skip navigation

Game story: South can’t turn Downers Grove tables on North

By Bill Esbrook, 10/18/23, 1:00PM CDT


Mustangs fall 3-1 to Trojans' inspired rally

WESTERN SPRINGS -- It was a bittersweet moment for Downers Grove South senior defender Pat Koch after the final horn sounded in the final semifinal at the Class 3A Lyons Regional on Tuesday night.

First, the bitter part was the most evident. His Mustangs led Downers Grove North with 26 minutes left in the game but watched that advantage evaporate as the Trojans rallied for a 3-1 win.

That meant Koch’s season, and his four-year participation in the Mustangs program, had come to an end.

“It’s rough knowing this game closed out our season,” said Koch, “especially because it came against our rival, North.

“It was tough watching them celebrate.  In the first half we put up a good fight, but in the second half we really didn’t come ready to play.”

Downers Grove North got a good talking-to at halftime from coach Rafal Slomba and two seniors. That energized the team according to junior midfielder Kobi Marquez, who scored the game-winning goal.

“First half, we were struggling a bit on offense and defense, struggling on just our all-around game.

“At halftime our coach pumped us up; Riley Botha pumped us up; Ryan Wilson pumped us up.  

“Then we went out and scored three goals, which was awesome.”

The season started in an uphill climb for the Trojans, who lost their first five games.

But that was the old Downers Grove North. The new one has won 10 of its last 15 matches.

The Trojans previously defeated Downers Grove South 2-1 on Sept. 26 to win the Downers Grove Cup. Slomba said Tuesday night’s game at the Lyons South Campus was similar to that contest.

“Same type of game, same type of atmosphere,” said Slomba.  “No one wants to lose a game against their cross-town rival, especially when it could be your last game of the season.”

Downers Grove North (10-9-1) held the advantage early on, but Downers Grove South defenders Aleck Galvez and Connor Szopko each made great plays to keep the Trojans off the board.

Both goalkeepers were tested often in the first 25 minutes, with Downers Grove North getting the majority of the chances.

The best two opportunities for the Trojans came in the 15th and 16th minutes, but each time, Downers Grove South keeper Lalo Villa shut the door.

First Villa made a save on a free kick by Trojans senior Ben Llewellyn.

Then Downers Grove North midfielder Jimmy Harkness found space from 15 yards, turned and blasted a left-footed shot. Again, Villa was there to bat it away.

Ten minutes later, the Mustangs found a way to get on the board.

After some frenetic chaos near the Downers Grove North goal line, the bouncing ball found its way out to the left wing, where Mustangs midfielder Daniel Smazil settled it.

The junior sent a perfect cross to the front of the net where, in a stroke of bad luck for Downers Grove North, Harkness sent the ball into his own net while trying for the clear.

However, Harkness didn’t hang his head. He responded by playing a whale of a match there after. The senior’s inspirational performance earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor.

“That just shows his character,” said Slomba, of Harkness. “Jimmy put the ball in to the back of his own net, but he battled back, and he got the assist on the game-tying goal.

“Credit to him for pushing on and forgetting about the past.”

Trailing 1-0, Downers Grove North took its halftime meeting to heart and came out ultra-motivated.

With Harkness leading the charge, the Trojans spent the majority of the period attacking in the Mustangs end of the field.

“You have to give them all the credit,” said Downers Grove South coach Jon Stapleton of the Trojans.

“They outplayed us in the second half.  Their energy was greater than what we came out with.”

Slomba added that it was teamwork that got the Trojans back into the game.

“We had to come together, not just play individually, and work as a unit.  I think we did that in the second half.”

Downers Grove North finally broke through with the tying goal in the 55th minute.

Harkness took a corner kick, sending a line drive to the front of the goal.  Teammate Llewellyn leaped high and headed it in from three yards.

“That’s his craft right there,” said Slomba of the 6-foot-3 Llewellyn.  “We’re always looking to him on the corner kicks.

“We know that if he gets a connection, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to go into the back of the net.”

That goal fired up the Trojans crowd, which saw their team take the lead for good in the 57th minute.

Villa made a great save on a point-blank shot by Botha, but Marquez was there for the rebound and put it away from four yards away to make it 2-1 Downers Grove North.

Just a minute later, Harkness was at it again.

This time he helped keep the pressure high when he crossed the ball into the box to Botha, who forced Villa to make another spectacular save.

In the 74th minute, Botha scored the clincher from seven yards away. He chased down an errant ball and fired it in from the right wing.

Down two goals, Downers Grove South attempted a comeback. Twice in the final minutes they saw close-in shots sail harmlessly over the crossbar. The second one came with just under 60 seconds remaining.

The final whistle started the winners’ celebration.

“They (Downers Grove North) stepped up with all that pressure,” lamented Smazil of the Trojans second half rally.

“We tried our best tonight; it was just unfortunate.”

Koch said that it was hard to fathom that his side’s campaign had come to such a sudden end on the Lyons pitch.

But then he recalled all the good times he’s had in the program for the past four years.

The senior worked his way up the ladder in the Mustangs program.  He played on the freshman A team, and spent two years on JV1 before his elevation to the big club. He played 45 minutes against Downers Grove North and averaged 40 minutes per game over the season.

“I never thought I’d be here,” Koch said. “It (soccer) was just a hobby for me. But I grew to love the sport, worked hard and wound up here.

“You really play for each other (on this team).  You’re not just playing for yourself or playing for what’s on the scoreboard.

“You’re working to make your teammates proud.”

Despite the defeat, what lies ahead looks bright for Downers Grove South.

The Mustangs starting lineup Tuesday consisted of 11 underclassmen.

“That bodes well for the future,” said Stapleton.  “No seniors in the lineup, but our seniors have made a great contribution to the program.”

Slomba said that his team will savor the victory, but not for too long.

“(We realize) the magnitude of playing a cross-town rival,” said the coach.

“We’re going to enjoy this, and then it’s right back to work tomorrow.”

Downers Grove North will be back at Lyons on Saturday to take on their hosts for the regional title. The Trojans lost to the Lions, who were ranked 23rd in the final Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 of the season, 2-1 in West Suburban Conference Silver Division road play Sept. 12.

Starting lineups

Downers Grove North
GK: Will Barnett
D: Conor Shewe
D: Mantas Palubinskas
D: Ben Llewellyn
MF: Jimmy Harkness
MF: Quinn O’Reilly
MF: Oliver Davies
MF: Riley Botha
MF: Ryan Wilson
F: Daniel Graham
F: Kobi Marquez

Downers Grove South
GK: Lalo Villa
D: Sebastian Sztafa
D: Harry Galdun
D: Aleck Galvez
D: Connor Szopko
MF: Damian Lagunas
MF: Daniel Smazil
MF: Brennan Free
MF: Jonathan Venouziou
MF: Jacob Day
F: Ryan Deacy

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match:
Jimmy Harkness, sr., MF, Downers Grove North

Scoring Summary

First half
DGS: own-goal (Smazil), 26’

Second half:
DGN: Llewellyn (Harkness), 55’
DGN: Marquez (Botha), 57’
DGN: Botha (unassisted), 74’