GURNEE – On Thursday night, Warren’s stadium was filled to the brim.
A standing-room only crowd enjoyed a rare pre-weekend football game between Warren and Maine South. The meeting of the heavyweight programs created a jam-packed parking lot that included several luxury buses from the Park Ridge visitors, fans milling around everywhere to enjoy the warm evening and a 28-7 Maine South victory.
Twenty-four later, the Warren soccer team had a rare opportunity to play their version of Friday Night Lights.
“It’s different playing tonight,” Warren senior midfielder Lucas Ahonen said. “I’ve never had a football game on Thursday night, and I guess we get the Friday night game. It’s different and cool.”
In their home opener, the Blue Devils endured some rough patches and missed several scoring opportunities but managed to record a 1-0 victory over Indian Trails (Wis.) before a crowd of approximately 150 fans.
Ahonen was the lone player to find the back of the net, drilling a 30-yarder inside the far post. His free kick took a big bounce before nestling into the corner in the 13th minute.
The goal raised his season totals to three tallies and four assists in four games.
“I was fouled like three times on that play,” he said. “I lined up the free kick. I took one a couple of weeks ago at the exact same spot but hit it wide. I shortened my run up, made sure I kept my eye on the ball all the way through and tried to make good contact and let the ball do the rest.”
The three-year varsity player, who also has team responsibilities as a captain, said it was a memorable playing under the lights and indicated he’s enjoying every game of his final season playing for his father, Warren coach Jason Ahonen.
“I’ve been watching from the sidelines a long time, so I’m just excited to be here and playing under my dad,” Lucas said. “This game wasn’t the way we drew it up, not the way we envisioned but we found a way to win. We can regroup, and our heads are up. We got the job done.
“The team from day one to now is so much better. We’re finally finding the way we want to play, how we want to move the ball -- times we want to dribble and the times we have to cross. We’re building up.”
His father also enjoyed the Friday game as he and his son make lifetime memories.
“It’s gone by very fast,” Jason Ahonen said. “When he was a freshman, Lucas was 4-foot-10 and 90 pounds. He’s little different now. It’s been a joyous ride. I was lucky enough to coach my younger brothers at Zion-Benton before I came here.
“As Lucas leaves, I have my eighth-grader, Logan, coming here. It’s been an interesting run, way more highs than lows. It’s fun to come to work every day, to know you are spending time with your son. We love the program as a family. This is what we do as a family. Next year Lucas will leave, and Logan will come in. It’s going to be an interesting eight years. I appreciate it.”
Back to the field of play, Jason Ahonen said Friday’s game showed the Blue Devils (3-1-0) still have to work on a few things before next game’s slate of games, which include trips to Grayslake North on Monday and Grayslake Central on Tuesday before the Blue Devils open North Suburban Conference play at home against Libertyville on Thursday. The busy week ends at Metea Valley on Saturday.
The Friday match provided a rarity -- a high school soccer match that started on time.
Warren opened well.
“I liked our rotation and depth, but it’s a matter of us being more clinical in the attacking third,” the Blue Devils coach said. “We’ve got to be cleaner, especially when we move into conference. This is kind of how we plan things, to start with games we can be competitive in. We can evaluate players with the lights on and the crowd in the stands. Starting Monday, we will be a bit different with rotating players.
“I really like our depth. We have some starting-caliber players on the bench. We’re just trying to find ourselves right now in the attacking third. We have some speed, but just don’t have that finishing yet. We’ll keep on working. It’s a long season. At the end of the day, we won, but everyone is upset, individually and collectively, that we didn’t play our best.
“I think Chris Crowson had another good game. He’s a three-year player. All three shots he took were just off slightly. He’s very quiet on the field, but his work rate speaks for itself.”
Senior midfielder Crowson missed on several chances to notch an assist or a goal. He set up Lucas Ahonen for a prime opportunity with an excellent pass in the 21st minute. Several minutes later, Crowson smacked a ball from deep that was saved. Late in the second half, he had a clear net but his shot attempt went wide right. After the play he clapped his hands in frustration.
“I would love to have a few (shots) back, but at least we got a win instead of a loss or a tie,” said Crowson, whose brother Charlie also started in the midfield. “We have a few days to rest but will be back at it on Monday. Grayslake North and Grayslake Central should be good environments with a lot of fans.”
Warren senior midfielder Alexis Ocampo, who is in first year on the big club, said he’s adjusting to the physicality and pace of varsity soccer.
“We did alright, had our ups and downs, but we could’ve had a better game,” Ocampo said. “I’ve been learning a lot of things so far.”
Warren senior forward Michael Yang, also a first-year varsity member, was a blur throughout Friday’s game. His speed could be a game-breaker and allows him to find creases for open shots and beat defenders for quality looks. Yang tried to have a go, but whiffed on an attempt in front of the net in the 34th minute.
“I just try and keep shooting every game to score,” Yang said. “I have to have more composure when I shoot. I got little nervous when I shot. Everyone is much more competitive on varsity and are faster and stronger.”
Junior keeper Ethan Cole notched one save for Warren’s first clean-sheet of the season.
After the cleanly played game, Indian Trails coach Jeff Laurent commended his players for their solid road play against a talented team. The Hawks (0-2-1) defense fought well, but the offense was held in check.
“We’ve been playing Warren for the past eight or nine years,” Laurent said. “Every year they get the better of us. We kept it close. We’ve never beaten them. This was close for us. When we play them, it’s always an uphill battle right off the bat. They brought the best out of us today. We played with energy and pace. We didn’t sacrifice soccer.
“It would’ve been easy for (the players) to put their head down after (Warren) scored. They scored on a free kick. It wasn’t like they carved us, sliced up and diced us and walked into our goal. It was a banger from 30 yards away. At that point, you have to tip your hat to the guy and congratulate him.”
Indian Trails senior midfielder Alec Schires called it a moral victory for the Hawks.
“The past couple of years when we played Warren it was so incredibly tough,” Schires said. “I think a lot of that was mentality, all those years without a win. I think we came out and fought every minute. It turned out well. I think this shows our dream of winning our conference can turn into a reality, and we’re not to be messed with. I’m really proud of my guys. This was a great night.”
Indian Trails junior defender Angel Barreno agreed with his elder teammate.
“I’m just impressed with the team,” Barreno said. “To be such a young team and hold such a good team at bay is impressive. It’s a much better outcome that I would’ve thought.”
Indian Trail (Wis.)
GK: Logan Zdanowicz
D: Jack Hermes
D: Angel Barreno
D: Colin Youngman
D: Angel Perez
MF: Aidan Reed
MF: Gabriel Harvey
MF: Sam Obregon
MF: Alec Schires
F: Victor Tapia
F: Carlos Gutierrez
GK: Ethan Cole
D: Jordan DuFour
D: Abraham Castrejon
D: Gunnar Zajac
D: Brady Lockwood
MF: Chris Crowson
MF: Charlie Crowson
MF: Diego Torres
MF: Lucas Ahonen
F: Christian Albarran
F: Jack Elkinton
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Lucas Ahonen, sr., MF, Warren
Warren: Ahonen (free kick), 13’