Tigers fall but keep finding their way vs. Lancers
By Bill Stone
For senior central defender Riker Tithof-Steere and his Lake Park soccer teammates, playing Saint Ignatius Sunday at Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire, was a memorable experience.
The score, however, the Lancers would like to forget. The result was a 2-1 loss with the Wolfpack scoring twice in the second half on an early penalty kick following a foul and a blast following a corner kick that was not cleared.
”That was a rough game. I’d say we were kind of off our game and it just wasn’t us,” Tithof-Steere said. “We didn’t play as strong as we should have. It was shaky in the back.”
Although the Lancers played their seventh game over the last 12 days Tuesday, the defense was as strong as ever.
They gave a more representative effort with their eighth shutout of the season as the Lancers posted a 1-0 victory at Wheaton Warrenville South to remain undefeated in their first year of DuPage Valley Conference play.
Lake Park (10-2-3, 4-0 in DVC) visits Naperville Central (10-1-2, 4-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday with the conference lead on the line.
”I think we had two or three shots on net overall in the whole game, which is pretty good, and our goalie (Steven Mack) did well to save those,” Tithof-Steere said. “I’d say defensively we’ve had a pretty strong season overall. Other than (a 5-1 loss at St. Charles East Sept. 10), we’ve maintained a pretty strong back.”
The Tigers (5-8-2, 1-2-1) also have a strong defense, and that contributed to the only goal being scored just 5:16 into the game by Wisconsin-bound Mike Catalano, who headed home a sidelines throw-in by Joe Keane.
Offensively, Wheaton Warrenville South had more success in the second half by using its speed and trying to counterattack. The Tigers made tremendous strides from a 3-0 loss at Batavia Monday.
Although the Lancers dominated in possession time and had more scoring chances, the Tigers actually led 13-11 in shots by out shooting the Lancers 7-3 over the final 40 minutes. Lake Park led 3-1 in corner kicks and had several deep throw-ins from Keane.
”We’re young up top and just starting to look like we have some good ideas in the final third. We created some good opportunities so we’re very pleased with our performance,” WWS coach Guy Callipari said. “Obviously, the outcome is what it is, but outside of that I thought we displayed a good sense of ability and developed some sense of rhythm.”
Despite their success, the Lancers continue struggling with continuity because of injuries. While Catalano leads the team in scoring (14 goals, 5 assists), they were without starting forward and No. 2 scorer Oliver Horgan (8 goals, 3 assists) because of a concussion from Sunday, and starting midfielder Giovanni Ciaccio (6 goals, 3 assists) remains out with a broken ankle. Starting midfielder Kevin Coria played but was battling illness.
”I think, in our situation, we had to score first,” Lake Park coach Anthony Passi said.
Lake Park came out attacking, getting a Catalano header over the goal off a Keane throw in less than a minute into the game.
When they connected for a goal, it was Keane’s team-best seventh assist. This is Catalano’s first year of high-school soccer since his freshman year.
”I love it because it’s an extra weapon up there,” Keane said. “Obviously, we can attack out of the midfield, but with the throw in, it just adds an extra dimension to our game, and Mike is just an absolute beast in there. Nobody wins the ball over him. He’s a beast.”
“I think it was important we got that goal first. We didn’t think it was going to be a 1-0 game,” Passi said. “We know that they’ve been playing everybody tough in conference. They’re pesky. Teams do not give up at all (in the DVC).”
The Lancers had seven shots by midway through the first half but couldn’t find the net again.
Still, Lake Park’s starting defense of senior central defenders Gustavo Contreras and Tithof-Steere and senior outside defenders Carlos Torres and Anthony Devereux proved up to the challenge.
Even with the Saint Ignatius loss, during this seven-game stretch, the Lancers have allowed just three goals with five shutouts.
”You always want to get a shutout. Every minute you step on the field, you want to make sure that your goalie doesn’t allow goals. (And) usually it’s not on them. It’s on the other 10 on the field,” Contreras said.
”Sunday was a rude awakening of what teams can do. There are plenty of good teams in the area, and you let down for two minutes, they score two goals on you. It really showed that we’ve got to keep working every single day at practice and games and even when we’re not on the field.”
Tithof-Steere is a converted midfielder from last fall, but he has plenty of interior experience from club soccer, where Contreras is one of his teammates.
Passi said the club team uses a flat-back four formation, so the Lancers began the experiment of switching from a sweeper-stopper combination during the summer. Torres, a physical outside midfield, was moved to the outside along with senior David Franz, who has since been injured and replaced by Devereux.
”We’ve played together a lot. We played club together, both center back so we know what each other’s doing,” Tithof-Steere said.
”Most of the goals we’ve allowed came in three games early in the season (10 of 15) so we’ve picked it up a lot,” Contreras said. “We’re playing together better. We’re working on our shape, positioning, covering for guys to step up and all of that. And the midfield does a lot of work, helping out, pressing, recovering the ball, going up into the upper attack. The forwards pressing the defenders, making sure they don’t serve up balls. All of that helps us do our job.”
The Tigers use three of their four senior starters for their strong defense. Co-captains Mike Stelletello and Joe Spera and Ryan Trockman are joined by sophomore Anthony Berardi and sophomore goalie Edson Gomez.
Although lacking in overall height, their ball sense and ability in the air thwarted several possibly dangerous attempts Tuesday.
Lake Park also was called for offsides three times. Moments after their second violation, the Lancers nearly went ahead 2-0 in the 16th minute when Keane took a pass from Kris Lopez, but the shot to the low-right corner was stopped by a diving Gomez.
Three minutes before halftime, Catalano missed converting another header off Coria’s corner kick, although Lalo Robles was defending the post.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Catalano and Keane just missed another throw-in, header scoring combination. With 28 minutes left, Catalano headed another Coria corner kick, but when Lopez tried to help it along in the crease by kicking it with his back to the goal, Gomez again was there to deny.
“Again, a pass away or a shot away from putting teams away. Once we can figure that out, hopefully we’ll have a little bit more (offense),” Passi said.
Finding consistent offense has been the Tigers’ primary challenge. This was the third time they lost a 1-0 game and the 10th time they have been shut out. One of those shutouts later became a victory by forfeit.
” (Our defense) has been stellar throughout the year. It’s given us an opportunity to formulate ideas and experiment up top, give us time to find our way a little bit,” Callipari said. “We have spent a lot of the year to this point trying to find an identity and we think we might have a template in which to work out of.”
The Tigers’ best scoring chance early came when junior Edwin Huerta nearly intercepted a pass back to Mack, which meant he couldn’t use his hands to secure the ball.
In the 23rd minute, they received an emotional lift when Huerta headed the ball just wide of a right-wing cross by Jack Coutre off Max Leonard’s throw-in.
Forward Mike Bennett, among four WWS sophomores who started, and the Tigers made the second half, especially the final moments, at least tense for the Lancers.
”I thought that we kept coming at them with all we had,” Bennett said.
“I think we started connecting our passes more. We found runs that could penetrate their defense and get through the back line. I think we’re improving. We’re learning to find open spaces and start going at the defense and testing the goalkeeper.”
Four minutes into the second half, Bennett blasted a shot wide right after Catalano headed out Stelletello’s throw-in from the crease. With 10 minutes left, Jurguen Gomez stole the ball at the 40-yard line and got the ball ahead to Bennett, who battled to gain control of the ball and get a shot on goal.
Trockman delivered a potentially dangerous long ball with three minutes left, but Devereux headed it back to Mack. In the final two minutes, Gomez put a ball through the crease, resulting in a Robles shot, and Stelletello had one last throw-in that was cleared out.
”Our transition part of our game can’t be held up by standing on the ball. We’ve got to go, and they did a pretty good job of that today,” Callipari said. “Can we maintain that? We’re going to find out.”
”They kept knocking on the door, but I think our defense held well, held strong,” Passi said. “Our midfield did get caught up a couple of times and they kind of snuck the ball between our mids and our back, but defensively we held them off fairly well."