ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- Hersey took down visiting Glenbrook South with a strong second half performance on Saturday. Johnny Antoniou provided the decisive moment in the 1-0 win at Roland Goins Stadium.
The Huskies (4-1-1) won for the third time in a row after a less-than-dazzling effort one week ago in a 2-0 loss at Fremd.
"We were just terrible that night against Fremd. We have come a long way since then, but still have a lot of work ahead of us," said junior Ray Reyes, who earned the assist on the game-winner.
"Yeah, that (Fremd) game was not very good," added senior, Bart Ziomek. “But we're playing a different formation, which I feel plays to our strengths a little more. As a team, we've been possessing the ball a lot better since that Fremd loss.”
Glenbrook South arrived with a four-game win streak but without six of its players due to ACT testing and an illness here and there.
"We were a little short in our starting 11 as well as on the bench," said Titans manager Reggie Lara. “But it gave others the chance to play a lot of minutes. I thought overall, despite somewhat of a letdown in the second half, the guys played really well.”
Among the missing for the Titans (6-2-2, 0-0-0) were captains Nathan Halpern and Anthony Kifarkis, and one of their more dynamic attacking players in Matheus Carvalho (illness). Lara and his staff said he will be back in time for the team’s Central Suburban League South Division opener against Maine South on Tuesday in Park Ridge.
"We're not using the fact that we were missing some guys as an excuse for the loss," said the Titans terrific central defender T.J. Philips. “We played really well in the first half, maybe our best half of soccer this year, but our energy in the second half wasn't quite where it was in the first.”
Glenbrook South was treated to some brilliant work between the sticks from junior keeper Michael Falk.
"Michael was amazing for us,” said Philips. “He saved two that should have been in the back of our net."
For their efforts, Falk and Reyes shared the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor.
Glenbrook South looked quite comfortable playing out of the back. It built its attack through the midfield duo of Jacob Cramer and Jacob Ciszyk. When this twosome had the ball at their feet, the visitors’ attack was in control and monopolized possession.
"Our build-up was sharp,” said Lara. “We were more dynamic going forward, and we were finding each other with the ball in the first half. We just didn't test their keeper with enough dangerous or quality chances."
Titans center back Paul Scherer, who provided some very good service out of the back to his frontline mates, sent a long free kick from just inside the midline that forced Hersey keeper Adrian Smakowski to make a catch in a crowd at the quarter hour.
Both sides showed a strong commitment to tracking back to defend and made time and space somewhat of a luxury whenever their opponent had the ball.
Ziomek dispossessed a Titans player before firing on frame for the Huskies best chance during the first 20 minutes. He then distributed a nice early ball to Urik Contla, who in turn played to Cayleb Roque, but the offside flag dashed the hopes of the home-side in the 23rd minute.
Hersey kept up its attack. Moments after coming on, junior Joe Farrell raced to the endline before playing a lovely ball toward the back post, but nary a single orange shirt was there to receive it.
Falk rescued Glenbrook South with a remarkable save two minutes later after Reyes initiated a play in the 33rd minute with another superb ball to the back post.
Falk, stationed on the near side, sensed danger and raced across his open net in time to turn around Kacper Lechowicz’s point-blank attempt and keep this contest goal-less at the half.
"Just a great save by their keeper," said Hersey manager Mike Rusniak. “It will be fun to watch the video on that one. And the other save he made in the second half.”
"That late save before the break should have given us more momentum going into the second half," said Phillips. “But we came out a little flat, and they had a lot more energy than we did. So, the ball was in our end right up until their goal.”
The Huskies emerged from the intermission on their collective front foot, earning a pair of deep flip-throws from Nate Mabry and another two corners.
Reyes had an attempt blocked on the way in after the first corner. Then Ziomek sent in an effort on Falk that was turned away.
Falk took another out of the back of his net with a valiant save of a snap-shot from Lechowicz. The keeper likely saw the ball late through a dense crowd of players, yet still got enough of the ball after his full extension to deflect it away.
The attack continued when Scherer headed another Mabry flip-throw, and Reyes, on the counter, went wide of the near post.
"We faced a lot of pressure in that second half and did a pretty good job of defending throughout the half,” said Lara. “But we just couldn't match what we did in our attack in the first half.”
Glenbrook South managed to keep Smakowski alert with a half-chance from Edgar Morales and then an attempt of more quality from Ciszyk.
However, it was Hersey which seemed poised to score as it brimmed with more confidence after each foray into the Titans end.
The breakthrough came just after the hour when Reyes took advantage of some confusion in the visitors’ final third.
The junior was quick to find and deliver the ball to Antoniou, whose sublime finish past Falk became the game-winner.
"Johnny played great today for us. So did our subs, who really helped us keep the pressure on them in the second half," said Ziomek.
Just after the goal, Reyes went just wide with a left-footed half-volley. Then he and his teammates went about managing the lead for the final 10 minutes.
"Our midfield did really well defending as a unit," said Reyes. “Toward the end of the game, we kept numbers back and stayed organized in front of our backline, which was really great the entire second half.”
Glenbrook South created a couple of corners down the stretch. Scherer sent his attempt onto the roof in the 70th minute.
The Hersey faithful were relieved to see the linesman's flag raised when William Stephan appeared to have equalized one minute from time off a deep throw.
"I would have liked to have seen us keep our foot on the pedal after the break like we did in the first 40 minutes, but this was a good test for us in advance of our upcoming games in the conference," began Lara.
"(Chris) Vazquez played well for us. We did a lot of good things with and without the ball in the first half, and obviously Michael Falk was terrific today.
"We're still a team with so many sophomores and juniors, and with plenty of talent. But instead of concentrating on the X’s, and O’s, we're working more on the mental side of the game, and the guys have responded well.
"The great thing about this group is their willingness to work hard and to not get caught up in our overall record. We all know we can be much better if we continue to put the time in."
Hersey’s 3-0 week included six points in league play from wins over Wheeling and Hoffman Estates. That set up an important games with Mid-Suburban League East Division rival Elk Grove on Tuesday before a Thursday date at West Division-side Conant.
"Our team leaders have really stepped up working on getting this group to play better team soccer," said Rusniak. “There has been more purposeful focus on trusting one another's abilities while playing for each other as well.
"I was really proud of our entire backline, Billy Beck, Joey Casey, Nate Mabry and Daniel Majerczak, who kept things organized and under control. On the other side of the ball, we looked more comfortable and confident while playing with energy, especially in the second half."
Glenbrook South (4-3-3)
G- Michael Falk
D- Chase Owens
D- Paul Scherer
D- TJ Philips
D- Dennis Alickoli
M- Matteus Johansson
M- Jacob Cramer
M- Jacob Ciszyk
F- Daniel Joseph
F- Conor Beach
F- Chris Vazquez
G- Adrian Smakowski
D- Joey Casey
D- Billy Beck
D- Nate Maabry
D- Daniel Majerczak
M- Kacper Lechowicz
M- Bart Ziomek
M- Mateo Pesantes
M- Johnny Antoniou
F- Ray Reyes
F- Meschac Bryant
Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match: Michael Falk., jr., GK, Glenbrook South:
Ray Reyes, jr., MF, Hersey
Referee: Jim Kollias
Hersey: Antoniou (Reyes) 61'