TINLEY PARK – Riverside-Brookfield graduate Lee Phillip Bell was a co-creator of the long running CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
Her alma mater’s boys soccer team could have titled their Windy City Ram Classic consolation bracket championship match "The Young and Luckless."
Tied 1-1 at Andrew with 1:27 left in the second of two five-minute overtimes, the Bulldogs (3-2-0) first endured a bad luck bounce when a 45-yard Thunderbolt free kick caromed off the hand of a Riverside-Brookfield defender.
Repositioned for now a straight on 19-yard free kick, Andrew captain Johnny Arvanetes had the eye of a surgeon.
Maneuvering his drive through a sliver of daylight right of the Bulldogs’ seven-man defensive wall, Arvanetes deposited his free kick into the lower right corner of the net to give the Thunderbolts (4-1-0) a 2-1 win.
“It was just unfortunate,” Bulldogs coach Ivek Halic said. “With his (the defender’s) hands to his side, and he (the official) calls a hand ball.
“That was tough, but that's soccer. What are you going to do?”
On a plus note, Riverside-Brookfield could look back on what was a generally positive Windy City Ram Classic.
“We've come out strong, a lot better than last year,” Bulldogs senior midfielder Max Swicionis said. “Last year I think we played the same tournament and started out 0-3-0.
“To be 3-2-0 now, and we lost two close games, one on PKs and then here in overtimes. So, we've definitely come out strong. The tough games haven't gone our way, but we've been battling. I'm proud of what we've done so far.”
As for the winning goal, Arvenetes battled unlikely odds to finish a perfectly placed set piece shot.
“It was a tough angle to see,” the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match said of his fourth goal of 2023, “but I just had to kind of picture it or imagine it (the spot to aim for).
“That's my safe spot to go on those, to my right and the goalie’s left. They usually don't expect it when they have the wall on their right side. I tried to sneak it to the right, because I was close; and there were a lot of people on the wall.”
Andrew coach Loren Zolk was impressed by the aim.
“He works on free kicks a lot, and I think waits to see what he can see before he decides what he's going to do with it,” Zolk said. “I didn't think he had a shot, but I'm not at the right angle. If he thinks he's got a good shot, it's his.”
Riverside-Brookfield had a strong first half and an impressive goal of their own from the run of play to seize a 1-0 halftime lead.
With 6:32 left before intermission, Diego Villegas initiated the attack with a pass up the right side to Diego Castillo. His own ensuing pass sprung Xavier Salamanca in on net on the right side, and Salamanca’s 18-yard shot angled inside the lower left post to put the Bulldogs in front.
A sophomore on varsity last fall, Salamanca has raised his game with the added experience.
“He's improved significantly,” Halic said. “He's one of our top players we rely on. And we have several good leaders. It's nice, especially when they're coming up from freshman or sophomore years, you can see the development, the leadership and maturity.”
The 1-0 lead rewarded the Bulldogs after persistent first half pressure that they foisted on Andrew from players like Daniel Carrillo, Tomas Kunickas and Josef Guerrero.
“That (goal) was great build up,” Swicionis said. “A good ball, a good finish. It raised our spirits.
“We were in their half and would have liked to have put in another one (in the first half) and maybe change the outcome of the game, but it was good. Last year we'd tend to fall behind and chase our way back, so being up was a good thing. We're starting games off stronger.”
The Swicionis name has a strong tie to another west Cook County squad: cousins Ben and Will played at Lyons, and most recently squared off against Max’s Bulldogs in a 2-1 Lions win last fall.
“When we play Lyons we're obviously the underdog, but it is fun playing against them,” Max Swicionis said. “And recently they've been much closer games. But actually, I don't think they're on our schedule this year. It would have been nice to play them again. It's always a fun battle.”
Thursday’s game at Andrew would also develop into a battle.
The Bulldogs’ defense closed the first half well, first in the 36th minute defending an Andrew 35-yard free kick on blocks by Guerrero (on the initial send to the box) and then Salamanca.
Then in the 37th minute, a persistent Andrew offensive-end bid was first denied when Daniel Martinez deflected a throw-in which Noah Berndt then cleared, then 30 seconds later when Swicionis made a nice sideline block to deny a would-be Thunderbolt attack.
“All these guys are working well together and fought hard,” Halic said. “A good offseason, good preseason training and conditioning, I'm pleased with all these guys.
“And my whole backline has been good. We're fighting a few injuries here and there which have hurt us, but we're solid in the back with Josef and Masi (Franceschina), and my outsides have stepped up. And Nick (Alberto) is being vocal out there (at goalkeeper). I'm very happy with all of them.”
Andrew respond well after the break.
“It was just more intensity,” Arvanetes said of the second half approach. “We needed to drop whatever, forget the score and make it personal for us.
“Everybody is willing to fight and do what it takes to get the win. We were one goal down (at half), and everyone came out ready to fire.”
In a more physical second half, the Bulldogs defense continued to stand tall. Off a 30-yard Andrew free kick send in the 53rd minute, Will Sessler and Liam Kaiser nicely tag-teamed a left-side bid to earn a throw-in for their side.
One minute later, Guerrero nicely blocked an Andrew shot near the top of the box and initiated a long send to the other end.
“We didn't know R-B,” Zolk said. “It's not a team that we see. That can be challenging, because you don't know what to expect.
“They're very talented. They moved the ball well and were disciplined on defense. They gave us trouble in a lot of ways. They pretty much took us out of our game, not allowing us to complete passes and get much going up top at all. I was impressed. They were a talented team.”
However it was Andrew’s talents and hustle that produced a momentum turn with 25:33 left in regulation.
A 44-yard free kick by Andrew’s Kian Delaney into the box resulted in Alberto, Andrew’s Eric Mietus and a Bulldog defender all arriving in unison at the 10-yard line.
A foul from behind was ruled on the Riverside-Brookfield defender, and Caden Arguelles’ ensuing penalty kick made the score 1-1.
That PK and another call near the box on the winning goal were about the only defensive blemishes for the Bulldogs, but obviously hurt.
“We see that we need to have more discipline and stop fouling as much, especially in our final third,” Swicionis said. “It's kind of been putting us in some tough situations. If we give them enough of them, obviously they're going to put one away.”
But tied 1-1, the Bulldogs did everything but put away an answering goal.
With 21:25 to go, a Kaiser throw-in 25 yards out sprung Villegas right of the goal. Villegas’ 15-yard rocket shot was somehow denied on a high two-handed block by Andrew goalkeeper Luke Herzic.
The keeper then added to his great play by also somehow blocking aside Kunickas’ point-blank rebound try near the crease.
Befitting the physical half, Kunickas was shaken up on the battle near the net and would later return to play with a heavily-wrapped right ear.
Andrew would answer the challenge with a near-miss. With 16:40 left, the Thunderbolts used a quick free kick restart after a Bulldog foul 25 yards out.
Luke MacLeod’s instant set for the free kick and send sprung Victor Martinez in left, but his 10-yard liner caromed off the crossbar to cap a volley of near misses both ways.
That unusual play seemed to epitomize the second half momentum turn against the Bulldogs.
“I felt like our pressure was good at times, but their pressure kind of got to us,” Halic said. “The physicality kind of brought us out of it. It was very physical, but we’ll use it as a learning experience.”
Swicionis also noted a change.
“It's 1-1, getting later and we kind of tensed up and weren't playing as relaxed as we should be,” he said. “That definitely affected the outcome. We need to play our soccer and not get tense. That's how we're going to win these close games.”
Andrew turned up the heat late in regulation with a 10-yard shot over the net (10:35 left) and on a throw-in 15 yards out with 5:40 to go. Guerrero initially headed away the throw and Kunickas was then fouled on his clearing try.
The first five-minute overtime again played to Andrew’s favor, with close-in clears by Franceschina and Villegas repelling late threats.
Then in the second OT, Gilberto’s low save of a Delaney left-side shot with four minutes left and a nice, sliding midfield clear by Kunickas couldn’t prevent Andrew’s eventual happy ending.
“It feels great because we're usually a team with not too many wins now (in August),” Avanetes said. “To get four in this tournament is a great start for us.”
“It wasn't a pretty game by any means,” Zolk said. “We had a PK goal and a free kick goal, so nothing in the flow of play. But if you can create those opportunities and capitalize on them, I'm pleased with that.”
As for Riverside-Brookfield, the narrowest of losses won’t shake its early season confidence.
“We're off to a better start this year,” Swicionis said. “We finished strong last year, and I think a lot of that momentum has carried over to this year. We had a lot of sophomores that are now juniors, and they've stepped up and taken on bigger roles. It's really looking good.”
Halic also was upbeat.
“We can play with anybody,” he said. “Despite the different types of teams we’ve played, we have to be able to take the positive out of this and learn from it.
“These guys are resilient.”
GK: Nick Gilberto
D: David Martinez
D: Liam Kaiser
D: Massimo Franceschina
D: Josef Guerrero
M: Will Sessler
M: David Carrillo
M: Diego Villegas
M: Max Swicionis
F: Tomas Kunickas
F: Xavier Saalamanca
GK: Luke Herzic
D: Luke MacLeod
D: Omar Haj
D: Erick Mietus
D: Luke Granet
M: Damian Gal
M: Johnny Arvanetes
M: Caden Arguellan
F: Victor Martinez
F: Donavyn Thomas
F: Will MacLeod
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match:
Johnny Arvanetes, sr., MF, Andrew
RB: Salamanca (Diego Castillo), 34’
Andrew: Caden Arguelles (PK), 55’
Andrew: Johnny Arvenetes (free kick), 89’