MT. PROSPECT -- Stevenson secured its third-consecutive spot in the title game of the Jim Wolter Titan Invitational with 2-0 victory Thursday afternoon over host Prospect at George Gattis Memorial Stadium.
The Patriots (5-0-1), who are ranked 13th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, will face Mt. Carmel (2-0-1) at 10 a.m. Saturday at tournament host Glenbrook South. The game is a rematch of the 2021 final that Stevenson won in PKs after play ended in a 1-1 tie.
"It was not our two best halves of soccer this season, but the boys responded after the half," said fourth-year Patriots manager PepeJon Chavez. “Our seniors leaders Henry Chen and Ameer Takiedon demonstrated the value of culture and our system as two four-year varsity players who led by example today.
"Both of these guys did not get a lot of minutes last year during our run to a third place finish at the state tournament. But their dedication, hard work and commitment to our program never wavered. Today they were both key figures in our victory."
The Patriots First 11 featured just two returning starters from a year ago in Alex Huelsman and Alexander Xie. The wickedly good and deep 2022 roster, led by Chicagoland Soccer and IHSCCA All-State central defender Steven Nyc, was both technically and tactically superb.
"It was great being a part of a team last year that had such an unbelievable run all season long, but so many of the players from that team have graduated,” said Takieden, who added the Patriots second goal of the day in the closing moments of this final pool play contest. “Now it's a new team, and we all have the chance to make something of it for ourselves,"
"(Last) year was amazing for all of us,” added Chen. “Even though Ameer and I didn't see a lot of playing time, we were still fortunate to be a part of it. Hopefully we'll have the chance to earn more minutes this season and make our contribution to the team.”
"Our program is lucky to have two young men like Henry and Ameer, who are both successful in the classroom … and are the ultimate team players,” said Chavez. “It was great to see them be key figures in this victory today."
Prospect manager Mike Andrews saw his bench step up with four starters and one reserve out of action.
"We were a little shorthanded for this one,” Andrews said. “Mikolaj Myszka got his first start; freshman Alan Malikowski played most of the game before his injury. Chris English got significant minutes as well. Varsity newcomer Hayden Hoelting did a nice job getting things under control in the midfield.
"The effort, fight and hard work out there was something that I was proud of, especially in the second half where I felt we played our best soccer of the day.”
"We struggled in the first half, but I thought we had most of the play in the second half," said senior Adam Toporkiewicz, who shared the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor with Stevenson senior Sebastian Pop. “It's too bad we didn't finish our chances."
"Adam and Dimitriy (Hutnyk) were behind most of our attacking opportunities today and helped make us dangerous in the second half," said Andrews.
"No. 11 (Toporkiewicz) was creative and dangerous in the second half," added Chavez.
Both clubs came out in 3-5-2 formations and relied heavily on the men in front of their respective backlines -- almost playing double sixes.
Prospect found itself defending far more than the Knights would have liked during the opening quarter hour of the 35-minute first half (pool play matches were limited to 70 minutes). The visitors attacked with purpose, gusto and speed.
Jack Bacher headed wide a lovely corner from Pop four minutes into the contest. That was followed by a wicked Chris Konieczny right-footer from 25 yards that called Knights keeper Daniel Derengowski into action.
Minutes later, Xie created a deep throw for the Patriots that turned into the Patriots third corner of the game.
Pop, who took nearly every dead ball opportunity, drove his effort into the box where Xie's glancing header was forcefully turned away by Derengowski. The rebound spilled away toward the back post, and Bacher finished his run on the ball with a confident finish in the 12th minute.
"We made sure to talk about how important it was to make sure nothing floats across our box unchallenged, which led to their first goal," Andrews said.
Derengowski made three quality saves after Bacher's opener, two of which came after corners from Pop.
The home side looked to surprise on the counter when Hutnyk took an early ball into the box. If not for a nice side-footed clearing effort from Huelsman, the Knights forward might have found himself in a 1-v-1 with Patriots keeper William Rokosh, who provided back-up to Aidan Morris last season.
Myszka stretched the Patriots with a nice early ball from the midline that Max Czapulonis steered wide of the net in the 15th minute.
Xie hit a 25-yarder over the bar two minutes from the intermission.
"At times we moved the ball well, attacked, and possessed pretty well in the first half, but we also did not play with confidence, which carried over after the break," said Chavez.
With Hoelting disrupting Stevenson in in the middle of the park, the Patriots moved away from their original game plan.
Prospect built momentum early in the second half with the Hutnyk-Toporkiewicz duo causing trouble. The Stevenson faithful endured a nervous moment when a long, floating attempt from Toporkiewicz bounced off the bar and into the hands of Rokosh.
Pop curled a 20-yard free kick away from Derengowski moments later, but the Knights keeper stayed on the attempt all the way to make the save.
The game opened up following those chances. The visitors created a trio of corners, all of which the Knights defended smartly before Toporkiewicz and then Myszka had chances on frame.
"We got more players involved in the second half, Our wing-backs created some good chances. We showed we could play with a really good team," said Toporkiewicz, who had two assists in the Knights 7-4 loss to Speer on Tuesday.
"(Prospect) put great pressure on the ball in the second half and showed a real desire to go forward with numbers, while creating opportunities in transition with great defending and quick counters," began Chavez.
"It was a good test for the boys, and they responded real well. "
Andrews went with three up-top for the final seven minutes, moving Matthew Fouch forward to join Hutnyk and Toporkiewicz in search of finding the equalizer.
Stevenson moved Pop to an outside back, and he helped neutralize the Knights on the outside. The Patriots backline of Huelsman, Cole Dirks and Jackson Shrout dug in to keep Prospect from carving out anything of quality on frame.
Takieden eliminated the hopes of a Prospect comeback after he exchanged passes with William Boshold during a counter that caught the home side pushing numbers.
Set free by Boshold, Takieden found himself alone for a 70th-minute finish past Derengowski, who came far off his line to challenge.
"It felt good to contribute to our victory, even with my goal coming right at the end," said Takieden.
"We learned a lot today about ourselves," said his coach.
"Konieczny controlled the tempo and helped us reorganize things in the midfield while playing the nine and ten.
"Pop was great today. Jack Bacher scored a nice goal for us. He created some good opportunities checking the ball under pressure and was a threat in the box for our wide service.
"Mohit Ramanan kept our defense tight and composed with good balance in transition going forward."
Prospect faces Glenbard West (1-3-1) in the seventh place game at 8 a.m. Saturday on the turf field. The Knights can head into the game with plenty of confidence.
"We'll take our second half of play and go forward into Saturday with some good momentum after we went deeper into our bench and saw everyone give a real solid performance," began Andrews.
"We're in this tournament in order to test ourselves against quality competition. I felt that even though we did not come out on top, we held them to a 1-0 game until the last few seconds.
"We'll have to get better in the final third, but we'll continue to work on that."
G- Will Rokosh
D- Alex Huelsman
D- Cole Dirks
D- Jackson Shrout
M- Sebastian Pop
M- Benjamin Inthisone
M- William Boshold
M- Alexander Xie
M- Sebastian Palikot
F- Jack Bacher
F- Chris Konieczny
G- Daniel Derengowski
D- Matthew Fouch
D- Robert Morys
D- Nathaniel Cremascoli
M- Hayden Hoelting
M- Carter Cremascoli
M- Sebastian Parks
M- Mikolaj Myszka
M- Alan Malikowski
F- Dimitry Hutnyk
F- Adam Toporkiewicz
Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match:
Sebastian Pop, sr., MF/D, Stevenson;
Adam Toporkiewicz, sr., F, Prospect
Referee: Roman Wojtek
Stevenson: Bacher (Xie, Pop), 12'
Stevenson: Takieden (Boshold), 70'