Huskies blank Tomcats to get back to sectional play
By Dave Owen
One year ago, Wesley Wong was playing for the Chicago Magic US Soccer Development Academy team and Naperville North’s seven-year run of regional titles ended with an agonizing penalty kicks loss to Wheaton Warrenville South.
Saturday, Wong’s fearless play on a second half restart provided the exclamation point to his debut varsity season as the Huskies defeated East Aurora 1-0 in the Class 3A Naperville North Regional finals.
Naperville North (12-6-2) advances to face Waubonsie Valley in the Metea Valley Sectional semifinals on Tuesday at 6:30 pm.
Frustrated by a first half of near misses despite having the wind at their backs, the Huskies finally broke through with 31:11 left in the match on a perfect timing play.
Alec Thompson was fouled near the right sideline to set up a 45-yard direct kick for the Huskies.
Zach Peterson delivered a strong free kick high into the wind towards the crease. In a race to the high ball, Wong connected on a header a millisecond before the East Aurora goalkeeper arrived.
During the ensuing collision, the ball sailed just under the crossbar and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“We had already run a lot of set plays (Saturday), and I noticed that we could never win the ball in the air,” Wong said. “I tried a different route starting from the back, and then I cut in behind everyone so no one knew where I was running to.
“And then my mindset going to the ball was, this is probably the last game I’m going to play this year so why not go 100 percent for the ball. It doesn’t matter if I get injured. It’s the regional finals, so go in 100 percent to the ball and try to put it in the back of the net.”
Wong’s maximum effort produced celebration after his second goal of the season, but also a painful collision.
“Two fists to the face,” he said. “But it didn’t matter – do whatever for the team.”
As key defender or as Saturday’s goal scorer, Wong has been a key addition for his new team.
“My first year for North winning a regional title – nothing could be better,” said Wong, who had last played prep soccer on the Huskies’ freshman team.
“I had decided to play (club) and skip high school because I thought that would get me farther. Then I saw all the politics involved and it’s not worth the time and the travel and my grades.
"Coming back here really helped me. In club it’s a lot more serious. Even though I have a passion for soccer it’s not as fun as it is over here. We put it all together here – we have fun and play serious when we know we have to.”
Peterson was a catalyst for the Huskies’ attack all afternoon, and assisted Wong’s heroics with a perfect setup.
“He played a couple of balls to me already in the first half,” Wong said. “He hit an amazing ball, and I read what he was trying to do and where he was going to play it and I just ran right in to hit it.”
Peterson measured the heavy winds perfectly on his restart.
“Coach (Steve Goletz) had told us at halftime due to the wind to high line it more, and hit more of a chip ball that will float into the wind like that,” Peterson said. “I put a little more backspin on it, kind of chipped at the ball and it gave Wes enough time to go and flick it over the goalie.
“I think we knew most of the game that we were the stronger side,” Peterson added. “In the first half with the wind we had three or four chances to put the ball away, so we weren’t really too concerned. We knew what we had to do in the second half, and we came out and did that. It worked out well.”
Peterson was one of the key players making things work.
“I thought Zach Peterson had a great game today,” Goletz said. “He was all over the field and created some great opportunities for us.
“I also thought Geoff Horn and Wes played a great game at center back. Grant Lesak came in and played some good minutes, and Chris Sullivan as a freshman had a couple of chances there and made some smart runs. It was truly a team effort, but Wes, Geoff and Zach definitely stood out.”
Wong and Horn joined Luke Landiak, Eddie Graham, Alex Scurto and Thompson as stalwarts on the defender corps that helped goalkeeper Christian Robert earn the shutout against a quick East Aurora squad.
“We talked a lot in practice after watching them play Plainfield Central that they have some individually very skilled kids,” Goletz said. “We worked on 1-v-1 and 2-v-2 defending, getting pressure on the ball, moving your feet and getting cover on the ball there, and I think the guys executed that really well today."
Horn and Wong combined to block and then clear a 48-yard East Aurora direct kick with 27:30 left, while Robert had to make seven saves in the second half.
Robert’s strong plays included a nice diving cover of a low cross into the crease with 21:40 left. He later went into a crowd to grab an East Aurora corner kick sent at the 10:20 mark and his catch of a chip towards the goal with 4:40 left was his final save.
While East Aurora had its handful of chances, the Huskies produced the majority of big threats.
After going up 1-0, North nearly added to its lead with 29:55 left when Thompson’s 8-yard shot off a strong somersault throw-in by Chris Ensign was caught by the goalkeeper at the post.
Three huge chances came in quick succession in the 20th minute of the half. On a race to a nice long ball from Landiak, Sullivan had his 18-yard try deflected just wide by the charging Tomcat keeper.
Two ensuing Peterson corner kicks proved just as dangerous – first, Wong’s 8-yard header was denied on a defender’s block over the end line at the left post. Then Marek Jurkiewicz followed with a header on goal off Peterson’s next restart.
Grant Lesak later sent a 30-yard shot just over the net and the Huskies had a potential goal for a 2-0 lead reversed with 46.2 seconds left.
Grant Borg’s initial shot off a Peterson pass was caught by the keeper. Borg scored on an apparent rebound when the ball came loose, but officials determined the keeper had control and nullified the insurance goal.
That last denial was a bookend to how the game started.
“We had five or six opportunities especially in the first half and couldn’t put any of those away,” Wong said. “We should have won more than 1-0, but a win’s a win.”
A diving save on Steve Schneider’s 12-yard shot 1:05 before halftime capped a first half of near misses for the Huskies.
Peterson, Sullivan, Lesak, Ensign and Chris Maclean also generated scoring threats, but four close offside calls on potential breakaway chances added to a frustrating first 40 minutes.
“The wind in the first half was at our back,” Goletz said, “and when we tried to get balls forward we struggled with offsides and being able to sort through their offsides trap. They did an effective job at it, and at times our guys kind of fell asleep.
“I actually think having the wind in our face helped us because the ball hung up there a little more and I don’t think our guys felt like they had to get that last step right before the defender. They knew they’d have a play on the ball even if they started a yard or two behind the guy.”
The level of difficulty now rises with Waubonsie Valley next up. The Huskies beat the Warriors 1-0 on September 14.
“Early in the year we beat them,” Peterson said, “but it’s always hard to beat a team twice in a row so we’ll have to come ready.”
The Huskies’ schedule should have them ready for the higher stakes rematch.
“It definitely prepares us for the mental part of the game,” Peterson said, “because teams that don’t have a hard schedule come in, kind of get hit in the mouth early and get freaked out. I know we’ll come in heads down and really ready to take that sectional semifinal.”
“You play a tough schedule through the year for a reason,” Goletz said, “so you know what it’s like to be tested in games. We’ve played some very skilled teams, some teams that are very physical, and teams that are good in the air on restarts. We’ve kind of gotten a little bit of everything, and now it’s a matter of putting it together and keeping it rolling in the playoffs.
“We have to continue to build, especially our attack in the run of play. Going up against Waubonsie we’re going to have to create more chances to put away against a very good team in the next round.”
Erasing 2012’s painful regional was a big hurdle.
“Last year we lost a real heartbreaker in the regional finals (2-1 on penalty kicks),” Peterson said, “so to get things done this year always feels good and really boosts morale a little bit.”