Seniors Christian Escobedo and Jorge Roman have been four-season fixtures in the Glenbard North soccer program. In their final season together, they led the Panthers to a welcome level of success.
Glenbard North (13-9-2, 4-1-2) posted its best finish in the DuKane Conference, taking third place. The team’s 13 victories overall were the most in a campaign since a 14-win season in 2015.
“They were a team that played hard together,” said Panthers coach Spero Mandakas, who finished his fifth season in Carol Stream. “They moved the ball well. They were much more dynamic than we have been in the past. We had two guys up-top that were really good. Jorge (Roman) and Christian (Escobedo) really set the tone and really had some great seasons for us.”
Escobedo led the Panthers with 18 goals and 16 assists while Roman finished with 17 goals and added a pair of assists.
Escobedo topped the old school record for assists in a season by one (Danny Koeller, 15, 2016). His 52 points in a season were the second-most ever scored by a Panther. He topped the DuKane Conference goals and points charts.
“Christian had one of the best seasons we’ve had in a long time for a Panthers soccer player,” Mandakas said.
With the 35 goals between them, the duo scored more goals than the 34 goals the team surrendered. The Panthers scored 54 goals as a team – the prolific pair accounted for 65 percent of them.
“They’ve been four-year players,” Mandakas said. “They are definitely guys you know are already in there when you are penciling the lineup together. Some guys will have to step up (next year), but we have a solid core of sophomores and juniors coming back. Those are guys that will need to step into that role.”
Escobedo, Roman and sophomore Diego Navarro-Saavedra were named all-conference and coaches’ all-section this season. Junior Daniel Noval, who had 7.25 shutouts, was recognized on the all-section honorable mention list. He was just .25 off of matching Stavros Veremis’ 7.5 mark for shutouts in a season.
“Diego’s an outside back and only a sophomore right now, but he’s started every varsity game that he’s been in,” Mandakas said. “We’ve put him up against the best players in the area, and he’s done very well. We put him on (Conant junior Krystian Niziolek, 16 goals 10 assists, in the regional semifinal), and he really made him ineffective the whole game, really shut him down and gave us a chance to win the game. He’s one of the guys we’re going to build off of and looking to for some leadership.”
Roman, who won the DuKane Conference Golden Boot for most goals in league play (five), knows first-hand what it was like to be the new guy on the scene who turned into a veteran leader. As disappointed as he was to see his high school playing days come to an end, he’s excited to see what his younger teammates do next.
“Going in as a freshman, it was hard at first. But I kind of knew what to expect, because I have a brother who is one year older and played here,” he said. “We definitely have a lot of new kids and a bright future of youngsters coming up.”
It’s still hard for a talent like Roman to get past the 1-0 regional final loss to Conant. He was part of a program that was 9-9-3 in 2022 and under .500 the prior two seasons, but that all of a sudden was in the mix for a conference title and entered the postseason with the hope of winning a regional title and maybe more.
“We finished in the top three in a very difficult conference against teams like St. Charles East and St. Charles North,” Roman said. “We had a lot of wins, and we scored a lot of goals. We had one of the best records in a long time, and we were really good as a team. When things got rough, we found a way to work around it.”
Escobedo and Roman had a connection before they first donned their Glenbard North uniforms four years ago.
“What has made us really good together is we’ve been playing with each other for very long,” Roman said. “I think since middle school. We push each other with competitiveness between us making us get better.”
Escobedo recalls the abbreviated special spring season in 2021 when he made his debut for the Panthers and quickly learned about the DuKane Conference. That introduction fostered a drive for success that led to the team over the .500 mark for the first season since 2019.
“We knew we’d have a good season, but we definitely wanted more going into the playoffs,” he said. “It was surprising to go out like we did. We lost some games (in the regular-season) that we shouldn’t have lost. We probably could’ve achieved more and broke the school record for wins. But it was a solid season. My freshman year due to COVID there were no playoffs, just a lot of conference games. I realized we had a tough conference with St. Charles East and North.”
Not giving in to anyone was a common theme for Escobedo and the Panthers.
“We gave every team a good battle and kept in every game,” he said. “Our biggest loss was to York (3-0 Sept. 28). We came into it hot, but we broke down and showed that other side and sometimes that happens. But going into the playoffs, we came out strong. We hit the bar twice in the first half. We just wanted the result and thought we would get it in the second half. It was tough. We knew Conant was a good team, and we’d give them a good battle, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
Winning postseason soccer games doesn’t come easy. Players are hungry to stay alive and give their all for more than 80 minutes if necessary.
“Teams seeded 4 through 13 in the sectional were tough,” said Mandakas, whose club earned a five-seed. “You saw that with (no. 11-seed) Conant knocking us off and a team like (no. 8) Glenbard West going on a run. It’s an extremely soccer-rich area, so having a winning season is definitely something to be proud of.”
Early on, it was really difficult to grasp what kind of team the Panthers would become this fall. On Aug. 28 they lost 2-1 to Willowbrook, which tied Fenton the next day and then lost 18 straight to finish the season.
The day after losing to Willowbrook, the Panthers continued in pool play of Addison Trail’s Joe Novy Classic and fought hard against Oak Park and River Forest (21-1-2), which was ranked no. 1 in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 for a great deal of time this season before being upset in the postseason.
“We knew coming in that we would have some success, but any team can beat anyone throughout the season,” Mandakas said. “We had a two-day stretch where we lost to Willowbrook and then gave OPRF a game in a 2-1 loss. Then we kind of went on a winning streak after that. In this area the soccer is so strong. You can’t have a day where you don’t show up, because that team is going to beat you.”
September proved to be a solid month for the Panthers. After they closed August with a scoreless conference opener against Wheaton Warrenville South, they picked up victories over Proviso West, Proviso East, Glenbard South, Lake Park, and Mahomet-Seymour and Urbana on a team trip that was tied to a visit to the University of Illinois.
The most notable wins were a Body Armor shootout victory (2-2, 9-8/11, Sept. 11) over a Round Lake team that advanced to the a sectional final and a 3-2 league victory at St. Charles North on Sept. 26. Glenbard North also tied tough league foe Geneva (0-0 Sept. 19), which went on to win a regional.
The Panthers went 8-4-1 in September. The losses came against tough teams: sectional winners St. Charles East and York, and regional finalists Minooka and Wheaton Academy.
“I’d say our best game of the year was against St. Charles North,” Mandakas said. “North was undefeated in the DuKane at the time, and we went to their place and kind of knocked them off the top. That was part of the reason, after starting 0-1-2 in conference, that we finished 4-1-2. We put ourselves in a good position to go on a run, and we had the best conference season we’ve ever had in the DuKane.”
As substantial as the losses of Escobedo and Roman will be to the program, there were other impact players who finished their careers this season including three-year varsity player Colin Hernandez (4 goals, 3 assists).
“He had kind of started some games for us, but this season he really stepped up and was a great central midfielder for us,” Mandakas said. “He showed the ability to make tackles. Then he got really comfortable on the ball, was dynamic in his possession and really good in distribution for us. He really stepped up.”
The program is continuing to head in the right direction and the number of student-athletes getting involved is a great reason why Glenbard North has plenty to be excited about going forward.
“During my first year we had three teams and 60 guys in the program,” Mandakas said. “We now have five teams and over 110 guys in the program. We’re building it and kind of making it our program.
“We’re open for anybody. We’ll find a spot for them, and we’re going to expect them to work hard and earn it. We don’t turn anybody away. We have kids from all over the world representing our program, so it’s really cool to see how culturally diverse the program has been. Every day is fun to show up.”
Showing up next year won’t be easy without the offense of Escobedo and Roman or the leadership that senior defender Hugo Tecuanhuehue delivered time and time again.
Juniors Marco Galto (2 goals, 5 assists) and Gavin Vantichelt (4 goals, 3 assists) and sophomore Keith Thumutok (4 goals, 2 assist) will return along with Navarro-Saavedra (4 assists) as the team’s leading offensive threats.
“Last year we weren’t as close as a team. Our record shows the difference this year,” Navarro-Saavedra said. “We did pretty good this year and played hard as a team. We really communicated well and stayed together as a team.”
Now midway through a potential four-year run as a starter, Navarro-Saavedra looks forward to help lead the way with the experience he’s gained.
“I do look to be a leader next year and just really keep the team together and get some wins,” he said. “Christian and Jorge weren’t captains, but they stepped up and acted like captains and gave positive speeches. Hugo could be loud and was a good captain. (Coach) Spero and assistant coach Smitty (Jacob Smith) have done a lot of good stuff so that we have a good soccer program here.”