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Game story: Lyons pulls it together to defeat York

By Bill Esbrook, 10/11/23, 7:30PM CDT


Lions overcome Herrera’s hat-trick to end league losing streak

WESTERN SPRINGS - It’s been a tough last two weeks for Lyons senior defender Collin Sullivan.

One could argue it’s been tougher on his teammates.

On Sept. 26, Sullivan went down with an injury against Hinsdale Central.

Since he’s been sidelined, the Lions have been in a bit of a tailspin.

Coming into Tuesday’s league match against York, Lyons was 1-3-0 in its last four games. All three losses came in West Suburban Conference Silver Division matches. The win came against Class A Rauner, of Chicago.

Sullivan’s tentative diagnosis was turf toe, and the senior, who said “I just came down from a header and landed weird,” hopes to return later this week.

“It’s terrible,” said Sullivan of not being on the field. “The same thing happened to me last year with a broken foot.

“It hurts not to be out there, but I’m going to try to finish strong.”

To say the least, Lyons needed a spark Tuesday when York, ranked tenth in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, came calling to Bennett Field at the Lions’ South Campus.

They got one for sure, in a total team effort led by three seniors.

Haris Sarajlija scored twice, and Owen Suda and Jimmy Brejcha tallied a goal apiece as the Lions (12-6-2, 3-3-x) defeated the Dukes 4-3 in the last conference game for each team, and the final match of the regular-season for York.

“This game was really important,” said Sarajlija. “We know York are contenders, so moving forward this gives us hope and tells us that we can go far in the playoffs.”

Lyons coach Paul Labbato agreed 100 percent with the assessment of his stellar midfielder.

“We needed a win,” said Labbato. “We have absolutely been here and there, up and down all year long.

“We’ve been a little bit on a down lately, and facing a really good team today was a challenge. This was a big one to break our conference losing streak.”

The victory came despite a terrific all-around effort from York midfielder Gustavo Herrera.

The senior scored all three goals for the Dukes, and almost got a 4th late in the game as York (13-4-0, 4-2-x)  pressed hard for a tying score.

“This was a great battle,” said Herrera. “They (Lyons) came in wanting to get their motivation back going into the playoffs.

“We wanted to do the same thing, get a win and go into the playoffs strong and confident. But Lyons played very well.”

The home team was inspired in the opening part of the contest.

Junior Kellin Bourjaily just missed in front of the net early, when he chipped a throw-in from senior Harrison Hoekstra just over the crossbar.

Then Suda made a long run down the right wing but was denied by Dukes defender Freddie Steen.

Despite Lyons strong start, York scored the first goal of the game in the 12th minute.

Herrera settled a Lyons clearance attempt, turned toward the middle of the pitch, and ripped a shot that found the far corner of the net from 28 yards.

Undeterred, Lyons struck back less than a minute later. 

Suda received a nice pass from Mason Burda on the left flank from 15 yards away and beat the keeper with a bad-angle shot.

“That was much needed,” said Suda, a forward, “especially after we conceded that early goal.

“It was important for us to bounce right back. As soon as they (York) scored, our heads were lifted up.

“A lot of teams get down when they fall behind. Our heads go up, and we start building.”

The teams went in to the second half tied at 1-1. The final 40 minutes was a high-scoring, thrilling period.

Lyons took a 2-1 advantage in the 53rd minute. A hard tackle from Sarajlija saw the senior take possession of the ball in York territory.

He dribbled in, turned and blasted in a shot from 26 yards that flew just underneath the crossbar.

Then it was York’s turn to equalize. Just 1 minute and 6 seconds later, Herrera tallied his second on a 27-yard free kick. At that point, it appeared the momentum had turned toward the visitors.

But Lyons would have none of that. The Lions scored twice for what looked like a comfortable cushion.

First it was Brejcha, connecting on a header from four yards off a corner kick in the 65th minute.

“It was kind of unexpected for me,” said Brejcha, “because usually it’s Owen Suda or Sullivan, the bigger guys (scoring off corner kicks).

“But I did my part and made my run.”

Next came another from Sarajlija, dribbling through traffic and booting one in from 28 yards to make it 4-2 in the 72nd minute.

Then York got back to work. Herrera completed his hat-trick by scoring off another 27-yard free kick to make the score 4-3 in the 75th minute.

For the final five minutes, the Dukes applied relentless, nonstop pressure as they pressed for the tying tally.

“To be honest,” said Brejcha, “the last five minutes of this game were the longest five minutes of my life.

“I got a little nervous after Herrera scored that third goal, that free kick, but we held our ground, marked our men, and got the job done.”

Herrera found the ball at his feet 10 yards to the left of the goal with 3 minutes left, and the reaction of the crowd when he settled it left no doubt the fans thought he was about to score goal number four.

But his blast toward the goal was blocked away by Lyons defender Mason Santos.

In the final minute, Herrera had one last great chance, but the ball was defended and kicked out of harm’s way by Lyons junior Fred Chen before it could do any damage.

York had a final last gasp chance with seconds left. As Dukes senior Mateusz Janowski tried to settle the ball for a final shot, Sarajlija was a step ahead and kicked the ball high in the air to the Dukes side of the field as the seconds ticked down and the final horn sounded.

“They’re a very good team,” said Herrera of Lyons, “but we can use this to motivate us.

“We’ve got to be really strong because the postseason is here. It’s win or go home, and if we want to go all the way - and we certainly believe we have the team to go all the way - we’ve got to keep pushing.

“We’ve got to play as a unit and trust each other.”

Sullivan, who has committed to play college soccer at Bucknell, hopes to return for the Lions final regular-season game Friday against Maine West.

His coach and teammates would like that.

“Collin is one of the best defenders in the state,” said Labbato. “He’s dominant in the air, he’s vocal, and he’s got all of the intangibles that you need our there.”

“Other guys have been picking it up and playing with a lot of heart, but once we get him back, we can slide those guys into other positions.

“I think we’ll be a difficult out in the playoffs.”

Midfielder Sarajlija was of the same opinion.

“For sure, as everyone knows, he (Sullivan) dominates in the back,” he said.

“Without him it’s been kind of a struggle. We’ve been rotating some guys, and it’s been working for the most part.

“But as you can see it’s more quiet, and we’re losing more in the air without him.”

Sullivan added that one of the best things about attending Bucknell next fall is that he’ll be on the same team as his brother Jackson, who is now a sophomore defender on the Bison roster.

“To have another opportunity to be on the same field again as my brother,” said Sullivan, “is awesome.”

“I’m excited for it.”

Starting lineups

GK: Diego Ochoa
D: Mateusz Janowski
D: Freddie Steen
D: Jack Dewbray
D: Alexander Menolascina
MF: Nico Feldmann
MF: Michael Greco
MF: Gustavo Herrera
MF: Oliver Connor
F: Damian Glodz
F: Jayden Waski

GK: Tyler Balon
D: Daniel Svelnis
D: Harrison Hoekstra
D: Zach Morgan
MF: Kellin Bourjaily
MF: Austen Wisniewski
MF: Jimmy Brejcha
MF: Mason Burda
MF: Declan Kracker
MF: Haris Sarajlija
F: Owen Suda

Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match: Haris Sarajlija, sr. MF, Lyons;
Gustavo Herrera, sr., MF, York

Scoring summary

First half
York: Gustavo Herrera (unassisted), 12’
Lyons: Owen Suda (Mason Burda), 13’

Second half
Lyons: Haris Sarajlija (unassisted), 53’
York: Herrera (unassisted), 54’
Lyons: Jimmy Brejcha (Burda), 65’
Lyons: Sarajlija (Burda), 72’
York: Herrera (unassisted), 75’