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Game story: South Elgin finds groove, takes down Nazareth

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 09/12/23, 12:30PM CDT


2nd half goals from forwards Leon, Kerrigan spur 2-0 victory

SCHAUMBURG — If practice makes perfect, South Elgin had the wrong kind of momentum in its efforts to put a goal away.

Forward Ashton Kerrigan, after watching another shot push off-frame during the first half, walked toward the sideline for a quick rest and said “We should already be up like 5-0.”

With its adrenaline rush-producing action and fits of randomness, the game of soccer is maddening and makes success elusive. In particular, the Storm’s standout striking duo of Kerrigan and Jahson Leon found themselves stymied.

Was it going to be one of those days where everything works except the most important part?

Coach Jerzy Skowron had just the right words during the abbreviated halftime break.

“Honestly the halftime speech by our coach was just what we needed to go out there and put one in,” forward Ethan Jimenez said.

The words about relaxing and not dribbling away shots hit home.

The playmaking and creativity of Jimenez provided the breakthrough, and Leon and Kerrigan recorded second half goals for the 2-0 victory over Nazareth in opening round play of the Body Armor tournament at Olympic Park on Saturday.

South Elgin (3-4-2) continued its run and moved its winning streak to three games with its best offensive showing of the season in a 6-0 victory over Willowbrook in the rain on Monday.

Leon scored two goals. Kerrigan, Jimenez, Matt Lipp and Ryan Nguyen also scored to give South Elgin a title date on Sunday in LaGrange. The Storm’s opponent will be announced Tuesday (Sept. 12) at 8 p.m. 

The Saturday win ended in the cover of darkness; South Elgin and Nazareth played in the last time slot of the first round. 

For a good deal of the first half, the Storm played as though they were just lunging at balls. They seemed slow to react and waited too long to take the first touch or carry the ball down the field.

The frustration was visible and self-evident. 

Fortunately for South Elgin, it continued to create a large and consistent number of chances. It just became a matter of waiting to see if scoring pieces came together.

That started early in the second half. Jiminez, a quick and whirling dervish of a talent with a flair for getting to the edge, broke down the right sideline and launched a perfect service into the box.

Leon sliced through two defenders and deposited a half-volley inside the near post to end a terrific bang-bang scoring sequence.

“I just really needed a goal (for the team),” Jimenez said. “I saw Jahson making the run, and and I put myself in a good position to make that play -- making the end line and sending the cross.”

Few things are more rewarding or exhilarating than a first goal after a lot of false, empty starts. Everything flowed naturally afterward; the game slowed down, and South Elgin repeatedly found its groove. That kept Nazareth off-balance. Generally, the Roadrunners were not a threat offensively.

“I feel like overall we’re all getting better chemistry as a team, and building things together,” Jimenez said. “We’re not just friends, but a family coming together.”

Even dealing with some injuries to crucial players, South Elgin is showing the kind of steady, incremental improvement coaches naturally seek out.

Leon created the desired finish.

“As a striker, my natural position, I look for those diagonal runs. I just like to finish the ball and put it in the back of the net,” he said.

If Jimenez provided the spark, Leon built off the preceding pressure and tension against the Roadrunners’ defense.

It all paid off for Leon, who took the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor for his play and game-winner. The next step is building off the recent strong series of events.

“We have to keep focusing on and off the field,” Leon said. “We have to eat well and do all the things that keep us healthy. And then on the field, just keep working with each other, putting in hard work.”

After going down a goal, Class AA Nazareth responded with some solid play of its own, most significantly in the sharp interactions of midfielders Charlie Austin and Colin Schaeffer.

Austin showed excellent balance and quickness with the ball. He had several enticing actions that clearly put the Storm under duress.

“We had a lot of good actions in the middle today,” Austin said. “We have been working a lot on off-the-ball movement, especially in the middle and making the runs.

“It helped a lot. I think it helped create some chances in the middle, especially the 1-2 actions with Colin, especially getting out wide. This whole season so far has been a learning curve, but I think it is a positive one. We’re a pretty young team and still finding ourselves.”

While South Elgin dominated the flow and was the game’s top influencer, the lead remained precarious, a bad play or breakdown away from a different result.

Kerrigan ended those worries in the 68th minute. 

Midfielder Edwin Porter won control of the ball and fired a terrific through-ball down the left flank to the streaking Kerrigan.

He made a quick stutter movement, and hammered a left-footed ball from about 16 yards for the crucial insurance goal.

“I just knew we had the momentum after our first goal,” Kerrigan said. “I just tried to make a play and finish it.”

The back-and-forth and interwoven movements of Leon and Kerrigan told the tale.

“We just started playing not too long ago together,” Kerrigan said. “During preseason, we really got to build together as far as how we like to play. Now we are just trying to increase that chemistry together.”

After surrendering 20 goals in its first five games, the Storm have shown greater urgency and demonstrated a better sense of awareness on the field. The Nazareth game marked the second of three consecutive shutouts.

“The first couple of games, we were just hemorrhaging goals,” Skowron said. “That made it difficult to do the kind of things that we do best. We focused the last week or so on fixing our defensive shape.

“Once we did that, it opened everything else up. Now we’re able to do business a little bit more. Today was the third time this season we have scored two goals in a game. Everybody is getting tuned into each other.”

Deploying his typical two-keeper format, Skowron has alternated seniors Aidan Majer and Aaron Cacucciolo.

“Typically we make the change at the start of the second half, unless we have a shutout going, and then we let him finish out the game,” Skowron said. “The other night it was Aaron, and tonight Aidan had the great game with five saves. I love our keepers. If everybody in front of them does their job, the keepers are completely bored. 

“Aaron is confident. He has great hands. He’s a baseball player and one of the best bowlers in the state. The more he plays, the more confident he is going to get.” 

Starting lineups

GK: Krister Bent
D: Julian DeLaTorre
D: Jacob Sanchez
D: Dean Faust
D: David Patton
MF: Arigael Hernandez
MF: Colin Schaeffer
MF: Charlie Austin
MF: Mateo Delgado
F: Brendan Boyd
F: David Brunke

South Elgin
GK: Aidan Majer
D: Quentin Albert
D: Xavier Marquez
D: Noah Dihel
D: Jacob Kudrna
MF: Matthew Lipp
MF: Jack Schmidtke
MF: Justin Defendsor
MF: Jair Garcia
F: Ashton Kerrigan
F: Jahson Leon

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Jahson Leon, jr., F, South Elgin

Scoring summary

First half
No scoring

Second half
South Elgin: Jahson Leon (Ethan Jimenez), 45th minute
South Elgin: Ashton Kerrigan (Edwin Porter), 67th minute