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Game story: Defenses rule the night in OPRF-Streamwood battle

By Bill Esbrook, 09/13/23, 12:30AM CDT


State-of-the-art offenses held in check in 0-0 draw

STREAMWOOD -- There was plenty of firepower on display Tuesday night when Oak Park and River Forest took on Streamwood at its Fall Classic.

Two of the best offensive players in the state were revved up and ready to go: senior Easton Bogard of the Huskies, who came in with 10 goals and 4 assists on the year; and junior A.J. Sabanovic from the home-side, who had 12 goals and 8 assists.

Both have led their respective sides to great starts this season.

Oak Park and River Forest, which jumped to the top perch in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 this week, has found the back of the net 21 times and sports a 7-0-0 record. Streamwood, which debuted in the poll at no. 17, boasts 25 goals and a 7-2-0 mark.

In the teams’ opening games in Group A, Streamwood topped Class AA Timothy 7-2; and Oak Park and River Forest took down Lake Park 2-0.

It appeared the fans in the stands could expect a high-scoring game. It didn’t turn out that way.

Turns out the defenses for both sides ruled the day as the game ended in a well-played 0-0 draw at Millennium Field.

“They are an excellent team,” said Sabres coach Matt Polovin, “and this kind of had the feeling of a state final-type game.

“We came in with a plan. Their number 14 (Bogard) is just an unbelievable player, and we just man-marked him all over the field and tried to frustrate him as much as possible.

“Our guy, Alex (Alcala, a junior defender) who was marking him, had one of the best games I’ve seen all season and maybe one of the best I’ve seen in a couple years by a single defender.

“He didn’t let number 14 do much of anything, except for that shot he had at the end. I felt like he neutralized him, and we needed that tonight. We tried to take away their engine and see what else they had.”

Alcala said that the stellar performance of the Sabres was all about self-command.

“You’ve just got to keep your composure and stay calm,” said the defender. “Be smart, and be careful.

“It got a little difficult keeping our composure down the stretch, but we kept going as hard as we could as a team."

For its part, Oak Park and River Forest gave Streamwood scorer Sabanovic the same treatment.

“You have to be aware where he’s at all the time,” Oak Park and River Forest coach Jason Fried said of Sabanovic.

“He’s a really good target. So you don’t let him have space. You don’t let him get comfortable, but you don’t overcommit on him. You force him back and regroup.

“He’s a hard player to defend, and he broke out sometimes tonight. We had to scramble at times. But I thought our guys stayed smart and did a good job.”

The game started as a slowly paced affair. Oak Park and River Forest began to press the issue early, but the strong play of Alcala and teammate Ricardo Agular kept the Huskies off the board.

In the 17th minute, Oak Park and River Forest junior Bryce Richards chipped the ball in the box. Senior forward Cole Shepherd got to it fired his shot into the back of the net, but the goal was nullified due to an offside call.

WIth under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Shepherd had another point-blank chance but his shot was turned away by Sabres keeper Issac Morales, who finished with three saves.

Streamwood’s best opportunity came in the 39th minute when Andy Benitez and Bryan Huerta had a nifty give-and-go, but the ball was cleared by Bogard before things became dangerous.

Then came intermission, and Oak Park and River Forest senior forward Liam McGovern said his team talked about stepping it up.

“Just win every ball, go 100 percent,” said McGovern. “Leave everything here on the field and then come back at it tomorrow.”

Fried added that the Huskies just tried to focus on the task at hand.

“We made some adjustments at the half,” said the coach, “and I thought we had the ball a ton down here (in the Streamwood side of the field).

“We did a good job, we had a few chances that could have been goals, but Streamwood is a tough team. They made the stops. They did a great job in those moments, and either their defender got a deflection or a block, or they got a great stop.”

Three minutes after intermission, Indiana-recruite Bogard put forth the shot of the game.

From about 30 yards on the left wing, he found space and sent a left-footed shot toward the upper-left corner of the net. 

Morales was up to the task. The Sabres keeper leaped high in the air to snag the ball with his fingertips to keep the score even.

Streamwood counterattacked and Sabanovic sent a ball just wide of the far post moments later.

Then the play went back-and-forth, evenly played up-and-down the field, until Oak Park and River Forest pressed the issue with vigor from the 73rd minute on.

First, Isaac Felder sent a cross in to forward Robert Sambou but his shot from 25 yards away went just wide.

With under 5 minutes to play, McGovern made a run down the right flank but Morales came out to challenge and was able to snag the ball with nothing but open space between him and the goal.

The Huskies challenged again in the final minutes but Alcala and his backline teammates, which included Trey Yi and Merced Avila, stiffened down the stretch until the final horn sounded.

“I thought our guys played good defense, and they were organized,” said Fried. “They should be happy with how they played.

“They stayed organized the whole game. They followed the game plan pretty well and didn’t give up a lot of chances. That’s tough to do against a good team like Streamwood.”

Sabres striker Sabanovic indicated that he was extremely proud of the effort that he and his teammates put forward against the Huskies.

“We know that they are a good team,” said Sabanovic. “I would say they’re the best team in the state, and we held it up against them. So this proves that we can compete with the top teams as well.

“We tried our best. We had some opportunities. They had some opportunities, but nothing went in the back of the net. Tight game at the beginning, tight game at the end.

“They moved the ball well. I like the way they play. At halftime we talked about their players and how we had to mark some of them especially.

“We knew they really needed this point tonight (in the tournament standings), since we had scored seven against Timothy. So with the goal-differential (tiebreaker), this was going to be a tough game. At the end they were really trying to get that (winning) goal, and we were just trying to protect, trying to hold them off.”

Both teams have one more pool game left in the 12-team field. Oak Park and River Forest takes on Timothy at 7 p.m. Streamwood faces off against Lake Park at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Three pool champions and the next highest point-earner will meet in the semifinals at 5 and 7 p.m. Friday. The title game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.

Streamwood assistant Santi Martin talked about the coaching staff motivates the team.

“Our message to the kids is that it doesn’t matter how good we are, if we don’t work hard, it’s not going to show,” he said.

Starting lineups

Oak Park and River Forest
GK: Cameron Smith
D: Izzy Erwin
D: Charlie Maguire
D: Ben Naber
MF: Isaac Felder
MF: Nate Day
MF: Diego Zarate
MF: Cole Shepherd
F: Robert Sambou
F: Easton Bogard
F: Bryce Richards

GK: Issac Morales
D: Alex Alcala
D: Trey Yi
D: Andy Mendoza
D: Merced Avila
MF: Max Galvan
MF: Bryan Huerta
MF: Jairo Sanchez
F: Andy Benitez
F: A.J. Sabanovic
F: Richard Aguilar

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Alex Alcala, jr., D, Streamwood

Scoring summary

First half
No scoring

Second half
No scoring