AURORA -- Sometimes it takes longer than you’d hope for a player to finally break through, but ultimately your patience is rewarded when he delivers.
Such was the case during Metea Valley’s 2-1 victory over host Waubonsie Valley during a DuPage Valley Conference game Tuesday night when senior Michael Senese assisted his team’s first goal and then scored the game-winner a day after scoring his first goal of the season.
“I was feeling bad for him,” Metea Valley coach Josh Robinson said. “He was in a rut. The ball just wouldn’t end up in the net. He scored his first of the year (a 4-0 win vs. Sycamore on Monday) and got another one tonight, but that’s him.
“He’s had opportunities. He gets it, and he does those things. He hits a post, it goes just wide, the goalie makes a save, so you could see (Monday) he got that goal about a minute-and-a-half in and that changed everything about how he plays.”
Against the Warriors, Senese seemingly was all over the field to lead the Mustangs to put together their first winning streak of the season.
“All of a sudden he’s challenging harder, working harder, getting in on tackles,” Robinson said. “When he’s not scoring goals, how much defensive work does he want to do? When he scores goals, all of a sudden everything he does gets elevated.”
His contributions to the victory raised his status further to Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honors.
“My role is more offensive than defensive, but overall, I’m like everywhere trying to support our team,” he said. “We’re making some good progress right now. The beginning of the season was pretty slow, but we’re definitely picking it up right now. We’re getting right on pace now to go above .500.”
The Mustangs (4-5-0, 2-0-0) proved to be more dangerous than Waubonsie Valley throughout the match, but as soccer proves time and time again, it doesn’t matter how many chances you create, but how many you finish that sets you apart when the final buzzer sounds.
While Metea Valley was unable to finish as many chances as it would’ve liked, they were able to strike first and then answer with the game-winner after the Warriors drew even right before halftime.
While the game was scoreless, Robinson could be heard hollering toward Nico Villalobos not even a minute before he put the Mustangs up 1-0 with 22:38 left in the first half.
“He was yelling for me to get up wide, trying to get me on the other side of the field so we could kind of play it across and score a goal,” Villalobos said. “It was kind of listening more, when I’m in the game, playing and listening to my teammates. Then when I heard them, I got straight there and got the goal.”
It happened so quickly that Villalobos simply reacted to the ball that Senese deposited perfectly at his feet.
“I was running down and saw the ball and in a split second didn’t even think,” Villalobos said. “I just put my foot there, and it went up. I got so worried it was going to go over. Then (it) hit the bar and went down, and I was so excited. I was really glad to celebrate with my team.”
Waubonsie Valley (3-5-2, 0-2-0) wasn’t having much luck sending shots toward the Metea Valley goal in the first half, but managed to catch a break. Amiel Nichani’s shot squeezed through a pair of defenders and off of goalkeeper Ravi Shah before landing in the back of the net to tie the game two minutes from halftime.
The Warriors narrowly missed taking the lead in the 43rd minute after Lachlan Ladd won possession, but his shot was rejected by Metea Valley goalkeeper Patrick Maroney who patrolled the the net in the second half after Shah completed the first half duties. Ladd had a few scoring opportunities in the game, including one just a few minutes into the action that Shah was able to corral.
Metea Valley also almost took the lead early in the second half. Anthony Hildreth received a ball from Abel Lopez and fired a shot on goal, only to be denied by one of the handful of great stops Waubonsie Valley goalkeeper Abrahm Tiburcio made.
“With the angle we had, you can’t tell me that wasn’t going in,” Robinson said. “Everyone was telling me that goalie was special. He was special.
“I’m proud of the boys. They were great tonight.”
Beckett Stotlar defended one of Metea Valley’s scoring chances to keep the Warriors tied, but no one was able to get in the way or apply enough pressure to cause Senese to misfire when he scored the final goal with 17:45 remaining.
Hildreth found Senese near the top corner of the box. From there he dribbled around a defender to set up a right-footed shot that bounced its way inside the far post.
“I opened up wide, because there is always a space wide,” Senese said. “I just got one-on-one with him and was able to get past him and finish bottom left.”
Senese almost gave the Mustangs insurance and a clip for their highlight reel for season’s end as he showed off his dribbling skills to get past defenders before taking on Tiburcio. While the goalkeeper won the in the 66th-minute battle, Senese and the Mustangs ultimately took the prize.
“We’ve been hard-pressed. We’ve been unfortunate, and we had great games early in the year where we didn’t get the result,” Robinson said. “We’ve had a couple bad games like the Body Armor (opening round), which was kind of a rude awakening for us where we got popped (4-1) by Warren (Saturday).
The shock to the system inspired Robinson to purge that loss and fire up his team.
“We asked the guys to come back this week and challenge themselves and have a little more edge, and we’ve seen it,” he said. “Tons of edge, and they needed it in this game. It was fun to watch. Fun to be a part of.”
After winning twice in about 26 hours and communicating with one another and Robinson, the young Mustangs are hopeful that they’re heading in the right direction
“I sent out a survey after Saturday’s game,” Robinson said. “What are you doing well? Where are you struggling? Where’s your head at? What are me and (assistant coach) Rachel (Bostick) failing at? We’re failing you guys right now, because whatever we’re doing, we’re not winning, and that’s our fault.
“To their credit, almost every single one of them said ‘We got to do it. It’s on us.’ I think some ownership came in, and it’s been awesome. Anthony (Hildreth) was unreal today. I like that they, maybe, turned a corner with leadership and wanting it.”
Waubonsie Valley entered the game off a 3-0 victory against Wheaton North, which was the first time they were in a game that was decided by more than a single goal or less this season. They returned to the old trend against the Mustangs, dropping to 3-5-2 overall.
GK: Ravi Shah
D: Cameron Leys
D: Eric Jernigan
D: Tony Cuautle
D: Jack Kusumpa
MF: Anthony Hildreth
MF: Sahil Khare
MF: Michael Senese
F: Abel Lopez
F: Cole Hatfield
F: Nico Villalobos
GK: Abrahm Tiburcio
FP: Jonah Greifenkamp
FP: Beckett Stotlar
FP: Tristan Mehra
FP: Amiel Nichani
FP: Lachlan Ladd
FP: Erick Maravillo
FP: Rihaan Gupta
FP: Gabrielle Pizzo
FP: Evan Wojtowich
FP: Cade Valek
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Michael Senese, sr., MF, Metea Valley
MV: Nico Villalobos (Michael Senese), 17’
WV: Amiel Nichani (unassisted), 38’
MV: Michael Senese (Anthony Hildreth), 62’