LINCOLNSHIRE -- A number of firsts and an old standby led Stevenson to the win in North Suburban Conference opener on Thursday night.
The Patriots topped visiting Lake Zurich 3-0 to maintain their unblemished start to the season. The eighth-ranked team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 improved to 8-0-0 thanks to three first-time scorers this season and its reliable defense.
"I do like my boys weren't satisfied for the first time this season," Stevenson coach PepeJon Chavez said. "Although we're winning our games, we put together a first half and second half with two tactical ideas. That helped us change and control the game and the tempo.
“If we can control the tempo against a conference opponent as good as Lake Zurich, we know that we can only get better and stronger.”
Stevenson defeated Carmel 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Patriots used a similar plan for Lake Zurich.
"We planned to work and worked to the plan -- not too much different than our Carmel attack," Chavez said.
"I would say that we executed at a higher level. Our passing percentage was about 65 percent compared to about 50 percent (Tuesday). Carmel also had a different scheme against us than Lake Zurich.
“Right or wrong, we didn't have the best night against Carmel, and this night we had a great night."
The North Suburban Conference provides a tough slate of games that helps its members become tournament ready.
"We went to state last year (third place Class 3A finish), and that's got to say something about our conference," Chavez said. "A year before that Warren went pretty far. Libertyville, over the years, has been downstate often.
“I look at the history of our conference, and its ability to get downstate is a great accomplishment. I would argue that our conference is one of the top ones around. There's a lot of competition out there in 3A."
Stevenson’s goals came from Ivan Popov, Sebastian Pop and Navaan Kistanna; it was the first of the season for each. Meanwhile, reliable keeper William Rokosh made eight saves for his fifth clean-sheet this season.
Through the first 20 minutes of the match, both sides had chances to find the back of the net, but the defenses and keepers made plays to keep zeroes on the scoreboard.
Stevenson broke through in the 23rd minute after an error in the Lake Zurich defense. Popov took control of the ball, made a move and netted his shot for a 1-0 lead.
"I saw them basically make a bad pass," Popov said. "I saw instantly that the defender couldn't stay with me, so I took advantage of him and the goalie to get the goal. It was all mental and not thinking about it. I just wanted to go for it."
Pop got the second Stevenson goal in the 51st minute of play on a penalty kick that was awarded after Daniel Pryor was tackled in the penalty area.
"Honestly, it's practice outside of the games and outside of practice," Pop said. "It comes naturally for me to keep my head staying in the moment. Not to focus on anything from the keeper, the players or the fans. Just look where the keeper goes and go the other way.
“I've been waiting for that goal for three years. I just took it upon myself to take it, because I know my qualities. and I've worked on PKs for quite a while. I felt the confidence enough to take it."
The Patriots capped the scoring in the 73rd minute. Kistanna tallied the goal off an assist from Iungho Han.
While a new trio took care of the scoring, the top-level play from Patriots' senior center back Alex Huelsman was old hat. He helped keep the Bears (4-3-0, 0-1-1) from scoring and worked to keep his keeper safe. His efforts earned him the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor.
"I think I was just covering everything and getting into the open space," Huelsman said. "Just kind of locked it down. They didn't have free runners open, and I just organized our backline and kept our midfielders organized. Made sure everyone was tight and facing the ball."
Huelsman also pays close attention to the voice behind him.
"We are trying to communicate together," Huelsman said of his in-game conversation with Rokosh. "He sees where I should be, and I see where everyone else should be. I think we're trying to work together and communicate as a team and get everyone organized."
Lake Zurich didn’t back down from its competition.
"Stevenson was a pretty good team," Bears senior midfielder Braedon Smith said. "They played well. We just need to work the ball better out of the back and finish our chances.
“We could be a great team. We just need composure and wanting the ball more than the other team does."
Lake Zurich had solid opportunities, but it came down to finishing.
"We did a great job of creating chances, and that's one of our strengths," Lake Zurich coach Mike Schmitz said. "We were around the goal and around the box. We just didn't finish. On days we do, we come out with a win. On days like this it's a little more of a struggle."
D- Ben Lowe
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Alex Huelsman, sr., D, Stevenson
S-Ivan Popov (unassisted) 23
S-Sebastian Pop (PK) 51
S-Navaan Kistanna (Iungho Han) 73