Warren, Grayslake Central share smiles, spoils in 1-1 draw
Positives abound for all in true friendly match
By Tom Hamilton
GRAYSLAKE -- Every time Warren and Grayslake Central meet on the soccer pitch, the atmosphere is sure to be sensational. The neighboring schools share a common local club in F.C. Lake County, and they look forward to competing against one another in front of the huge crowds they bring in on their annual “F.C.L.C. Night” matches.
More than 300 fans -- bolstered by a huge influx of support from F.C. Lake County coaches, parents, and players of all ages -- packed into the stands at Grayslake Central’s Eiserman Stadium on Thursday night.
When all was said and done, the crowd went home happy after witnessing a thrilling 1-1 draw in which both teams put forth sensational efforts.
A header from Warren senior Braden Lechner in the 25th minute was canceled out by Grayslake Central junior Cameron Paul’s short-range finish in the 31st minute, and both teams held on with stout defending to preserve the draw.
While 16th-ranked Warren (7-1-2) and Grayslake Central (4-4-1) both had their chances to finish on top, the teams left the field with pride in their performances and smiles on their faces.
“It was a fun night, it really was,” reflected Warren head coach Jason Ahonen. It was a sentiment shared by Grayslake Central head coach Keith Andersson.
“A lot of these kids have connections with each other, and those games always bring the best out of you," Andersson said. "I’m really pleased with what I saw, and I’m really happy with the effort which we gave tonight.”
The opening minutes demonstrated the respect that both teams had for each other.
Each played cautious passes from side to side and kept most possession in and around their respective backlines in attempts to size up their formidable opponents and avoid early mistakes.
A Warren header straight to Rams sophomore goalkeeper Uriel Garcia Perez (two saves) was the only shot on frame for either side in the opening passages of play.
In the 10th minute, Grayslake Central junior winger Alan Alonso used a trademark surging run up the flank to create space outside the Warren penalty area. As he approached the endline, he cut the ball back with a hard, low cross to junior striker Daniel Marynevych, who fired wide with his first-time shot.
The game opened up slightly from there, but strong defending reigned supreme in the early going.
Both teams sent dangerous crosses into each other’s respective penalty areas in the 12th minute, but assured clearances from Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match, Grayslake Central junior captain Lucas Veenstra and Warren senior defender Ben Conley, left the match scoreless early.
Warren managed to produce a trio of half chances in the next few minutes.
Speedy junior striker Ryan Stanciak nearly found space to latch onto a through-ball in the 14th minute, but Grayslake Central’s towering junior center back Eric Garcia Perez shield the ball out of play for a Rams goal kick.
A minute later, senior holding midfielder Matt Hegge sent a searching diagonal ball over the Rams defense to Warren senior captain Alexis Medina, but his teammate skied his first-time shot from the ensuing cross over the crossbar.
Medina, a livewire in the attack all evening for the Blue Devils, then sent his own volley over the bar a minute later after latching onto a missile of a long throw from fellow senior Conley.
The tide turned turn in the next few minutes, with Grayslake Central making some waves of their own.
In the 18th minute, speedy striker Marynevych blazed down the right flank on a counterattack. He nearly found his way clear on goal, but Warren sophomore defender Chris Crowson angled his recovery run perfectly to snuff out the danger before Marynevych could break clear on goal.
The Rams earned a free kick near the halfline moments later, but Veenstra’s service from deep was claimed confidently by Warren senior goalkeeper Justin Uribe (one save).
The momentum swung back in Warren's favor led to the game’s first goal in the 25th minute.
After a lengthy spell of patient possession earned Warren a throw-in near the Grayslake Central corner flag, junior midfielder Matthew Paraskos nodded Conley’s huge throw across the six-yard box. Senior midfielder Lechner broke free of his mark to nod the ball in at the back post for a 1-0 Blue Devils advantage.
Lechner noted that the goal was the byproduct of weeks of training and preparation.
“We’re working straight through our main targets that we’ve been grinding through all season every day in practice, in our prime target areas, trying to get the ball to the endline and across,” explained Lechner. “[The ball] came across, Matthew Paraskos headed it back to me, I [was] in the proper spot, and just [put it] straight in with my head.”
Warren’s joy from breaking the deadlock would prove short-lived.
Just six minutes later, Grayslake Central worked the ball upfield after a quick passing sequence and earned a throw-in inside Warren’s defensive third of the field. Senior captain Ben Berry hurled a missile into the box for fellow senior captain Marko Marynevych, who battled bravely through injuries to provide a spark off the bench.
The midfielder appeared set to strike the ball through a wall of Blue Devils defenders, but he turned at the last second and cut the ball across the area. A Warren defender managed to deflect the pass slightly, but it still found its way to striker Paul, who smashed it in from 10 yards.
“The through-ball to Marko on the outside, he was about to shoot it, but then it deflected off,” Paul summarized. “I was staying in the middle, and I hit it in [with] a tap-in.”
Coach Andersson emphasized that his team’s dynamic movement in the buildup was responsible not only for the goal on the evening, but for the uptick in scoring surge over their five-match unbeaten streak (4-0-1).
“Movement off the ball is key; they are never just standing in one position,” Andersson observed.
With both teams on the scoresheet, the energy level kicked up a few notches to close out the half.
The last significant chance fell to the Rams, who earned a corner kick after some fancy footwork from Paul. Sophomore winger Mitchell Fein whipped in an in-swinging cross, but Warren junior center back Tyler Hughes cleared the danger with authority.
It was one of several key interventions from the Warren defender, who marshaled the stellar Blue Devils defense without his usual center back partner Cael Harris, who was forced to take in the match from the sidelines.
Hughes credited his team’s preparation in training for its nearly flawless defending without its defensive captain.
“We wanted to fix the communication that we lost,” Hughes reflected when asked about how the team coped without Harris’ leadership in the back. “All of practice yesterday we were working together [on] what to tell each other, getting comfortable with each other.”
To start the second half, Warren introduced senior goalkeeper George McAtee (four saves), who watched a frantic first few minutes unfold after the restart.
Grayslake Central surged forward to earn a throw-in high upfield almost immediately, but seconds later Warren’s pacey junior striker Emilio Mancera nearly broke free on the counter, but the Rams’ Eric Garcia Perez once again made a crucial challenge to clear the danger.
Seconds later, Warren’s Hughes was once again called into action to halt a dangerous Daniel Marynevych counterattack.
Hughes and company then weathered an onslaught of pressure from the Rams over several minutes, with much of the play staying in Warren’s half of the field.
That Grayslake Central pressure has proven too much for opponents in recent days, but Hughes and Conley remained calm, composed, and communicative, allowing the Blue Devils to pass their way out of danger and build their attacks from the back.
At the other end of the field, a rare defensive error from the Rams allowed Warren’s Mancera to pounce on a loose ball at the edge of the 18-yard box, but his effort whizzed wide of the near post.
Warren continued searching for chinks in the Grayslake Central armor, with junior playmaker Miguel Garcia -- who recently returned from injury for the Blue Devils -- probing the Rams defense with quick, incisive passes.
Coach Ahonen noted that Garcia’s return as a pivot for his boys’ attacks was a big boon for the Blue Devils.
Garcia’s playmaking abilities helped create a couple quick opportunities for the Blue Devils in the 54th minute. Slick passing and quick, clever movement off the ball led to two shots from close range, but Grayslake Central’s Uriel Garcia Perez made a reflex save on the first and watched with relief as the follow-up effort hit the outside of the side netting for a Rams goal kick.
As play opened up once again, both teams’ goalkeepers spent the next few minutes making routine saves, scooping up through-balls and collecting hopeful crosses from their opponents.
The momentum gradually shifted to Warren, which started sending defenders forward with increasing frequency to support its playmaking trio of Garcia, Medina, and junior Michael Galvan.
Grayslake Central regained the edge in the 62nd minute and gave McAtee a scare.
The Ram's Grayslake Central’s junior captain Veenstra -- who had menaced the Blue Devils on both ends of the pitch throughout the evening -- surged up the left flank on a slick dribbling run, cut inside, and fired off a powerful, dipping strike from range that McAtee acrobatically tipped over his crossbar.
The referee adjudged a Warren defender had fouled Veenstra, so the Rams sent four players to the spot of the ensuing free kick. After some clever work in creating diversions, Rams midfielder Berry slotted a short pass to crafty senior playmaker Lafuntae Floyd, whose low shot was stymied by the impressive McAtee.
Minutes later, Floyd displayed impressive vision in sending a sweeping, crossfield pass to Veenstra. Veesntra took a quick, clean touch and squared the ball for senior Marko Marynevych to shoot from 20 yards, but the midfielder’s powerful strike flew past the far upper corner and out for a Warren goal kick.
Veenstra, who for much of his career has played in midfield, brings an attacking mindset to the team regardless of position.
“My coaches have always told me to keep going forward,” he said. “Every time I go up I think I bring a lot of energy and create a lot of chances, whether it’s crossing or taking shots.”
Veenstra wasn’t the only attack-minded defender to make a powerful impact on both ends. Fellow Man of the Match Conley, Warren’s own multi-talented defender, showed his own attacking flair in the 66th minute.
After picking up the ball deep in his own half, Conley surprised the Rams by charging straight up the middle of the field with the ball. After skipping past two challenges, he advanced 60 yards upfield and found the relentless Lechner with a nice pass, but he couldn’t put his powerful shot on frame.
Although Conley is known best for his assured defending, the imposing senior knows he has plenty to contribute on offense, too.
“Sometimes we just need something different on offense,” Conley said. “We have our main attack process. We go through wings and back in the middle, but I think I bring something different from that speed up the middle. They haven’t seen that because we usually attack the wings.”
Conley also knows the power of his secret weapon: his jaw-dropping throw-ins.
“I throw bombs 40 yards down the field or so, so not all the teams are used to that,” Conley chuckled. “It gives us a little advantage there, and we got a goal off of it, so I’m happy about that.”
The energy and pace of play picked up from both teams in the last stages of the match.
After breaking a spell of serious Warren pressure, the Rams worked a slick move between Fein, Alonso, and technically gifted junior midfielder Ray Sereno that led to a long throw for Berry.
The ensuing play ended with a screamer of an effort from Sereno, whose right-footed pile-driver from the top of the box smacked the crossbar, drawing audible gasps from the crowd.
The last significant chance of the match fell to Warren’s Mancera, who was sent clear on the counter after more stellar defending from Conley and his fellow Blue Devils defenders.
The younger Garcia Perez hurried off his line to confront Mancera on the right side of his penalty area, but the Rams keeper could not hold onto the ball. Several Warren attackers rushed upfield in an attempt to turn the opportunity into a shot, but Grayslake Central pulled numbers back into their box to deny any space to strike the ball.
When the final whistle blew, players and parents from both sides embraced, swapped shirts for photos and enjoyed a friendly, festive atmosphere under the Eiserman Stadium lights.
While both teams would have preferred to earn the win, in the end they chose to focus on the strong performances that allowed them to match up evenly with their impressive neighbors.
The Rams took pride in maintaining their possession-based identity despite playing one of the state’s biggest heavyweights.
“I would say [it was] our best performance of the year,” Grayslake Central captain Ben Berry asserted. “Everybody played really hard [and] fought to the end. We knew that [the Blue Devils] were going to come in and be a great team, be physical, and move the ball. We just played our game, side to side.”
“This is by far the best performance we have seen as coaches,” coach Andersson concurred. “[Assistant] coach Nieder and I couldn't be happier with the team’s overall performance. They moved the ball side to side. They didn't panic.”
Veenstra was especially pleased with the Rams’ execution in defense.
“Our plan was to just make sure their runs in behind were marked, and we never let our man just pass us without someone following him,” Veenstra analyzed. “I think we did a really good job of that today. No one was unmarked except for their one goal, so we had one mistake, but other than that we did really well.”
For Warren, coach Ahonen was pleased with how his boys have been able to compete at such a high level against their neighbors over the years.
“Over the last few years, we’ve kind of had the run of play,” he noted. “With us losing guys [to graduation] and them having guys coming back, I knew it was going to be a battle, and it was a quality result. Both teams can walk away with positives, both teams had a chance to win it, and a 1-1 draw is probably about right.”
“I think it was a pretty even game between both of us,” agreed Warren's Medina. “We had our chances, and they had their chances.”
Both teams will look to extend their unbeaten runs in the matches ahead. Warren carries a seven-match unbeaten streak when they host 13th-ranked Stevenson In North Suburban Conference action Tuesday. That same evening, Grayslake Central will try to stretch their unbeaten streak to six matches when they host Grant in Northern Lake County Conference play.
GK Justin Uribe
D Chris Crowson
D Ben Conley
D Tyler Hughes
D Lucas Ahonen
M Matt Hegge
M Michael Galvan
M Miguel Garcia
F Alexis Medina
F Ryan Stanciak
F Miguel Rodriguez
Grayslake Central (3-4-3)
GK Uriel Garcia Perez
D Lucas Veenstra
D Eric Garcia Perez
D Sean Morrissey
M Ray Sereno
M Ben Berry
M Lafuntae Floyd
M Alan Alonso
F Mitchell Fein
F Daniel Marynevych
F Cameron Paul
Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match: Ben Conley, sr., D, Warren;
Lucas Veenstra, jr., D, Grayslake Central
Warren -- Braden Lechner (Matt Paraskos), 25th minute
Grayslake Central -- Cameron Paul (Marko Marynevych), 31st minute