OAK FOREST -- They call soccer "The beautiful game" because of the artistry and athleticism the players display. Their footwork, finesse and teamwork dazzle onlookers.
The game is also beautiful because it often rewards players for their hard work. Sometimes that return comes via good fortune.
Reavis senior forward Ahmed Dhalai was a prime example of that at Oak Forest on Tuesday (Sept. 5) in a South Suburban Conference match.
During a second half in which he created many opportunities, Dhalai fired a cross toward the mouth of the goal.
The entry ricocheted off an Oak Forest defender and right into the goal, allowing Reavis, a member of the league’s seven-team Red Division, to come back and salvage a 1-1 tie against Blue Division-member Oak Forest. Cross-over matches count in the standings for the 12-team league.
"I was hoping for another one," Dhalai said. "I knew we were going to get one. I felt it. I was like: ‘It's coming; we just got to work.’ We were knocking on the door. We got one -- I was looking for the second one, but it wasn't there."
Reavis (5-1-1, 1-0-1), which is ranked 16th in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, didn't get off to an ideal start. Oak Forest (6-1-1, 0-0-1) pressed the action from the outset, and it led to a lead in the 13th minute.
However, the Rams were able to avoid falling in a bigger deficit before the break. The teams played what essentially amounted to an even second half.
"The first 5 minutes, they came out and punched us in the mouth, which is normal for an Oak Forest team," Reavis coach Mark Gniadek said. "They usually play pretty physical, pretty aggressive. But other than that, I was happy with the way we played. I thought we had plenty of chances."
Dhalai, a star transfer from Red Division-member Richards, where he was a 2022 Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater, struck with 22 minutes left. Working with the ball on the left side, he fired in his cross. Milliseconds later, it hit off Oak Forest and into the net at the near post.
Gniadek noted that he had Dhalai on the other side of the field, defending a corner kick, before he went on that run.
"He went probably 60 yards down the line," Gniadek said. "He was just absolutely gassed after.
“But that's the kind of effort that he gives every single day -- not just in the games, at practice. It's starting to rub off on some of my guys. I need it to rub off on all of the guys."
He lamented a little mispositioning for other missed opportunities.
"We had guys in the box in the wrong spots," Gniadek said. "There was a couple times Ahmed slid it across, we had nobody at the middle of the 6[-yard line]."
Oak Forest found its goal on a wonder strike from Ulysses Morales.
After a Bengals free kick was cleared out of the Reavis box, but it rolled directly to the freshman.
He fired a 30-yard rocket that skimmed off the bottom of the crossbar and in.
"That's a wonderful strike," Gniadek said. "I hope that's on video, because that kid can show his kids that when he's older."
Oak Forest coach Pablo Flores was similarly impressed.
"He's out of this world," Flores said, also noting he was happy with how his team bounced back after a nonconference loss to Kankakee. "We played really well. I like the way we're playing right now."
Bengals goalkeeper Adam Jedrzejczyk, the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match, was magnificent all night, making 10 saves, many of them diving stops. His deep passes also gave Oak Forest a chance for counterattacks.
He also had strong praise for Morales.
"That was crazy -- bar, down and in," said Jedrzejczyk, who was a Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List each of his first two seasons. "That was unbelievable. The chances of that going on are probably 1 out of 100."
The keeper hopes his team can finish off wins in similar games down the road.
"After scoring off that screamer, everyone was so excited," Jedrzejczyk said. "But we have to make sure that: it's still the first half; we still want to win this game. I just have to keep everyone organized in the back."
Jedrzejczyk was active throughout the match, often coming off his line to play the ball. He said he was ready to go on a warm, but comfortable night.
"Pre-game is the biggest part of the whole match," the junior said. "If you have a good pre-game warmup, then you're going to perform amazingly. And everything is mental. If you're in a good mental state during the game and before the game, you'll perform up to your standards."
A little chippiness was to be expected in a conference match, but with about a minute left, Reavis' Diego Corona was issued a red card after a hard push of an Oak Forest player out of bounds. A brief shoving match ensued. Gniadek was less than thrilled.
"I'm more upset with the way we kind of [conducted] ourselves at the end," Gniadek said. "But as far as the soccer, I thought we played just fine."
Getting a result on the road in conference play is never easy. Dhalai was happy to see his team rally to salvage the tie.
"We conceded a goal. We were like, we might as well bounce back," he said. "That's the only way. You play hard. We were knocking [on the door] in the first half. It was there. Next half, we knew it was coming. We just had to push through."
Reavis get a tough assignment when it returns to action at 10 a.m. Saturday. The Rams will welcome second-ranked Morton.
GK: Bart Obrochta
D: Krystian Paluch
D: Rafael Grajeda
D: Frank Wojtanek
D: Dante Meza
MF: Galileo Figueroa
MF: Diovanni Perez
MF: Juvenal Padilla
MF: Jesus Pantoja
F: Ahmed Dhalai
F: Diego Corona
GK: Adam Jedrzejczyk
D: Evan Gamboa
D: Nicholas Segreti
D: Mickey Kelly
D: Brandan Stacy
MF: Kevin Monroy
MF: Alex Stacy
MF: Ulysses Morales
F: Ian Evans
F: Grant Fletcher
F: Lennon Flores
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Adam Jedrzejczyk, jr., GK, Oak Forest
OF: Morales (unassisted), 13'
R: Dhalai (unassisted), 59'