first half on a breakaway when he came out and made a nice save. The kid (Tanasic) had full possession, made a couple touches and he came out and made a nice save. He had a good game today.”
Recendez raced off his line again 18:30 before halftime, beating Cooper Winckler to a loose ball just outside the box after an Aaron Deeke steal ignited a Falcons’ chance.
The Eagles keeper later made a diving catch of Dan Norton’s 5-yard header attempt off a Jeremy Stapleton cross.
“After that goal, for maybe the last 60 minutes of the game I thought they had the run of it and more bounce in their step,” Valintis said. “We were just lackadaisical and looked disinterested, and I don’t understand why.”
The absence due to injury of leading scorer Albert Arabik didn’t help.
“I think that affects us,” Valintis said. “but the kids knew he wasn’t going to be able to play today. I don’t think that had too much to do with it because they had time to prepare for it.
“I think the heat the humidity zapped our guys. You have to fight through it – they (Wheaton North) had to play in the same kind of weather, and it seemed like they got stronger as the game went on. We didn’t.”
While the Falcons had the majority of chances the rest of the half, Leyden produced the best. In the 32nd minute, Moises Merlos broke in on right wing and sent a shot off the left post. Falcons’ keeper Alex Jiskra then dove on the loose ball.
Most of the second half was a continuation of the same theme: Wheaton North chances ending without results, and Leyden opportunism.
After Recendez denied Tanasic twice in the first three minutes (a save of a 10-yard shot, then diving to bat away a cross to the front), the Eagles turned a good bounce into a key insurance goal.
A 32-yard free kick by Leyden’s Joaquin Cardenas into the box bounced up off the hand of a Falcons’ player. Salgado put away the ensuing penalty kick with 35:47 left to make the score 2-0.
After seeing his team produce multiple good chances, the PK call frustrated McEvilly.
“That second goal, I don’t know if that’s a PK,” he said. “When the ball hits somebody’s hand, it’s not necessarily a hand ball – that’s a point of emphasis in the rules this year. It’s not like that inadvertent hand ball stopped somebody who was wide open from scoring a goal.”
But the goal didn’t demoralize Wheaton North as it generated three excellent chances in the next 21 minutes.
The best came with 26:15 left. A Duncan corner kick sailed to the far post, where Jason Szumski’s point-blank header was blocked near the goal line by Flores.
In the 20th minute of the half, Winckler lined a 15-yard shot inches wide of the left post.
With 14:30 left, a nice Winckler block at midfield set up another chance that ended with Alex Bienduga’s shot wide off a Connor Ritchie pass. Norton’s 12-yard shot was caught by Recendez with 11 minutes left.
Defenders Hector Herrera, Elvis Castaneda, Freddy Suarez, Guzman, Merlos and Flores all made big plays in the bend-but-don’t break second half stretch for the Eagles, and midfielder David Senk nicely won a loose ball just inside midfield from two Wheaton North players in the first half.
“Since they were pressuring a lot, I felt like we all got tired quickly,” Flores said. “So what we were doing a lot was just kicking the ball out, but at times we would try to possess and get some opportunities.”
One of those chances came with 6:50 left, when Deeke and Zach Oslund made nice plays to deny a nice attack by Leyden’s Christian Hernandez.
Steals by Szumski and Ethan Taira deterred a prolonged Eagle attack with 3:30 left, and Oslund’s eventual clear finally broke the ice for the Falcons.
Norton fielded Oslund’s upfield pass and found Nathan Atkinson free on right wing. Atkinson dribbled in and did the rest, driving a 15-yard shot inside the left post to cut the Leyden lead to 2-1 with 2:34 left.
“The best lesson you can take from this,” McEvilly said, “is that no matter where you’re at and no matter how successful a state tourney run is, there’s going to come a time when you’re down a goal or you need a goal to win and you’ll need the confidence that ‘we can get a goal when we need it.’
“That’s what we take going forward from here. The seedings are set and this is a learning experience for both of our teams, to know what we have to improve upon before we go into the tournament in a couple of weeks.”
One area of his team’s needed improvement was clear to Valintis.
“It was fairly obvious that they were trying to play a little more direct, get the ball into space and get their guys running forward,” he said. “We did a bad job of communicating where people should be.
“They eventually broke through with a couple minutes left, but they had been knocking on our door quite a bit in the second half. We kind of escaped a little bit.”
The Falcons’ great effort to the end produced many standouts.
“I thought Jackson Duncan had a great game,” McEvilly said. “Nate Atkinson scored the goal and he was from the start of the game getting behind their outside backs and pushing the ball in the corner. And Aaron Deeke did a great job holding the midfield for us.”
Leyden was able to hold the Falcons in check after the Atkinson goal, as a lofting 28-yard shot wide of the net by Winckler with 2:05 left was Wheaton North’s last decent chance.
“When it came to the last few minutes I thought our defense did a good job of staying with their guy and staying in front of him to not let him pass,” Flores said.
“I think that’s a good part on them because that’s how (Wheaton North) got their first goal – a guy drove in, had an open shot and buried it in the goal.”
As the season nears its end, co-captain Flores feels the Eagles’ nucleus of seven senior starters should pay dividends.
“I think it helps us because we have more motivation,” he said. “It’s our last year, and we know that if this was a playoff game and we lose, there’s no going back and that’s it. It’s good because we can have people step up and show the younger guys what to do and they’ll follow.
“We have two conference games this next week, and we want to finish strong.”
Wheaton North its own reasons to be optimistic.
“I think we play a good brand of soccer,” McEvilly said. “We just need to have a little more confidence, and maybe the last 10 minutes helps us get there.”