Lancers blank Panthers to claim win in DVC debut
By Curt Herron
Throughout most of its years competing in the sport, Lake Park knew mainly one home for league competition, the Upstate Eight Conference.
For over three decades, the Lancers met the likes of DeKalb, East Aurora, Elgin, Larkin, St. Charles East, Streamwood, Waubonsie Valley and West Aurora in UEC play.
But with its move to the DuPage Valley Conference this season, a new chapter in Lake Park's rich athletic history will begin to unfold.
That officially kicked off on Thursday when the Lancers traveled to one of the original members of their new conference, Glenbard North.
And in a preview of what they should expect on a regular basis in the rugged DVC, there wasn't much scoring and the action was physical.
Fortunately for the Lancers, their debut in one of the state's top leagues was a success, as they edged the Panthers 1-0 in Carol Stream.
A throw-in from Joe Keane that glanced off of Oliver Horgan on a disputed play in the 49th minute was the difference on the historic night.
Things figured to be challenging for Lake Park considering that the Panthers were coming off of a 1-0 loss to Naperville North in their DVC opener.
And that proved to be so for the Lancers (4-1-2, 1-0), who scored 19 goals in their initial four matches but just two in the last three.
Beside the significance of the new league, the victory was important for the Lancers, who were coming off a 5-1 defeat to St. Charles East.
"We knew coming into the year that it was going to be tough because there's good teams in this conference," Gustavo "Goose" Contreras said. "At the same time we were co-champs last year in the Upstate Eight and we don't want to regress this year.
"We know the type of talent that we have on our team and the kind of effort we can put forth. So one of our goals this year is to be a competitor in the DVC. Nothing will ever be granted in this league so you have to go out there and fight in each game.
"Tuesday was not our best game against St. Charles East. we lacked a lot of effort so we wanted to make a statement and show what we're truly made of. Most of us have been playing together for a couple of years so we have a lot of chemistry and guys are willing to fight for each other."
Although disappointed that his squad didn't capitalize on some first-half chances, Lancer coach Anthony Passi was pleased to get the win.
Not only was it a good way to start off play in the DVC, but the the hard-fought victory was a nice response to the defeat to the Saints.
"It feels good to get the first win and I'm just glad that the first one is in the books," Passi said. "It's the beginning for us and let's hope we can continue. It was a very physical game and the DVC is going to be tough and very defensive-minded.
"I think that we had a few more opportunities but we've been struggling with finishing. A lot of stuff was coming out of the midfield and we were getting the ball wide but we were like a pass away or a shot away from a few more goals.
"Whenever you get the shutout you feel good, especially after a 5-1 loss. But we watched the film and they owned us in the first half and we were down 3-0 10 minutes in. We had opportunities in the second half but just didn't put them away.
"We were scoring in the first couple of games but right now we've been going back and forth between the turf and grass. I've noticed the first touch is a little tough. But we just have to start finishing better in the final third."
Passi liked the work of defenders Carlos Torres, Riker Tithof-Steere, Contreras, Anthony Devereux and Franco Mariani in front of keeper Steve Mack.
And he was also pleased by the work of his strong midfield group, which includes Mike Catalano, Giovanni Ciaccio and Keane.
"The guys on defense did a nice job of holding that back line," Passi said. "We're also getting a lot of touches out of the midfield. The short passes are nice but eventually you have to play with a purpose and get the ball past the defense.
"We have a very solid lineup with very good chemistry. They're very positive and focused on what they want to do. Last year we didn't have a winning record but the chemistry was phenomenal and the guys were hungry and couldn't wait for their senior year."
Although the Lancers had some good chances, they had little to show for it as the break as the sides were still on even terms.
The Panthers kicked off the final 40 minutes of play with a pair of early chances, which were both hauled in by Mack.
Aldo Nolasco bounced a try off of defenders that went to the Lancer keeper, who then stopped an effort from C.J. Koeller.
But it was Lake Park that would strike first less than 10 minutes after the break when they made the most of a throw-in.
Keane's well-placed lob went into the box where it looked to hit Horgan as he was colliding with keeper Nathan Chalus.
After a consultation between the referee and his assistant, the score was allowed, much to the chagrin of the Panthers.
"Last year we tied for a share of of the Upstate Eight Conference and now we're new to this conference and we want to prove that we can hang with these guys, so it's great to get a good start," Keane said.
"I think we had more of the play in the first half but when the second half came along they started putting some pressure on us. But we responded well after Tuesday and I'm proud of everyone on the team."
Around the half's midpoint, Catalano sent a shot try wide of the mark and then headed away a free kick by Christian Romero.
As the final quarter hour began, Ciaccio was wide of the mark on two attempts as the Lancers looked to add to their lead.
Down the stretch, Ciaccio lined a corner kick to Chalus and Romero responded with a free kick which sailed wide of the net.
The drama continued until the very end with Catalano heading away a throw-in from Jelani Brown prior to the final whistle.
"We were co-champs last year in the Upstate Eight so we have a lot of pressure on us coming into this new conference," Mack said. "The DVC is probably one of the best soccer conferences in the state so we have a challenge and we're ready to accept it.
"It was a 1-0 game and that's always a great game for both sides. We didn't play too well against St. Charles but we came back and got a 'W' and we're ready for Tuesday. I like our chemistry. We all know each other and are brothers and it's awesome."
After allowing five goals and suffering their first defeat two days earlier, the clean sheet was indeed well-received.
And coupled with an historic win for the Lancer program in its DVC debut, there were plenty of positives to focus on.
"It was very exciting to be able to win our opener considering that we're the underdogs since we're the new team in the league," Torres said. "It was a battle and 1-0 games are always exciting. We came here to prove something and we did.
"I'm hoping for a pretty good season. This is a good group of guys and we have a lot of chemistry. We all get along, we take everything seriously and we give it our all in every game."
The Lancers return to DVC play on Tuesday when they take on Wheaton North in their initial home match in the new league.