Where Thursday’s North Suburban Conference tilt between host Warren and Libertyville is concerned, Warren coach Jason Ahonen uttered the well-worn phrase spoken countless times through ages of heated meetings between rivals.
“The records are out the window,” Ahonen said. “Whether either team is 4-14 or 14-4 … it’s always fun, and it always depends on who finishes their chances. And I think everyone circles it on their calendar.”
If northern Illinois soccer fans want to see an intense soccer game of high emotion played with an edge, they could do a lot worse than to show up at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Warren’s O’Plaine Campus field.
That’s where the host Blue Devils and visiting Wildcats will square off to open the league season, with annual bragging rights on the line.
The team’s meeting last season ended in a 0-0 tie. During the previous eight seasons from 2015-2022, the teams split the regular-season series 4-4.
“As always, we expect a battle,” Libertyville coach Kevin Thunholm said. “Both teams are very familiar with each other and no matter the records, it’s always a competitive match. We’re looking forward to getting the NSC under way.”
Libertyville’s players will make the 10-mile bus ride due north to Gurnee, aiming to win this year’s rivalry game against players from Warren whom they grew up playing with and against during club soccer seasons.
Both Warren (3-3-0) and Libertyville (3-2-0) also have a stable of young talent seeking seasoning this season.
“We only have a few varsity starters returning,” Ahonen said. “So, getting our younger players to understand their roles — it has looked good some days, and hasn’t looked good on other days. We’re just hoping to grow collectively. There are a lot of guys who are growing on the job.”
Libertyville opened the season with a 2-1 win over Streamwood, then won its first two games of New Trier’s Northside College Showcase: 2-1 over Loyola; and 1-0 over Grayslake Central.
The Wildcats enter Thursday’s game on the heels of a 4-0 loss to New Trier, which cost them a spot in the tournament final, and most recently a 2-1 loss to Waukegan in the third place game on Sept. 2. The team’s Tuesday game with Huntley was postponed.
“We have played very well and continue to improve, even though we lost our last two matches,” Thunholm said. “We’re a young team, but we’re coming together each minute of the match.”
Warren opened with a 3-2 loss to Prairie Ridge, then won three-straight games: 4-1 over Harvard; 2-1 over Carmel; and 1-0 over Indian Trail (Wis.). The Blue Devils enter Thursday’s game following a pair of losses; 2-1 to Grayslake North and most recently a 3-1 to Grayslake Central on Sept. 5.
While Ahonen wasn’t thrilled with his boys’ play against Grayslake North, he was encouraged by what a team featuring five sophomores showed against Grayslake Central, a Class AA Final Four program for the past two seasons.
“I saw more intensity and some very fixable things,” Ahonen said. “The loss stings but it felt better than it did Monday (vs. Grayslake North).”
Warren’s leading scorer through six games is senior Lucas Ahonen with three goals and three assists.
“Lucas has been our most dangerous player,” Ahonen said of his son. “(Seniors) Chris Crowson and Diego Torres have anchored our defensive midfield spots. “And (sophomore forward) Christian Albarran had his best varsity game against Grayslake Central.”
Libertyville is led offensively by forwards Lukas Krzeminski and Noah Finnema and midfielders Mateo Portillo and Matthew Underwood. The Wildcats’ backline is anchored by Nick Snow, Ben Goldberg and Henry Bownas.
“Our defense has been very consistent and strong, and we’re working on finishing in the final third,” Thunholm said.
Thursday’s game should be decided by which team’s young players shine brightest, and which team’s veterans grab the moment in front of them.
Either way, it figures to be a doozy.
“It’s a pride game,” Ahonen said. “You can’t expect players to get up for all 20 or so games during a season, but this is one that both teams definitely get up for every year.”