skip navigation

Game story: Sabanovic leads Streamwood past Lake Park, into tourney semis

By Bobby Narang, 09/15/23, 3:15PM CDT


Scores brace in 3-0, pool-clinching win, St. Charles East up next

STREAMWOOD – Streamwood junior forward A.J. Sabanovic would love nothing better than to end the week with three games in three days.

More specifically, three victories in three days.

The first order of business toward that goal was winning Thursday’s matchup against Lake Park on the final night of pool play in the Streamwood Fall Classic.

A year ago, Sabanovic had a breakout season that showed his immense potential. He finished with 13 goals, while he and his young Sabres teammates recorded a 10-8-4 overall record and placed fifth in the Upstate Eight Conference.

Now everyone is a year older, and led by Sabanovic’s aggressive play, the Sabres are intent on making some noise once the weather turns cold this fall.

Thursday night’s tilt against the Lancers was another example. Sabanovic scored the first two goals in a 3-0 victory at Millennium Field. Streamwood (8-2-1), which jumped up from honorable mention into the 17th spot in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 this week, earned the second seed among the pool winners. The Sabres advance to host no. 16 St. Charles East (8-2-0)in a Friday semifinal at 5 p.m. 

No. 1 Oak Park and River Forest (8-0-1), which was forced into the wild card slot by Streamwood, faces off against eighth-ranked and top-seeded York (7-1-0) at 7 p.m. The Huskies gave York their only loss of the season on Sept. 7.

The semifinal winners meet at 11 a.m. Saturday for the title. The tournament does not have a third place game.

Now two wins from the title, Streamwood knows each game will progressively get harder, but Sabanovic said his team is ready for the mental and physical challenge.

“We’re athletes, so we’re used to this,” Sabanovic said. “Some of us have ice packs, but we have to keep going. That’s all that matters.”

After his two scores Thursday, Sabanovic has 14 goals in 11 games.

“I always try and look back,” Sabanovic said. “So looking at my sophomore season when I had 13 (goals) at the end of the year, we still have many more games. I’m still trying to achieve my goal and move forward as a team.”

Sabanovic said he had some extra motivation entering the Thursday match, outside of helping his team advance to the semifinals. He cherished the competition battling Lake Park senior forward Francesco Cardone, another player with the ability to rack up goals.

“I'm always look forward to compete against other strikers and seeing what they’ve got and seeing who brings what to the table,” he said. “It was a good game against Lake Park. We should’ve played a bit better and been more attacking but we won and will keep going.”

Sabanovic woke up the crowd with a goal off a penalty kick in the 35th minute, calmly knocking his shot into the right side for a 1-0 edge.

“That (goal) was kind of our boost, so when we scored that it was a way of saying we needed to pick it up,” Sabanovic said. “We should’ve scored more than that before that first one. We weren’t really awake in the first half. It was a nice one to start the game.”

In the 44th minute, Sabanovic gave his team insurance after Jairo Sanchez dropped a ball over several defenders. It took a big bounce right before it landed near the right foot of Sabanovic. He nearly jumped over Lake Park goalie Jakub Simek, before sidestepping him and putting in his shot from six yards to push the advantage to 2-0.

“It was a nice ball from Jairo,” Sabanovic said. “I looked up and saw the goalie come out and just one-timed it bottom right with my left foot.”

Polovin said Sabanovic’s become the engine leading the Sabres this season and helped the program zoom close to 10 wins by the middle of September. Besides working on his soccer skills, Sabanovic packed on some muscle. He  stands out on the pitch for his size, too.

“A.J. is having a fantastic season, showing that he’s definitely an all-state player if not more,” Polovin said. “What he’s doing for our team is (great). There are some good forwards from our area, but he’s right up there with the best, especially what he’s brought to our team this season. He’s really matured and developed his skills. He’s a high-level player and plays high-level club and brought it over to the high school (team).

“He’s a workhorse and gym rat to get himself fit and strong. His (size) makes a huge difference, and he keeps improving. He wants to be the man. He knows every game, whomever we play against, he will get double-teamed. He’s finding a way to break the double-team or use his teammates. He’s gotten more assists than last year. He’s become a complete player and is really fun to watch.”

Lake Park (5-6-0) lost its three group games, starting with a 2-0 defeat to top-ranked Oak Park and River Forest, and then dropped a 2-1 decision to Timothy. The Lancers took solace Thursday that the final outcome wasn’t a true indication of closeness of the game. The Lancers were aggressive, especially Cardone but they couldn’t get a shot past Streamwood goalie Issac Morales, who made five saves to earn the clean-sheet.

Cardone nearly scored a goal in the early stages of the first half, drilling a shot that was saved in the fifth minute and then sending a hard-hit attempt wide right in the ninth minute. He brought several fans to their feet late in the half, stealing a pass and dribbling toward the goal before firing a shot from six yards that was wide right.

Cardone had two quality shots in the second half, finishing up a long day with an attempt that was saved in the 79th minute.

“We definitely tried something new with the way we set up, bringing one of our fullbacks into the midfield to try and create an overload there,” Lake Park first-year coach Mike Bruckner said. “We had a couple of nervous moments early, but we settled in and started to play some decent stuff. The PK took a little wind out of our sails.

“(Cardone) created, and we wanted to face him up against defenders, even if he’s on the half turn. He’s a player good enough to face a guy, beat a guy and get to the next line of pressure. He can shoot from the outside. There’s a lot of attributes he can bring to the game.

“Even though the score (shows) 3-0, I don’t think there was much between the two teams, maybe razor-thin margins. When one team takes the chances and the other team doesn’t, this is the result. We have to learn from it. We’re in a process. This is my first year with the team. We’re still learning our way of playing. They are still learning our level of expectation. It’s every single, little thing. We’re inviting them to pick up the ball and run with it. We’re still in the process.”

Lake Park sophomore midfielder Andrew Donato said the tournament will help the Lancers prepare for the conference season.

“Streamwood is a really good team, and we put our best out there today. Everybody gave an equal amount of hard work on the field,” Donato said. “This is definitely not over for us yet. The conference season is just starting, so we’re ready for that. The PK was a wake-up call for us. We played better in the first half.”

Lake Park senior midfielder Anthony Juarez said the Lancers have to learn from the loss.

“We can learn from this and build off it,” Juarez said. “Streamwood is a very talented team. We can go pretty far as a team, as long we keep giving 100 percent and not give up. (Sabanovic) is a very good player and shifty and moving around a lot.”

Lake Park sophomore forward Carlos Ramos said taking advantage of quality opportunities led the Sabres to the victory.

“Right now, we’re in a learning process,” Ramos said. “(Streamwood) has a very talented team. We have to play (hard) against these types of teams and play our game. We have to improve on our defending and staying compact. We have to capitalize on our opportunities.”

Streamwood sophomore Josue Lopez gave Sabanovic a chance to rest his legs when he replaced him in the 65th minute. The entrance of the forward caused a small group of supporters sitting in the final row to chant his name several times. They soon were rewarded for their enthusiasm. Lopez took a short cross from Ricardo Agular and tapped in a shot for a 3-0 lead in the 68th minute. He almost equaled Sabanovic’s goal total but narrowly missed connecting in the 71st minute.

Polovin laughed when told about Lopez’s cheering section.

“Josue is young,” Polovin said. “It’s funny, because I have him in class. I’m a P.E. teacher. Our unit right now is soccer. I give him a hard time, telling him he works harder in P.E. class. 

“Then, all of a sudden out there, he turns and get the ball and slices through two defenders and whips the ball into the corner like it was nothing. That’s what I like, the guys you put into the game who can produce and put the ball into the back of the net. You never know when you will need them.”

Streamwood junior defender Alex Alcala said the backline is starting to show improvement after a shaky start to the season.

“Their striker was giving us trouble, but we were staying composed and disciplined. That’s what helped us get the shutout,” he said. “We kept our block and stayed disciplined. The backline has been improving throughout the season. That’s what we want. Our legs are hurting and we all are injured, but we want to win and play in the championship.”

Streamwood senior defender Andy Mendoza agreed. The Sabres have not allowed a goal in their last two games.

“We have to stay composed and improving in the backline,” Mendoza said. “We have to improve on our defending and not give the ball away. We have to stay composed. Hopefully we will Friday and get to the finals on Saturday.”

Polovin said he hopes the Sabres can build off Thursday’s quality win over the Lancers.

“We have to keep it going. Things are rolling well so far,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I always like my teams to play at a high level. We still have a lot of season left. We’re excited. This is our tournament, and we want to win our tournament. 

“We’ve only played one conference game. After this tournament is over, we have a bunch of conference games coming up. That will be good, get them back to seeing the team’s we’re used to playing.

“We find ways to win and close-out the games. We’ve been improving throughout the season. We had a tremendous game against Oak Park and River Forest – one of the better teams in the state. We held our own. This game we came out a little (apprehensive). We made our adjustments at halftime.”

Starting lineups

Lake Park
GK: Jakub Simek
D: Jacob Tourtillott
D: Patrick Swacha
D: Danny Chukurov
D: Lucas Boebel
MF: Ethan Su
MF: Jonny Ademi
MF: Andrew Donato
MF: Anthony Juarez
F: Carlos Ramos
F: Francesco Cardone

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

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: A.J. Sabanovic, jr., F, Streamwood

Scoring summary

First half
Streamwood: Sabanovic (penalty kick), 35’

Second half
Streamwood: Sabanovic (Sanchez), 44’
Streamwood: Lopez (Agular), 68’