LEMONT -- After graduating most of its backline from a year ago, there was reason for concern for Lemont as it kicked off regular-season play Tuesday with a match in Reavis' Windy City Ram Classic against a Riverside-Brookfield side that featured several returnees from last year's squad that shared Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division title honors with Wheaton Academy.
Overall in opening-round play of the 32-team tourney, the 16 winners averaged nearly four goals while just two of the outcomes were determined by one goal or in penalties. The match between Riverside-Brookfield and Lemont at the latter's sports complex was the lone contest that lacked any scoring during the run of play.
For 70 minutes of regulation and two five-minute overtimes, both Lemont (1-0-0) and Riverside-Brookfield (0-1-0) threatened but weren't able to put the ball into the net. Bulldogs’ senior Nick Gilberto stopped everything that came his way, and senior Amir Biba did the same for the home side.
That resulted in penalties to determine who advanced to Friday's 6 p.m. Round of 16 match in Lemont against St. Laurence, which won 3-0 over Joliet Central just prior to the clash between the hosts and the Bulldogs. The second round was moved to Friday due to the excessive heat forecast for Aug. 24.
Lemont converted all five of its penalties. Riverside-Brookfield was successful on its first three attempts before Lemont sophomore keeper Adrian Lisowski, who was brought in for the shootout, deflected and then hauled in an attempt by Max Swicionis. Tyler Chrisman ended the drama with the host's fifth tally.
Prior to that, Lemont received goals in order from Maciek Furczon, Andrew Guzy, Ali Nabulsi and Aidan Ontiveros; the Bulldogs countered with successful tries by David Carrillo, Diego Villegas and Xavier Salamanca.
"I'm pretty good at PKs, and we practice it," Lisowski said. "I made sure that I got it. I just wanted to make sure that I could secure the win and get it for the boys. We have a good defense with some young guys, so I'm looking forward to the future.
"I like that we're connected and like each other. We've known each other for most of our lives and hang out with each other and that keeps us connected."
Lemont coach Rick Prangen, who seeks to join Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Papa this season as the second coach in state history to record 400 wins in both boys and girls soccer, liked what he saw from his team's defense in their debut.
"While we have a lot of kids back, we also lost a lot from last year," Prangen said. "We're younger this year than last year, and you could see that out there. There was one point out there when there was just one senior, my goalkeeper, playing. So, we're young in a lot of spots. And with that comes some growing pains. We're going to lose some physical battles, because we just aren't very big right now.
"But if you look at this game on paper and at the number of chances created, I thought that we created more chances than they did and had more corners than they did. So, I'm okay with the result. I thought we had three good chances in the box and just didn't connect.
"But as a whole, I thought it was a great first game of the season, and it was against a good side. I thought that they were organized and had some technical ability. It was a great way to start the season off with a good challenge, so it was wonderful. We're replacing three defenders from last year's team, two center backs and an outside back. So today, we had a whole new backline. We had a freshman, Andrew Guzy, who was brilliant and didn't play like a freshman at all. I was most happy with how the backline played."
After going 14-4-7 a year ago and winning the St. Francis Regional before falling to Marmion in the Glenbard South Sectional final, Lemont has plenty of optimism heading into the season considering that it has 17 players returning from that successful campaign.
"It was a rough beginning to the season, but getting this win, going forward, it really gives us a step over that hill and hopefully strives us for even bigger wins," said Ontiveros, a junior who shared captain duties with senior Alex Gasberek. The pair were joined on the backline by junior Luciano Mancini and freshman Guzy.
"Our new backline knew what the job was, and I'm happy that they stepped up to the occasion and delivered a great game today. I think that this team has a lot of heart. Everyone is really connected in this group, and no one wants to see any other player fail. Having that heart and fight today really shows that it can impact a game, like it did."
A year ago, Riverside-Brookfield overcame a 1-5-0 start to go 10-5-0 the rest of the way. Twelve players return from that squad.
"It's a good start to the season, despite the loss in penalties," Bulldogs coach Ivek Halic said. "I was very pleased with how the boys were playing, the movement of the ball and their movement off the ball. Really clicking this early is great.
"We could only do too much in practices to replicate a game. But only in a game can you see the experience and the movement. We were young last year, and we're bringing back so many varsity players.
"Absolutely, the leadership is there and we have a couple of young guys who are coming up, too. That's how we build a program and how we sustain success."
Both sides had good chances in the first overtime period. Carrillo was denied on a close-range try and then sent in a free kick that was headed away by Lemont's Mancini. After Brett Tucker was fouled, which resulted in a red card for Riverside-Brookfield with just under one minute left in that period, Chrisman sent a free kick in between defenders that was halted by Gilberto.
Despite being down a man, the Bulldogs managed to get through the second overtime without much drama, setting the stage for a penalty series in which the first seven tries were successful. The setback results in Riverside-Brookfield meeting Joliet Central at 4:30 p.m. Friday in a consolation Round of 16 match, once again in Lemont.
"For a game one, coming to PKs is amazing," Gilberto said. "Even though we didn't score (in regulation), keeping up that pace for game one, I'll take it. What's awesome about our team is that even though it was hot, we still came through. This team has a lot of hope and I'm excited for this season.
"With the seniors that left, it was sad. But they taught the young ones, and even me, how to play soccer and just the fundamentals of the game. We took that from those great seniors and now we're teaching the younger kids, who are going to be so strong.
"I like our communication on and off the field. We just talk so much and just get so much better by talking. And what we do on and off the field, we're just together and we're a family."
There was plenty of excitement during the second half in which Mancini was thwarted on long tries by keeper Gilberto and a defender. Villegas saw a close attempt halted by a defender, and Carrillo sent in a corner kick that was headed away.
After Chrisman sent in a long free kick that was punched away by Gilberto, the Bulldogs’ Villegas and Carrillo were again denied before Gabriel Zarycki directed a header that was grabbed by the Riverside-Brookfield keeper.
Chrisman threatened with a free kick and a corner kick during the latter part of regulation play and Tucker gave the hosts one final chance before the end of regulation but his short attempt was turned away by Gilberto.
"It always hurts to lose a close game in PKs," said Carrillo, who shares captain duties with Liam Hickey and Swicionis. "But we're a very young team with a lot of sophomores and juniors and they're progressing. They are learning to know how to keep their head in the game.
"It's always tough losing the first game of the season, but at the same time it's a form of a wakeup call, and we'll learn from it. I think that our combinations for our counterattack are going to be key and something that we've really progressed on."
Following some early back-and-forth play, there were a few good chances for the hosts during the late stages of the opening half that were supplied by Chrisman and Guzy.
"I thought from the get-go that both teams were playing with a lot of passion and heart and were coming out to win," Gaberek said. "And especially when they went a man down, we had to capitalize off of that. I thought that we did but just couldn't get the goal. When it went to pens, we were real confident.
"We lost a lot of seniors, so everyone who stepped up tonight is going to be a critical part of the team moving forward. I thought that everyone played with a lot of passion and everyone knew their role. I like the passion and the stick-togetherness. I feel like everyone is always backing each other; it's never personal. In practices it's always competitive, and during the game we always keep the intensity and the energy high."
GK: Nick Gilberto
D: Daniel Martinez
D: Liam Kaiser
D: Noah Berndt
D: Josef Guerrero
MF: Tomas Kunickas
MF: Diego Villegas
MF: Max Swicionis
MF: Will Sessler
F: Bohdan Hunko
F: David Carrillo
GK: Amir Biba
D: Luciano Mancini
D: Aidan Ontiveros
D: Andrew Guzy
D: Alex Gaberek
MF: Vincenzo Mancini
MF: Tyler Chrisman
MF: Gabriel Zarycki
MF: Ali Nabulsi
F: Brett Tucker
F: Maciek Furczon
Chicagoland Men of the Match: Luciano Mancini, Lemont, jr., D;
Aidan Ontiveros, Lemont, jr., D;
Andrew Guzy, Lemont, fr., D;
Alex Gaberek, Lemont, sr., D
Lemont (5): Maciek Furczon (goal); Andrew Guzy (goal); Ali Nabulsi (goal); Aidan Ontiveros (goal); Tyler Chrisman (goal)
Riverside-Brookfield (3): David Carrillo (goal); Diego Villegas (goal); Xavier Salamanca (goal); Max Swicionis (stopped)