Grens edge Knights to gain upper hand in MSL East
By Dan Santaromita
Elk Grove has gone through some growing pains this season but the team is looking like they belong in the Mid Suburban League's top tier.
On senior night in Mt. Prospect, the Grenadiers beat Prospect 1-0 in a fantastic match that could end up deciding the MSL East race.
The win pulled Elk Grove (9-4, 5-3) into a tie with Prospect (9-3-2, 5-3) at the top of the division and with the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Grenadiers control their destiny.
"Absolutely huge win," Elk Grove coach Joe Bush said. "We've still got to take care of business if we're going to get to the title game. I was so proud of these kids today.
"We haven't put together a possession type game like that in a long time. They're a very good team and I'm impressed to come onto their home field on senior night and beat them."
Elk Grove showed its intentions from the start. The Grenadiers had multiple chances in the opening minutes and took the lead in the seventh minute through Ernesto Rodriguez.
After some sloppy play at the back from Prospect, Rodriguez took control of the ball and dribbled into Brad Reibel's penalty box almost uncontested for the goal.
Once they fell behind, the Knights fired up and Elk Grove didn't take another shot for about a half hour. However, the possession didn't turn into quality chances.
"We didn't put a single quality shot on frame tonight," a frustrated Prospect coach Kurt Trenkle said. "Everything was high or wide or if it was on frame it was rolling and weak."
Prospect's best shot came from Richard Lenke not even twenty seconds after the second half's opening kick.
The junior forward weaved through the Grens' defense and ripped a shot that hit the post and bounced back into play before being cleared.
As Prospect pushed forward, Elk Grove was able to create a couple breakaways. However, Reibel (11 saves) stopped two clear breakaways to keep the game close.
First, he charged off his line and collided with Rodriguez and both players stayed down for a few minutes.
Then in the final minutes, Justin Gavros was in front of goal, but a loose touch allowed Reibel to snatch the ball.
"Although we only scored one goal, their Reibel is just an absolute stud," Bush said. "They're going to be in every game because of him."
On the other side, Mike Ragano made six saves for Elk Grove and got some help from forward Connor Murphy, who cleared a ball off the line in the second half following a corner kick.
Prospect didn't display the usual flowing attacking style of soccer that has netted them nine wins already this season.
Trenkle said it might have been his team's worst game of the season. The Knights struggled to utilize talented wingers Brayhan Nunez and Mario Morales.
"Nunez on the outside, he gave us fits and early on in the game we had to make a change," Bush said. "Irving Cruz dropped out there and he neutralized him a little bit. They did have some opportunities."
The Grenadiers were all for talking about how the team played together. Bush emphasized movement to his team and the players were all over the field throughout the game.
"Whenever a team plays as a team and works hard for each other, you'll get this result," Ernesto Rodriguez said.
"We knew they were a really good team, but we're pretty good, too, and we came in here pumped and said if we work hard we're going to get this."
Elk Grove is a team that is trying to learn how to deal with success as Bush puts it. It has the talent, but has struggled with consistency at times this season.
In a game at Barrington earlier this season, Elk Grove lost 2-1 by giving up two goals in the final ten minutes. In a similar scenario Thursday night, the Grens held strong.
"The Barrington game we just all lost our heads," Cesar Rodriguez said. "We didn't know where the team was and now we got it all put together.
"We've just got to keep our heads up, keep looking forward and keep getting some wins."
"Kurt said after the game that we deserved to win and I really appreciate that because Prospect has been there before," Bush said. “They've been there (MSL Cup) last year.
"On the back of our t-shirts we always say 'Not afraid to succeed' and it's hard to succeed. It really is and we learned that when we got our tails handed to us at Barrington and Fremd back-to-back games."
Elk Grove faces Wheeling Saturday and rounds out conference play against Palatine and Hoffman Estates. Prospect's final three MSL games are against Barrington, Conant and Buffalo Grove.
"They've got the easier road," Trenkle said. "We've got three harder teams that we're going to see. What we need to do is focus from the opening whistle Saturday."