Huskies beat Friars to claim village bragging rights
By Dave Owen
Led by a huge game from Tim Huettel, Oak Park and River Forest’s offense provided added voltage to the usual electric atmosphere of its crosstown rivalry game with Fenwick.
The host Huskies scored three minutes into Thursday’s match and never let up en route to a 4-0 halftime lead.
Even a 30-minute lightning delay 12 seconds before halftime only slowed OPRF’s charge to a 4-0 win in front of the Huskies’ biggest crowd of the season.
“It feels great,” said Huettel, who had a great night with two goals and two assists. “It makes four years in a row that we’ve won (against Fenwick), and we had a good turnout from the fans.”
“You just don’t see this many people at a soccer game,” OPRF coach Paul Wright said. “This is the biggest game for them. We played a sectional semifinal here and got maybe 40 fans. Everybody and their mother and sister comes out, the soccer leagues come out – it’s just a great experience.”
The 250-plus fans were treated to an offensive show by Huettel and his teammates, and didn’t have to wait long for reasons to cheer.
Jesse Kusimba’s near-miss header over the net 1:50 into the match was a prelude of things to come. One minute later, off passes from Erik Arsovski and Kusimba, a missed Fenwick clearing attempt off a Kusimba cross left Huettel open for a 15-yard shot in the box that gave OPRF a quick 1-0 lead.
With 19:54 left in the half, Evan Kindler took a Huettel cross and blasted an 18-yard shot inside the left post to make the score 2-0.
“We talked about that, how the first half is when we want to win the game,” OPRF senior midfielder Robbie Holmes said. “That was a great start.”
Wright’s pregame history lesson provided some motivation.
“I just said we have to come out and set the tone early, and if we don’t it’s going to be a long 80 minutes,” Wright said.
“We came out fast two years ago and got a goal in the first minute, then we won last year 2-1 and intensity was there every play of the game.
“I said ‘if you want to get past that, we need to get a couple of goals early and shut them down.’ I felt like we did that, and in the second half we were able to try some different looks and work on some stuff for Hinsdale Central on Tuesday.”
While the offensive thrived, the OPRF defense more than did its part.
Sam Lisak and Joey Pasternak each played one half in goal to combine for the Huskies’ third straight shutout.
Sweeper Stevie Samuels’ nice play to fend off a Fenwick attacker and clear the ball in the 20th minute epitomized his strong day all over the field, as he also took OPRF’s corner kicks.
“Our midfield did a great job moving the ball,” Huettel said, “and Steve Samuels our sweeper pushed the defense up a lot, which really helped with us getting the ball up the field and having support for each other.”
Mavin Gill, Kirk Svensson and Arsovski were also solid at defender spots, while the offense kept charging.
Mike Hoke drove in on goal and had his point-blank shot deflected by a defender off the post 3:35 before halftime.
That near-miss was followed by two big finishes, starting with a great play by Noah Fluharty.
With 2:30 left until the break, Fluharty won a race to Huettel’s cross attempt, deflected the ball to open space away from two Fenwick defenders and lined a 12-yard shot past the goalkeeper for a 3-0 lead.
Svensson later hustled to clear away a Fenwick 1-on-1 chance 55 seconds before the half, setting the stage for a OPRF last-second strike.
Huettel stole a Fenwick clearing attempt and sent the ball to Hoke on left wing. Off a return cross from Hoke, Huettel burst in and lined a low shot off the Friar goalkeeper’s hands and into the net just 12 seconds before halftime.
“Everybody wanted the ball really badly so there was a lot of movement,” Huettel said of the Huskies’ big first half. “Our wide mids were getting up and down the wings. We swung it out wide a lot and I thought that helped because they (Fenwick) played a condensed kind of defense where they just kicked the ball out.”
Rumbling thunder during the post-goal celebration brought on an extended halftime delay, but the Huskies continued to control a scoreless second half.
Hoke broke in on right wing and skipped a low shot that required a diving save with 37:15 left, and Kyle Pendalton had a quality shot deflected wide with 31:30 to go.
Huettel twice sent 25-yard shots on goal, Harry Engoren sent a shot wide off a Roger Gusloff cross, and Steve Hawthorne and Arsovski also had second half shots on the frame.
Defensively, Pasternak preserved the shutout with three saves and midfielder Holmes headed a Fenwick free kick from right of the box out of danger in the 9th minute of the half to repel one of the Friars’ best chances.
“I started off at stopper,” Holmes said, “but from game to game I don’t think we’ve had the same lineup twice with injuries here and there. But we’re playing well.”
After enduring an 0-4-1 record in early September (with two PK losses and one by one goal), the Huskies have come back with a 4-0-1 mark in their last five matches.
“Everybody kind of realized what we need to do and what went wrong in these close games that we played,” Huettel said.
“Everybody’s really stepped up and done what we’ve practiced and worked on. It really helps everybody coming together and winning. Three wins in a row definitely helps going into next Tuesday against Hinsdale Central, which is going to be huge.”
“We’ve been on a run the last three or four (games) here,” Holmes said. “We struggled early in the season and got some bad breaks, but we know each other well and know who’s going to be where. If you make the pass, so and so is going to be there.”
Recent sophomore call-ups Pendalton, Purvis Funches, Gusloff, Jonah Munch and Nicolas Linares all contributed on Thursday.
“They help a lot,” Holmes said. “Each person brings their unique talents to the game that we didn’t have, so it’s a great asset.”
Thursday’s win provides another step forward, gearing up for the WSC Silver-leading Red Devils and the impending challenges of the postseason.
“The big thing was that our touch has always been five or 10 yards in front of us,” Wright said. “I felt like we had a couple decent combinations that we can go back and watch on film, highlight and say ‘this is the direction we want to go in.’”