Mustangs, Sabres give preview of tough times ahead in UEC
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By Darryl Mellema
Saying that Wednesday's Metea Valley-Streamwood contest was a "hardfought Upstate Eight Conference match" is a little like saying the sun rose on Tuesday.
The reality this season is that the UEC is loaded from top to bottom with strong squads. Streamwood was 24 hours removed from a 1-0 loss to UEC stalwart East Aurora and Metea Valley already owns a victory over Hinsdale Central this fall.
So Wednesday's conference crossover contest had all the possibilities of being an end-to-end encounter.
That's just how the match played out – and the teams shared a 1-1 tie in a 4:30 pm match played on artificial turf heated by the warmest day, so far, of the season.
"There isn't really one down team that you can look at and say 'that's an easy victory,'" Streamwood coach Matt Polovin said. "It's nice that these are our two crossover games – East Aurora and Metea. We call it kind of like our preseason because (Thursday), we start in the Lake Park Tournament with Downers Grove North."
Such strong opposition means both teams came focused to play a strong match, and neither team disappointed. The Sabres (0-1-1) pressed for victory in the first half, had a penalty kick saved and then took the lead in the final minute before the break through a Cristian Vences goal.
"He got a good feed from Mario Rodriguez and he turned and shot," Polovin said. "I think it went of the goalie's leg and bounced and went in. But a goal's a goal and we'll take it."
Having a strong core group is already paying dividends for Streamwood.
"The core group of these guys are very fit and they've been working together all year long," Polovin said. "Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they were very dedicated all summer, in addition to their club stuff.
"Metea may be a little more experienced, but these guys came out with an attitude of 'win, lose – or tie – we're never going to give up on anything.'"
That spirit was born in 2010. Despite Streamwood's 3-17-4 overall record, the Sabres were very competitive, and they discovered a grittiness and a resilience that has carried into this season.
The penalty kick miss, by Nestor Ascencio, might have deflated some teams. But for Streamwood, the moment proved a chance for the Sabres to show just how strong a bond they have with each other.
"I think he was trying to do a little more placement than power and the goalie dove on it," Polovin said of the penalty kick.
Team leaders can come from all areas of the field. Streamwood has a solid leader in senior goalkeeper Jose Resendiz.
"He is rock solid back there," Polovin said. "He makes saves that you can't think goalies his size might make, because he's very quick. He's our leader on the team and the other guys see that and follow. With these young guys that we have, it's going to keep building."
Resendiz stands a little over 6 feet tall and but has a broad-shouldered frame and is intimidating when he advances to get to the ball.
"He has that large presence in the goal," Polovin said. "A lot of people look at him and don't realize how well he can move. He's an underrated goalie. People may go against us thinking 'drive it low and hard against him and you'll score every time.' That's not the case. He can get down and make those saves."
Being behind at halftime created some pressure for Metea Valley (1-0-1), but the Mustangs proved that they can respond to setbacks with their play from the opening whistle of the second half.
"We struggled in the first half," Metea Valley coach Josh Robinson said. "They had a PK and Gabe (Gongora) made a wonderful save on it. Then they took a shot and it took a deflection and went in at the end of the half. But we responded well."
The match-tying goal came within the first 10 minutes of the second half and was scored by Ryan Solomon.
"The ball got played up over the top and (Solomon ) got up over the goalkeeper," Robinson said. "He jumps. He got it up and put it over the goalkeeper. Then he chased it, got the rebound and put it in. It was a hard-working goal and it was deserved."
Even in the minutes immediately preceding Solomon's goal, the Mustangs were pushing to tie the match, and in that surge, the team showed all in attendance that this is a new year with a new intensity.
"We told the boys that when we were 1-1 with Hinsdale Central and tonight when we went down, we would have lost those games last year," Robinson said. "We're a little more resilient and a little more mature to be able to fight through games. Last year, we'd give up a goal and we'd completely deflate."
While Metea Valley has seniors on its roster for the first time this season, finding natural leaders is still a searching process.
At no point has the Class of 2012 had an older group to lead them and show them the manner in which to do things – so those athletes have learned it through trial and error. It is to their credit that they have become cohesive in such a short period of time.
"We have a different mentality than last year," Robinson said. "For the most part, it's the same guys. We are still struggling to find that leadership and maturity.
"Since eighth grade, these guys have always been the oldest guys in school. They've never had that leadership modeled for them. But having that core to the team established helps. We have seniors and they want to be successful and that helps, too."
Robinson echoed Polovin's feelings about the strength of the Upstage Eight Conference this fall.
"Look at our side of the conference and we have East Aurora, and they won last year," Robinson said. "Neuqua's Neuqua. Angelo (DiBernardo) is going to put something productive out (at Waubonsie Valley.) South Elgin's great and Bartlett's great. Everyone's solid – and then you go and play crossovers against teams like St. Charles North or St. Charles East. It's a gauntlet."
Robinson said that strength actually extends beyond just the stacked UEC field and to the Chicago suburbs in general.
"We still need to prep a little better for games, but I think the realization is that the soccer here is tough," Robinson said. "Soccer in northern Illinois is very tough. Every game's tough."