HUNTLEY – Huntley boys soccer coach Kris Grabner decided to hold out several players from Tuesday’s match against Crystal Lake Central, including one of the team’s top goal-scorers in Niko Mihalopoulos, for disciplinary reasons.
But even as the Red Raiders (6-0-1) were missing several playmakers and some speed, they held the Tigers scoreless and generated enough offense for a safe 3-0 win in a Fox Valley Conference crossover match.
“It’s progress,” Grabner said. “We just keep moving forward, but we still have a lot of things that need to be cleaned up.”
Possessing the ball and limiting bad turnovers was something Grabner stressed in the postgame huddle with his team after watching his players make a handful of them early on.
Huntley had the ball to start the match, but the Tigers’ Michael Chen intercepted a lazy pass at midfield and raced toward the goal. Chen found a streaking Scott Benhart in stride, but Benhart’s shot hit off the bottom of the crossbar and trickled out.
“If that shot goes in, we’re not talking about a 3-0 loss right now,” Tigers coach Jose Arias said. “I thought it went in from where I was sitting, and it’s a different game if it had.”
Huntley regained its composure after nearly falling behind, and Jason Zobott scored the first goal of the night on a no-doubter from a feed from David Pardo in the fourth minute. Pardo held the ball long enough to make Tigers goalkeeper Matt Gagnon commit to him before finding Zobott, who was left all alone.
It looked as if the Red Raiders wouldn’t miss a beat with several starters sitting, but the mistakes began to pile up. They were called for three offside penalties in the first 13 minutes of play and ended up with a total of six.
Grabner noticed the Tigers (4-4) were forcing his team to make the offside mistake by pulling their defenders up, but his players had a hard time recognizing that on the field. The offsides calls led to many missed opportunities, especially in odd-man situations.
“I saw they were playing an offsides trap, but I didn’t want to yell it out because [Central] would hear it and pull out of it,” Grabner said. “If we can recognize it on the field, it’s definitely beatable.”
Huntley made several adjustments at halftime, specifically in the midfield, and was able to generate more offensive chances. Jaime Quintana ran with the ball for about 35 yards while streaking past defenders and scored in the first seven minutes of the second half. The Red Raiders continued to pressure the Tigers deep in their own zone after the goal and scored another when midfielder Eduardo Gonzalez scored seven minutes later.
“We’re a possession team,” Pardo said. “We like to move it around and find that guy streaking to the net. Once we settled down and got comfortable, we were able to do what we do.”