Wheaton North makes statement
80 minutes of intensity brings 1-0 win over Lake Park
By Patrick Z. McGavin
ROSELLE -- The soccer season is a gallop with little opportunity to pause and consider the finer points. Memory persists only through the next game. Every team plays a comparable number of games, and the reality is, not every game counts the same.
Take the matchup between Wheaton North and tournament host Lake Park here Thursday night. Point of fact, it was the fourth game in a five-game, six-team round robin tournament. Schedules mislead, and it was clear from the thrashing of the bodies and the physical and punishing style of play exhibited from both sides that the level of intensity was distinctive.
A year ago Lake Park bolted the Upstate Eight and entered the DuPage Valley Conference, where it rather shockingly swept the field en route to a 21-win campaign and a fourth-place finish in the Class 3A state tournament.
Lake Park victimized Wheaton North by lopsided margins twice last year. Wheaton North paid attention. The game represented an outlier, a non-conference affair of teams wanting to make a statement against each other.
"Lake Park is trying to reshuffle some things and they lost a ton of players from last year, but this is still a conference opponent," Wheaton North coach Tim McEvilly said. "This was the first game we played this year where it's truly intense for 80 minutes. There's no love lost when you play and everything is a lot more intense and physical."
Lake Park coach Anthony Passi was on the right side of the scoreboard last year. He understands the implications. "Kids are kids, and they definitely remember," he said.
Dan Norton understood the dynamics. "We're competing for the DVC, and also the playoffs," the Wheaton North senior midfielder said.
On Thursday night, Norton was the difference-maker, earning Chicagoland Soccer's Man of the Match honors in the process.
The 5-9 senior midfielder, blessed with speed and quickness, cut down the right edge, ran into a perfectly slotted through ball from Jack Williams and calmly did the rest. He rocked just enough of a stutter-step that forced Lake Park keeper Michael Jasiak to make a move, but it was too little and too late.
Norton drilled the ball inside the near post in the 38th minute as the Falcons surprised Lake Park 1-0 for the rewarding victory. "They're a great team, and to beat them like this, on their field, is ridiculous," Williams said.
Williams, a senior reserve, registered his first assist of the year. He made it count.
The play marked the culmination of improved play and a sharper offensive rhythm, Norton said.
"We started to win some 50-50 balls in the middle of the field and we also started to settle down," he said. "On the goal, we got the ball wide and Jack played a really good through pass. I made a one touch and got it past their keeper."
With two teams of comparable ability, the question is which side was better able to assert its will against the other. "Last year we tended to control and possess the ball and control the tempo," Passi said. "Tonight it was back and forth, and we actually might have played a little more in their half. In that final third we couldn't find feet."
The Falcons (3-1-1) are hungry. Already struggling to contend with state powers Naperville Central and Naperville North in its conference, Wheaton North was not prepared to be further eclipsed by Lake Park. But that happened last year.
Wheaton North has made gradual steps to improve each year.
"We felt really good about ourselves this summer," McEvilly said. "We have some kids who worked very hard to help turn the program around. We have good size, we have some kids who can run, Danny is rally good in space."
Coming off a lopsided 3-1 loss against a very offensively skilled Conant team on Tuesday night, Wheaton North looked to be the aggressor. Lanky and skilled defender Zach Oslund epitomizes the change in attitude. He is 6-4, physical, rugged and with the powerful leg and the unteachable talent of the great arm that makes him especially dangerous on throw-ins.
"We have some situations this year where, depending on the situation, we might prefer a throw in over a corner [kick]," Oslund said.
Oslund said the team is ready to make the leap forward. "We are older, have better experience and have a lot of guys who have played together a long time," he said. "We feel more confident, and tonight was really the first time we had a chance to prove how much better we are from a year ago."
The Lancers (3-1-1) have struggled the last two games. Coach Passi said the only downside to the unexpected run of a year ago is this year's edition has set itself up for increased scrutiny. Lake Park's best player, explosive midfielder Oliver Horgan, has scored five goals in the first week and a half. He had some tantalizing possibilities against the Falcons.
Twice he made strong crosses from opposite ends of the field that, had a Lake Park player connected, was bound to cause trouble with Wheaton North's keeper out of the net. Both times, the ball ended up alone. "We couldn't get anybody there," Passi said.
"Last year I had attention," said Horgan, who scored 17 goals and was the team's second-leading scorer. "It's 10 times worse this year. People have seen me, and coaches know about me, and I'm getting double teamed a lot.
"Every time I get the ball I'm surrounded."
Three times against Wheaton North, Horgan elevated in traffic for headers. Each time the ball sailed high. That is soccer.
"The bottom line is they're a good bunch of kids and they just can't get satisfied until the day after the state tournament," Passi said. "There's a bit of a lull right now, and luckily for us, I hope, it's happening early and not later in the season.
"Hopefully we'll find that rhythm and that chemistry. At this level it's all about who wants it more and plays 80 minutes of soccer. We have to learn and we have to get better."
G: Michael Jasiak
D: Joshua Solarz
D: Miguel Ramirez
D: Brody Thompson
D: Kevin Amerlan
M: Oliver Horgan
M: Lorenzo Mariani
M: Franco Mari
M: Michael Passi
F: Edan Armas
F: Ricky Claudio
G: Mitch Biegalski
D: Cole Montejano
D: Kenny Stang
D: Armand Torrez
D: Zach Oslund
D: Kyle Nelson
M: Aaron Deeke
M: Dan Norton
M: Sam Mason
M: Nico Bibergall
F: Zoran Tanasic
Man of the Match: Dan Norton, Wheaton North