ELGIN — Elgin got caught in the worst kind of predicament.
After a highly promising opening, the top-ranked Maroons found themselves down a goal, and even worse down a player, against a team that’s unveiled one of the most electrifying attacks in the state.
“It’s not something you expect to see. You definitely prepared for that, but it gave us a good opportunity to see how we’d respond to that,” Elgin coach Jimmy Romano said. “Obviously at the moment we were trying to make tactical changes and stuff.”
Naperville North (6-1-0), ranked seventh in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, rode the strong play of junior forward Noah Radeke for the 3-0 victory over the top-ranked Maroons before a crowd of about 200 in a marquee showdown.
The visitors continued to astonish with their pressing, athletic play. The Maroons became the most recent victim to show it’s difficult to slow them down.
The Huskies have outscored their opposition 27-4 during their six-match win streak.
“We came into this game obviously knowing that they were ranked very high, number one in the state, and we saw something like 11th nationally,” Radeke said.
“We came in with the right mindset, knowing this team could compete and get the job done.”
Mobile and highly creative with the ball, Radeke has emerged as one of the best players in his class.
His 11 goals and six assists through just seven games has already surpassed the nine goals he scored in 24 games for the sectional finalist last year.
A 6-foot-2, he is an imposing target who uses his size, footwork and creativity off the ball to become a supercharged, optimal offensive weapon.
“I’ve just been finding the ball,” he said. “I've been getting the ball from the midfielders, the defense and other attackers, and I’m just finding the moments.”
With the jet quick and explosive duo of Hindo Allie and Jaxon Stokes making runs on the outside, the Huskies offer a tantalizing mix of speed, athleticism and technically accomplished players.
“We lost our first game this season (5-2 at West Chicago),” Radeke said. “Now, as time has been going on, we have gotten better and better each game, especially connecting offensively. The defense has done a great job locking down the other attack.”
Elgin (5-1-0) suffered its first regular-season loss in two years. The Maroons went undefeated until a penalty shootout loss against York in the Streamwood Supersectional last year.
Behind the superb play of forward Eduardo Nava, with 10 goals in the first five games, the Maroons have flashed speed, a propulsive style and heady mix of set piece actions and sharp moments in the run of play.
Elgin produced strong moments at the start, putting the Huskies on their heels.
“They’re a good team, and they dominated us at the start,” Radeke said. “Then they got the red card, and that definitely affected how they played.”
In the 11th minute with Naperville North bearing down on the Maroons’ final third, Radeke and Stokes generated pressure off movement that put Elgin on the brink.
In a bang-bang sequence, Elgin defender Oliver Garcia was ruled to have used his hand to stop a shot on goal inside the box. The play resulted in his automatic disqualification, and the Huskies were awarded a penalty shot.
Stokes blasted it home for his ninth goal.
In the five-game winning streak leading up to the showdown, Naperville North had a run of four consecutive games scoring at least five goals. That included a devastating 5-0 victory over defending state champion and rival Naperville Central in the schools Best of the West tournament.
Stokes emerged last year as a freewheeling, acrobatic and very skilled talent. He scored 14 goals in 13 different games and earned Chicagoland Soccer All-State status.
That was set to be his swan song at Naperville North.
“After the season, I was in Utah, at the Real Salt Lake Academy team, but I just missed home,” he said. “The more time I was away, I realized it was a better opportunity for me to come back.
“With me, I feel like it’s just a confidence thing. I feel like last year I started off kind of slow, but this year I picked it up right from the start.”
Radeke followed up the Stokes’ penalty conversion with a beautiful one-two action with defender Connor Hanrahan for a 2-0 Naperville North advantage in the 15th minute.
Only the exceptional and driven play of Elgin keeper Carlos Benitez kept the Maroons within range before the break.
He made three spectacular stops, and survived a shot off the crossbar by North’s Juan Carlos Hernandez.
A first-year starter, Benitez posted shutouts in the opening three games of the season. He entered the game having allowed just three goals.
“We have a good team, with great chemistry on and off the field,” Benitez said. “I honestly believe out of all the positions, goalkeeper is the hardest at Elgin. This is my first year as a starter. I have always had really good keepers ahead of me.
“I knew ever since I found out Naperville was on our schedule, I had to be prepared and ready to play. I knew I had to play a good game.”
Elgin started to develop more of a middle attack and pushed the ball wide in space to Nava and forward Danny Perez.
Midfielder Aaron Saldano, the primary facilitator, had some intriguing moments. He took a shot late in the first half from about 14 yards that required Naperville North keeper Jack Bouska to make a sharp save.
“They were able to get a second one right away,” Romano said. “Then we found the formation and the system that would work for us, and we started to gain possession and create numbers and play our style
“Our guys gave it their all, and we tried to push for that first goal in the second half. We were knocking on the door, and I think we maintained control the best way we could. The guys never gave up.”
The former player and assistant coach at Streamwood, directed Marmion to a Class AA sectional title in 2018.
As he taught in the Elgin school district, the Maroons’ job was always a coveted one. He took over on the eve of practice last fall. Looking back, the team’s success was all the more remarkable given how little time Romano had to install his system.
“Throughout the whole season, I was still learning more and more each day,” he said. “This year we have a solid system already, and I was able to work with them over the summer. Now I know all of the players. We have a system with players and roles.”
As the team prepares for the opening round of the Streamwood Fall Classic and a shot at revenge when it hosts a rematch with fourth-ranked York at 4 p.m. Saturday, Romano said his team is ready for the challenge.
“We revamped our schedule to make it stronger and play these types of teams to see where we are, and play different styles of teams,” Romano said.
“Without a doubt we are right with them.”
Despite being shorthanded, Elgin generated some quality looks in the second half off multiple corner kicks and free kicks. A Saldano corner from the right edge marked the best threat. It produced a Roberto Salinas header that just skipped over the top of the bar.
Radeke put the game on ice with his second goal in the 63rd minute, a left-footed ball from about 12 yards that slid just inside the far post.
With his two goals, Radeke earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match distinction.
Naperville North center back Colin McMahon said his team’s recent punishing offense has allowed a young defense to come of age. Since allowing those five goals, two on penalty kicks, in the season-opener, the Huskies have permitted just four goals in six games, with three shutouts.
“Having the offense score like this just rewards us, because we worked so hard to get them the ball,” McMahon said. “They worked so hard to … score a ton of goals.”
GK: Jack Bouska
D: Connor Hanrahan
D: Ryne Gaccione
D: Colin McMahon
D: Andrew Hebron
M: Niko Ladas
M: Sam Hess
M: Hindo Allie
F: Anthony Flores
F: Noah Radeke
F: Jaxon Stokes
GK: Carlos Benitez
D: Roberto Salinas
D: Olivier Garcia
D: Edgar Perez
D: Geovanny Aviles
MF: Fernando Cuahquentzi
MF: Aaron Saldana
MF: Alberto Gayten
MF: Jayden Plancarte
F: Danny Perez
F: Eduardo Nava
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Noah Radeke, jr., F, Naperville North
Naperville North: Jaxon Stokes (penalty kick), 11th minute
Naperville North: Noah Radeke (Connor Hanrahan), 15th minute
Naperville North: Radeke (Niko Ladas), 63rd minute