PALATINE -- After losing all but one of its first 11 from its 2022 Mid-Suburban League champions and regional title club, Fremd could have passed around name tags during the early going to help the new arrivals get to know each other.
It was also fitting that Kyle Grasse, the lone man returning from a year ago, made his mark on the Vikings league opener before a big crowd at Hildebrandt Field. He helped his side post its first victory of the season.
Cameron Williams PK conversion at 26 minutes was all the scoring the Vikings needed, but it was Grasse' 30-yard guided missile free kick that sent the Fremd faithful into orbit and secured the 2-0 victory Friday night over Hersey.
"We really needed this win. And for me, it was my first game back from an injury," said Grasse, who suffered torn ligaments in his ankle during summer camp last June and has slowly worked his way back. “So yes, I wanted to do something important and big in this game.
"(Rehab) was tough, it took a lot out of me, but I am so happy to be back playing again," added Grasse, who a year ago was stationed as one of the Vikings outside backs but now starts in the midfield.
"It's good having Kyle back," said Vikings manager Steve Keller. “He gives us a veteran presence after playing so many minutes for us last season.
"After our 3-0 loss the other day to Lake Zurich, I didn't know what to expect tonight after that terrible effort.
"We did get off to a very good start today but slowly. I thought we defended well, took control of the midfield and did a good job of limiting their chances, especially after that PK by Cameron Williams."
The result was definitely a downer for Hersey.
"It was such a promising beginning for us, but we didn't sustain that momentum that we built," said disappointed Huskies manager Mike Rusniak, whose club fell wo 1-1-1 on the season. “After the PK and us going down a man the rest of the way (on the foul call), we struggled to find any consistency, and were forced to defend for most of the game.”
Hersey’s sharp start to the season was due in part to a midfield unit who were successful ball-winners and distributors, the dangerous flip throws of Nate Mabry and the quartet of Kacper Lechowicz, Ray Reyes, Bart Ziomek and freshman Meschac Bryant who came off the bench with purpose, pace and passion.
"We played really well at the start front-to-back," said senior Joey Casey, who wears the captain’s armband for the Huskies along with Billy Beck. “It's too bad we didn't put away one of our chances, because the complexion of the game turned around after we went a man down.
"We went with a 3-3-3 formation after the red card. I thought as a team we defended really well, but we just could not create many chances on the other end, especially in the second half."
Fremd’s Bennett Ash, who served as the back-up to two-time Chicagoland Soccer All-State keeper Robby Remian, turned in a strong performance -- from those well-aimed flip throws from Mabry to anything in the air inside his box.
"Bennett gained valuable experience playing behind Robby,” said Grasse. “Today he was strong in the air, took command of his box and was a steady influence along the back where we are so young."
Ash punched a pair of corners out of the area with confidence and force during the first 10 minutes. He elevated high into the air to grab another Huskies corner before watching Casey head wide from the spot on a serve whipped in by Ziomek.
Ziomek steered an attempt wide in the 24th minute with teammates Bryant and Reyes at the heart of the try.
Fremd stunned its guests with its first quality chance. An early ball from Rei Kanda split the Huskies backline in half and allowed Nate Schmeling to burst free for just enough of an instant.
In an effort to either stop or slow Schmeling, who was in full gallop, Mitura grabbed enough green shirt to bring down the junior inside the box.
The assistant referee on the near side raised his flag almost in unison with the referee blowing his whistle. He pointed to the spot and then showed the unlucky Mitura his red card, much to the disbelief of the Huskies bench, who howled with disapproval.
After a long discussion by the officials, then with Rusniak and his assistant Joe Russo, Mitura was sent off.
Williams, who later converted a pair of extra points the Vikings gridiron team's loss to Hersey, easily converted his spot-kick for the first goal of the year scored by his club.
"That call was big for us," offered Grasse. “It led to our first goal of the season and gave us the momentum we needed.”
Hersey was much less enthused.
"We did not agree with the last-man call by the referee, but it is what it is,” began Rusniak. “And the fact of the matter is that the team did not respond very well to it all. We really struggled to find ourselves the rest of the way.
"It's an old cliche, but we'll learn from this experience and this loss.
"We have to get our feet back underneath us and have to find our leaders, who need to step things up for us and get ourselves ready for two league games next week."
Next up for the Huskies will be Hoffman Estates on Tuesday, then division rival Wheeling two days later. Both games are scheduled on the home pitch at Roland Goins Stadium.
With Hersey still on its collective back foot, Fremd nearly struck for a second goal moments later. Cole Murray headed wide after a Chace Cheripka cross to the back post.
Hersey came to life just after the half hour when John Reyes connected with Cayleb Roque, who put Ash into action with a save.
Then Fremd defender Erik Mihai, sensing trouble brewing, tracked back into the box and cleared a well-placed serve from John Reyes out of the play to give the Huskies their fourth corner of the first period.
In between, Keller brought on varsity newcomers Luke McDermott, Jacob Stankiewicz and Ramon Aros. The trio injected some much-needed spirit and pace into the Vikings attack for the last 10 minutes of the half.
The home side began play after the intermission just as sharp and vibrant as it ended the first 40 minutes.
Schmeling turned his mark inside-out to get himself in-close, which drew an alert Billy Beck into the play with a solid tackle that ended it.
On the ensuing corner, Williams sent his attempt onto the roof as the Vikings continued to pressure.
Moments later, Grasse stood over the ball at the far touchline for a 30-yard free kick. He unloaded an unstoppable highlight-film fireball that exploded into the far inside netting.
"I just wanted to hit the ball hard and the best that I could. I was so excited, and exhausted, at the same time, that I asked (Keller) to come out of the game," Grasse laughed.
Hersey was also impressed by the goal.
"I want to see that free kick from no. 17 (Grasse) on film again,” Rusniak said. “We have a great keeper (Adrian Smakowski) who stops nearly everything that comes his way, but he had no chance on that bomb."
Smakowski was at his best in the 53rd minute when the junior stayed with a low drive from Williams to maintain the score.
Neither side could muster much of anything going forward during the final quarter hour of play, which became a bit ragged and chippy.
Fremd created one last corner in the 70th minute. Hersey junior Kacper Lechowicz had a go at Ash five minutes from time.
Hersey was left to assess its performance.
"We've come back from conceding three goals in our season-opening win over Niles North (a wild 4-3 win in the CSL/MSL Challenge) to defend really well in our 0-0 draw against Geneva a week later,” said Rusniak. “I know we can play well in our end, we just need to get things sorted out in the middle and up-top."
"We lost some very good seniors, so we're a really young team," added Casey. “But I have a lot of confidence in my teammates. We just have to work harder and together next time out.”
Fremd is ready to build off the win.
"It was our best overall effort in all three phases of the game, and the hope now is for that effort to carry over into our three-game week ahead of us," offered Grasse.
Said Keller: "Bennett, as I said, was solid tonight. (Stefan) Smolak was sturdy and solid along the back. Williams gave us 80 terrific minutes out there before doing the kicking for our football team."
"It was a fun atmosphere out here tonight for both teams. It gave our fans and football fans who came a little early to watch, a chance to cheer for our soccer team. It’s a terrific way to connect two varsity sports on the same night."
It was the second of four soccer-football doubleheaders this season. Athletic director Hamid Mehreioskouei, who starred at Schaumburg High School and Bradley University before playing in Major League Soccer for the Los Angeles Galaxy, is a big fan of the coupling.
"We are thrilled to have our soccer team and football team play on the same night," said Mehreioskouei, who led his alma mater to an Mid-Suburban League championship in 2015. “It's an amazing experience for both teams and especially our boys on the soccer team, who can look up and see so many fans here to watch them play.
“Our hope is to encourage every team in the conference to schedule nights like this. As you can see, it's just a fabulous evening for everyone here.
"It's our youth night. Everyone is wearing gold as we support Pediatric Cancer Awareness, including our soccer team with its gold socks. We look forward to hosting two more ‘Friday Night Lights’ this season."
Those are scheduled when the Vikings welcome cross-town rival Palatine in the long-running Kinsella Cup series on Sept. 29 then Schaumburg one week later.
"I am a big fan of soccer-football doubleheaders," added Rusniak. “We hope at Hersey we'll be able to put these games on our schedule real soon.”
Next up for Fremd is an away match with Rolling Meadows on Tuesday evening, followed by a visit to Conant two days later in a big Mid-Suburban League West Division match.
G- Adrian Smakowski
D- Daniel Majerczak
D- Nate Mabry
D- Billy Beck
D- Joey Casey
M- Johnny Antoniou
M- Bart Ziomek
M- Luc Perez
F- Joe Farrell
F- Ray Reyes
F- Kacper Lechowicz
G- Bennett Ash
D- Fede D'Antonio
D- Stefan Smolak
D- Bennett Boghossian
D- Nathaniel Chiang
M- Kyle Grasse
M- Erik Mihai
M- Nate Schmeling
M- Cameron Williams
F- Kevin Mejia
F- Adam Kowalski
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Kyle Grasse, sr., MF, Fremd
Referee: Golem Rezza
Fremd: Williams (PK), 26'
Fremd: Grasse (FK), 49'