After Palatine’s Alex Ganji cleared his mind, he got the job done.
The junior keeper had an up-and-down experience against host Wauconda in the title match of the Alonso Sanchez Memorial tournament Saturday.
As Palatine held a 1-0 lead approaching the 60-minute mark, things started getting interesting for the Pirates.
On a Wauconda free kick from just outside the 18, senior midfielder Francisco Cabral’s drive went through Ganji’s hands and off the crossbar. The successive point-blank, follow-up header from fellow senior midfielder Julian Salas sailed over the bar.
A few minutes later, Ganji struggled with several long, airmailed free kicks from the Bulldogs that suggested trouble before narrowly going wide.
A real problem emerged in the 67th minute as Ganji came out to challenge Wauconda junior Freddy Barnshaw after a cross from the left. After the keeper made contact with the forward without getting the ball, a penalty kick was awarded and subsequently converted by Cabral to tie the match 1-1.
“When I call 'Keeper!' and the ball goes over my head, it is frustrating,” Ganji explained. “But I have to just keep my head. Once my head goes down, my team goes down.
“Then we give up a penalty that I caused. I missed it; they scored, and I go down. My teammates, Jordan (Mok, senior defender and captain) and Jerry (Afonrinwo, junior defender) came to me. That’s what makes my teammates so good; they came to me even when I’m down. Going into penalties I wanted to redeem myself.”
He did in a huge way.
After Palatine converted its first three attempts, Ganji received a hug and encouragement from the Pirates’ third spot-kicker Matthew Kaczor. Then the keeper lunged to his right to deny a bottom-shelf, left-sided drive from Wauconda senior Karsten Ternes.
On the final round of the shootout, Afonrinwo had Palatine's first chance to clinch the victory but his bottom-left corner effort was saved by Bulldogs junior keeper Tyler Jacobs. That turned the spotlight back onto Ganji. The Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match guessed correctly and saved Wauconda’s senior defender Keegan Murphy’s low drive to set off a jubilant celebration of the Pirates’ newest piece of treasure.
“Jerry (Afonrinwo) misses, and the pressure is all on me,” Ganji concluded. “I knew where the kicker was going. All of his (Murphy’s) free kicks were curling to the left. I know he was going to my right; and I made the save.”
Palatine head coach Aaron Morris had that confidence that Ganji would bounce back in the shootout.
“Things are not always going to go your way in the game. You have to figure out how to turn the page and attack the next moment that comes,” Morris said. “I’m glad that we went into PKs. Hopefully in the state series we don’t have to, but the boys got this great feeling.
“Excellent environment, a lot of fans present,” he continued. “I told my keeper that he was going to save a couple of them, and he responded. That is what we preach here. I want them to be quality soccer players but also mentally strong individuals.”
Palatine (5-0-1), which is ranked 15th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, got its goal from Afonrinwo in the 52nd minute. The buildup came from senior forward Karol Noga on the right side. His cross into the box was batted around but fell to the senior defender, who made the run and slotted it in the bottom right-corner past Jacobs.
“We talk about Karol working hard,” Mok explained. “It was a great service in a dangerous area. We always say to be in the right spot and be ready. That’s exactly what Jerry was, and he was excited for the moment and hit it.”
“I was just excited to be there on the goal,” Afonrinwo explained. “Shoot, it was 0-0. Why not just run in? I could have stayed out wide, but I just ran in, got the ball and scored.”
Wauconda (3-1-0 overall) made it to the title game with victories in pool play over North Chicago and McHenry. They had the majority of the momentum in the second half after Palatine went ahead.
“I think very highly of that Wauconda team,” Morris said. “They brought it for the entirety of the game plus the shootout. They made us work very hard for everything. We needed to earn everything. I am glad early in the season that we had a test like this.”
Wauconda head coach Tim Miller had a similar assessment and compliments for Palatine. He said both teams gave it their best.
“The heat took its toll on both teams,” Miller explained. “The game opened up in the second half and one letdown defensively creates a chance. We love playing teams like this, of high quality and physical style.
“It’s helping us get ready for our season. We love this tournament, because it honors one of our former players, Alonso Sanchez. But we also love it, because we have great competition. … Our players responded well. We had a couple of injuries to deal with that hurt us, but we are really excited about our conference prospects and for the sectional.”
Miller found more positives in the match.
“Palatine ended up getting a handful of goals on Crystal Lake South (in a 6-0 win Wednesday) from set pieces and throw-ins,” Miller explained. “Our defense did a great job of ensuring those opportunities did not become dangerous.
“He (Jacobs) plays bigger and taller than he stands,” Miller continued. “His teammates really love him, and they picked him up today. He had a great tournament.”
Regarding the equalizing goal, Barnshaw said that Cabral was the right choice to take the spot-kick even though Barnshaw drew the penalty.
“He (Cabral) walked up confident. He had that look in his eyes. He is a captain now, and I knew he had it all the way. I did all that work for him!”
Fellow senior captain Ternes had an active game and explained his overall assessment of the match.
“We were very organized despite being in a new formation with three backs,” he noted. “I’m normally a center-back and now I am in the six position, so I have to adapt to (something) that we never tried before.
“Testing it on a team like Palatine is great because we showed that we can play that formation, move the ball and score goals while being organized.”
Wauconda’s next match is Tuesday at nonconference foe Lake Zurich. Palatine will travel to Elk Grove on the same day for a Mid-Suburban League tilt.
GK: Alex Ganji
D: Jerry Afonrinwo
D: Jordan Mok
D: Karan Toor
D: Damien Drzewiecki
MF: Adrian Atanassov
MF: Andrew Kania
MF: Orlando Angelina
F: Sebastian Lopez
F: Austin Eckels
F: Karol Noga
GK: Tyler Jacobs
D: Keegan Murphy
D: Mario Torres
D: Diego Valdez
MF: Karsten Ternes
MF: Francisco Cabral
MF: JJ Ortiz
MF: Julian Salas
MF: Luka Gmitrovic
F: Freddy Barnshaw
F: Sam Jurczyk
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Alex Ganji, jr. GK, Palatine
Palatine: Afonrinwo (unassisted), 51:29
Wauconda: Cabral (penalty kick), 67:33
Palatine: Adrian Atanassov (goal); Karol Noga (goal); Matthew Kaczor (goal); David Kozeaz (goal); Jerry Afonrinwo (saved)
Wauconda: Francisco Cabral (goal); Freddy Barnshaw (goal); Karsten Ternes (save); Julian Salas (goal); Keegan Murphy (saved)