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Game story: Kirkner, Sereno, Fein shine for Grayslake Central at Loyola

By Gary Larsen, 09/01/23, 3:00PM CDT


Rams win 4-1 in Northside College Showcase play

GLENVIEW — Early in Thursday’s second half against Loyola, a collision in the box resulted in a red card for Grayslake Central goalkeeper Uriel Garcia-Perez, and Rams senior backup keeper Brendan Kirkner got the call.

That call has rarely come often for Kirkner during his four-year varsity career. As a freshman, he backed up Garcia-Perez’s brother Alex and has backed the 2022 Chicagoland Soccer All-State keeper and fellow senior Uriel ever since.
With Grayslake Central up 3-0, Kirkner went into the game cold and conceded the ensuing Loyola penalty kick. But for the next 35 minutes, he played rock-solid in net to help lead the Rams to a 4-1 win over Loyola in final round of pool play in New Trier’s Northside College Showcase.

Grayslake Central (1-2-0) got two goals and an assst from Mitchell Fein,  a goal and two assists from Ivan Sereno and a final score from Prince Trawick. And Kirkner made two high-quality saves to keep a feisty Loyola team from cutting its deficit to a single goal.

“I came in cold, but I knew I could do it,” Kirkner said. “I’ve done it before, so I'm used to it. I just had to get ready fast. You’ve just got to pump those knees and then it all starts flowing and once you get settled in, it’s all good. It was fun. It’s been a while since I’ve done that, so it was fun.”

For answering the call when his team needed him, Kirkner earned Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honors. He also saw action as a field player in the first half.
“He’s always been our backup keeper and never played on the field. But this year we were like ‘Just put on your uniform,’ because he’s fast, and he's physical,” Grayslake Central coach Keith Anderson said. “And you have to have fun with these kids.
“(Kirkner) was also part of a varsity basketball team that went to sectionals, the varsity baseball team that finished second in state last year, and to top it all off he’s an amazing student with a 4-plus GPA.”
After Class AA Grayslake Central dropped its first two games of the season to perennial 3A powers New Trier and Libertyville, who are ranked seventh and 14th respecitively in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, the Rams were thrilled to get into the win column.
“I mean, coming off two losses maybe our heads are a little bit down so we knew we needed to get this win,” said Fein, who was a Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List player as a sophomore and junior. “Two years ago we got fourth in state and we started the season 0-4-0. So, we knew we needed this win. It's a big one to get before we start playing conference games.”
The flip side of the Rams’ win was a home loss for Loyola (1-3-0). But a young Ramblers team that trailed 3-0 at halftime showed fortitude after the break.

Loyola coach Justin Dunn felt like his boys weren’t getting the calls through 40 minutes. At halftime he told them to focus instead on what they could control.
“It's hard to go down like that, especially when you keep getting pinned back for reasons that you can't control,” Dunn said. “But there are things you can control in terms of intensity and communication: your five-yard passes; and runs off the ball. And we just told them ‘You’ve got to have guts, and bravery, and you’ve got to push, push, push until the end, no matter what.'

“We talked about winning the next five minutes, then the next five minutes. I think that really got them going and resonated. I'm proud of how they finished off the game.”

Loyola’s Townes Robertson converted the Ramblers’ penalty kick in the 45th minute to make it 3-1, and the Ramblers kept pushing. But Kirkner dove at the post to turn away a low blast from 20 yards at 68 minutes, then elevated to grab a hard-hit shot near the upper-ninety at 75 minutes.

Trawick’s goal for Grayslake Central came at 76 minutes to put an exclamation point on the win.

The teams felt each other out through 15 minutes before Grayslake Central began applying more pressure in its attacking third. Fein had the game’s first tally at 23 minutes, set up by a Sereno corner kick.

“It was coming in, and I thought it was going in front of my defender,” Fein said. “I realized that he was going to miss it, so I kind of re-routed. I just figured if I could get my head on it … .”

Fein’s header put Loyola in a 1-0 corner, a place Dunn’s young side is still learning to negotiate.
“When that first goal went in, I think it was kind of giving us flashbacks to Libertyville (a 2-1 loss) and New Trier (a 3-1 defeat), where it’s like ‘Here we go again’,” Dunn said. “So, it’s a mentality we’re working on where if you go down, you have to punch back.”
Grayslake Central's goal was lonely until the 37th minute, when he was taken down in the box, and Sereno converted the PK to make it 2-0. With less than a minute remaining in the half, the Rams struck again. The play began when Sereno sent a free kick into the box from 40 yards on the right side.
“(Sereno) whipped it in, and it was short,” Fein said. “I was like, ‘I’m not getting to this.’ Then it bounced, and I realized that my defender wasn't going through it. So, I got in front of it. It’s all about just getting to the ball in those situations.”
Tri-captain Fein figures to carry a heavy load for the Rams this year.
“Mitchell is just an amazing senior and great leader, and he never stops,” Anderson said. “I mean, he's just a great all-around player. We needed someone this year to go box-to-box and that’s Mitchell. He also just wants the ball, and you can’t teach that.”
In only his second game back from a six-month stay on the injured list, Sereno showed flashes of what he can do with a goal and a pair of assists.
“He’s not even close to a hundred percent yet, and he's a game-changer,” said Anderson of his burgeoning sophomore, who also made the Watch List. “If you get him the ball, with all the good things he can do with it, it’s just lights out.”
Robertson’s converted penalty kick provided a shovelful of coal into the blast furnace of motivation for Loyola. The Ramblers pushed hard in the second half and if not for Kirkner’s big saves, a 3-1 game might have been 3-2 or closer.

And that might have changed the face of the game for a Loyola team seeking to find its footing in the early part of the season.

“They work hard, and I think it's a really strong collective. They're getting closer and closer every day, building that camaraderie, and they’re fighters,” Dunn said. “They fight until the end. I think we do have a lot of talent going forward, and it's just trying to unlock it.”

Dunn passed around the accolades for his side’s spirited play in the second half.

“Townes Robertson is a great captain and leader, and Danny Ryczek is as well,” Dunn said. “Birm (Daniel Birmingham) played really well, and then P.J. Barry stepped in and played well. Everyone was leaving it out there for us: Jeremiah (Gyorgy) up-top and Luke (Ojala) when he was in. I’m just proud of everyone.”

Anderson particularly liked the way Grayslake Central not only pushed forward, but also the way the Rams showed more of a willingness to crack some shots on frame.

“Against Libertyville we had 58 percent possession the whole game but we only had nine shots,” he said. “You have to go forward. You can play keep-away the whole game, but if you don't shoot, you don't win.
“Today they worked hard, and never gave up. They were causing turnovers, capitalizing on the turnovers and that was a big thing we've been pushing for in the last three games — push them on their half, let them make a mistake and capitalize on their mistake.”

Anderson also applauded senior tri-captain Nick Molochnikov for moving from the attack to the backline Thursday and playing well. 

Man of the Match Kirkner sees a young team acclimating to the demands of varsity soccer.
“I think it's just the speed of play, because we have all the talent; we have all the skill. We just have to get used to that speed of play,” Kirkner said. “It’s perfect to have this hard schedule at the start, so we can see what the top competition looks like and how we need to play in order for us to be our best in order to make a deep (playoff) run.”

The Rams have qualified for the last two Class AA Final Fours, including a third place trophy last fall. They know the way to Hoffman Estates and what it takes to get there.

Starting lineups

Grayslake Central
GK: Uriel Garcia-Perez
D: Uriel Alonso
D: Anderson Chevrier
D: Nick Molochnikov
D: Josh Clement
MF: Jack Lapidus
MF: Jake Clement
MF: Jaziel Alonso
MF: Mitchell Fein
F: Gerardo Gongora
F: Ivan Sereno

GK: J.P. Devron
D: Daniel Birmingham
D: Daniel Ryczek
D: Jordy Jacome
D: Oscar Vasquez
MF: Rayden Dominguez
MF: Luke Ojala
MF: Townes Robertson
MF: Jack Carretta
F: Jeremiah Gyorgy
F: Kevin Sicena

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Brendan Kirkner, sr., GK, Grayslake Central

Scoring summary

First half
Grayslake Central: Fein (Sereno), 23’
Grayslake Central: Sereno (PK), 37’
Grayslake Central: Fein (Sereno), 40’

Second half
Loyola: Robertson (PK), 45’ 
Grayslake Central: Trawick (Fein), 76’