OSWEGO -- Finish your chances.
While this three-word sentence is far easier to say than to do, it’s imperative to the success of a high school soccer team.
On Friday, Oswego East converted four of its scoring opportunities to finish off Joliet West 4-0 in a Southwest Prairie Conference match.
“We’ve finished (our scoring chances) the last couple of games. After we struggled in the first two games, it’s been all finishing,” Wolves coach Steve Szymanski said. “We had 10 to 12 chances against Waubonsie Valley (2-1 loss on Aug. 24) and couldn’t finish them. We’re finally putting the ball in the net, which is nice to see.”
Oswego East junior Dylan Drendel had an unforgettable day, netting his first hat-trick at the varsity level. For his effort, he was recognized as the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match.
“I feel like at times we’ve looked like (we did today) and had our combinations in the middle, but the big thing we definitely had today was finishing,” he said. “We haven’t had much of that this year.
“We’ve created opportunities. On Tuesday against Plainfield South (a 3-0 win), we had many opportunities, good combinations, but couldn’t put them away. Today M.J. (Hoffman) gave me two good passes for two good goals, and we’re just working together well now and clicking very nicely.”
Hoffman sent a pass into the box and Drendel cut in, gained possession and buried his shot for a 1-0 lead about five minutes into the action.
Just two minutes earlier Joliet West almost jumped ahead, but Oswego East senior goalkeeper Javier Ruiz dived to divert a shot attempt from Tigers senior Joseph Karnezis.
“They had that early chance,” Ruiz said. “For me, I think it was lucky for them, because we don’t give up chances like that in the back. That gave me an opportunity to build up momentum for saves and stuff like that.”
Drendel found himself with a new opportunity with 17:40 left in the first half when he lined up a free kick after junior Jonathan Carranza was fouled just outside of the penalty box.
“I never really took free kicks for my club team so I can’t say I know what I really was going to do,” Drendel said. “I practice them like a normal free kick over the wall, but I was so close this time. I saw the keeper edging that way close to the wall and so I just looked that way and shot the other way and caught the keeper off guard.”
The Wolves maintained their 2-0 lead into halftime by escaping a couple final threats from the Tigers just before the break.
Joliet West senior Gio Alipio fired a shot that caromed off a defender and narrowly missed outside the far post in the final two minutes. The Tigers had a follow-up chance on the ensuing corner kick, but Oswego East senior Justin Brischetto headed the ball away and then kicked it far out of harm’s way when it bounded his way again.
“We practice that zone marking in practice. We put what we practice into the game, and it worked,” Brischetto said. “I was in my spot and won the head ball. So I stopped an opportunity for a big shot.”
Joliet West hoped to slice their deficit in half just before halftime. It would’ve changed the feel of the game on both sides, but especially for the Tigers who just a couple minutes earlier had lost goalkeeper Owen Merda. The senior left with a leg injury and was replaced by classmate Gavin Ringhofer.
“Gavin is a really good player and probably could start for a lot of teams, but Owen is ahead of him right now,” Tigers coach Neil Lucchetti said. “It’s nice to have someone who is able to step up in that role, and he did a great job. But we’ve got to help him out defensively. We’ve got to play tougher inside the box and not let some of those easy plays go through. But credit to Oswego East, they just kept finishing.”
Joliet West (2-3-0, 0-1-0) battled adversity well before even arriving in Oswego. The Tigers bus didn’t arrive at the school until after scheduled game time and the start was pushed back approximately 40 minutes. Merda’s injury added to the Tigers woes.
The team returned a great deal of talent from a season ago but is also without arguably their best player in Alex Garcia, who is sidelined with a PCL injury.
“They came out and kicked us in the mouth, and we never actually put up too much of a fight,” Lucchetti said. “We have some guys who can absolutely play right now, and we’re moving the ball well but lacking execution in the final third.”
Finish your chances.
“We had some good moments in the game, but we couldn’t find a way to finish. Every time they got an opportunity, they executed,” Lucchetti said. “It just kept coming and coming and coming, and we didn’t have an answer.”
The Tigers are too talented to not find an answer to their early woes and help from Garcia is on the way.
“We have 19 seniors,” Lucchetti said. “We’ve had a rough start, but our leading goal soccer (Garcia) got clearance while we were on the bus here.
“It’s tough trying to move some pieces around. We’re trying out a new system and almost every game we’ve controlled possession and been able to move and create some opportunities.”
“They’ve got to figure out how to finish them with some consistency.
“We’re missing that one piece of execution. And if you don’t execute in the back, it gets lopsided like tonight.”
The game was played at the same time the sophomore football team took on Lincoln-Way West on the field next to the soccer pitch. With lots of sports fans and students wandering about throughout the afternoon, the Wolves fed off the energy of playing on a busy Friday night on campus. It certainly helped feed into Drendel’s great effort.
“I told them that we have a lot of fans at the start, because of the football game. So if we get that first goal then we’ll have the momentum,” Drendel said. “We needed to get that first goal, and it helped us all the way through. Some of the crowd stopped by before the game, and that brought a lot of energy.”
Oswego East’s Landon Kangas set up Hoffman for happiness and a 3-0 lead early in the second half. The senior midfielder crossed a pass deep into the box before Hoffman pounced.
While his finish was fantastic, it was probably his effort to set up Drendel for the hat-trick that would take the top spot of his Friday highlight reel. Hoffman outhustled a defender to not only win a ball but to keep it in play; then he fired it back to Drendel, who found the back of the net with 24:04 left to complete the scoring.
“I know the smarter option is to play it to somebody that’s not too close to the goalie but that’s what I decided to do,” Hoffman said. “I wasn’t sure if someone was there. So, I just got the ball, and my first instinct was to find someone.”
Whether it’s the ball finding him or Hoffman finding the ball, it’s a good thing for the Wolves.
“He has a knack for the ball,” Szymanski said. “He just finds a way when he’s out there, and things happen. It’s awesome to see him do that.”
And with experience playing alongside certain players, the confidence in one another is outstanding.
“We’ve gained chemistry playing together the last three years,” Hoffman said. “I just know (Drendel) can handle it, so that’s why I play it to him.”
Regardless of finishing, the Wolves are starting to figure things out. They’re getting tremendous efforts from their starters and reserves, which bodes well for their chances throughout the fall.
“We’ve been playing so hard which is good to see,” Syzmanski said. “One thing I always tell the guys is if you play hard in high school you’re going to be successful a lot of times.
“You may not always be perfect, may not have a great touch, may not finish every shot, but when you play hard you’re going to compete and going to be in every game. I like how we’re competing right now. It’s fun to see.”
On a day where Drendel was the dominant one in the scoring column, it was the collective effort of the Wolves that allowed them to win convincingly.
“I think every single guy we put in today did something positive for us, which is not always the case,” Szymanski said. “Everyone who came in was a positive contributor.
“We’re a very deep team. Our starters are our best players right now, but the guys we put in bring that energy and intensity and effort. That’s sometimes hard to do when you’re a role player. Some guys may only play five or 10 minutes a game and are coming in, and we’re not losing a step which is nice to see.”
Almost as nice as it was watching Drendel finish on Friday.
GK: Owen Merda
FP: Marcos Hernandez
FP: Josh Romo
FP: Gio Alipio
FP: Adrian Maldonado
FP: Joseph Karnezis
FP: Jake Polacek
FP: Tommy Polacek
FP: Ivan Moreno
FP: Ethan Podmolik
FP: David Reynoso
GK: Javier Ruiz
D: Elyas Edders
D: Aaron Godinez
D: Mariano Ramirez
MF: Landon Kangas
MF: Nick Smith
MF: Jonathan Carranza
MF: Dylan Drendel
MF: Caleb Pankiewicz
MF: Jack Walter
F: M.J. Hoffman
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Dylan Drendel, jr., MF, Oswego East
OE: Drendel (Hoffman), 5’
OE: Drendel (FK), 23’
OE: Hoffman (Kangas), 46’
OE: Drendel (Hoffman), 56'