By Steve Millar
After sprinting to four straight victories to open the season, the St. Laurence boy's soccer team found the going get tough in its final two matches at the annual Windy City Ram Classic.
The Vikings advanced to the semifinals of the 32-team tournament, but dropped their final two contests – in contrasting fashion – to finish in fourth place. St. Laurence came away from its first two defeats of the season with some positives and some lessons learned.
The Vikings fell to Plainfield South in the third-place game on Sept. 1. St. Laurence led 1-0 at halftime, the goal coming when Danny Garcia's pass intended for Marcos Martinez deflected off a Cougars defender and into the net.
The Vikings could not extend their lead, however, and a late surge by South gave the Cougars a 2-1 victory. The equalizer came with 25 minutes to play, and South tallied the game-winner with just 5:30 remaining.
St. Laurence was the team trying to come from behind in their semifinal match against Bremen on Aug. 28. The Vikings fought hard to battle back from a two-goal deficit, getting a late goal from junior midfielder Luke Arthurs, but came up short in a 2-1 loss to the Braves in a game played at Reavis.
“When you get down 2-0, you can either shy away and say it’s their game or you can step up,” St. Laurence coach Kyle Boekeloo said. “Our guys have a lot of resolve. They’re not going to quit. They kept fighting until the end. It’s just unfortunate that it didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”
Nery Sanchez took advantage of a mix-up on the St. Laurence defense to give Bremen (4-0) a 2-0 lead with just 9:47 to go, but the Vikings didn’t go down without a fight.
Less than three minutes later, they broke through to break the shutout.
Senior midfielder Danny Garcia took a corner kick for St. Laurence and sent a cross toward the near post, where Arthurs headed it in.
“I made sure I got in front of my man, ran to the ball and put it in the back of the net,” Arthurs said. “I liked the way we played until the end and never gave up. We gave it our all and never put our heads down.”
Bremen struck first 23 minutes into the game as Donato Lagunas stole the ball from a St. Laurence defender and played a quick cross into the box, where Bruno Ortiz headed it home.
“We lost the ball on the outside and then didn’t mark up,” Boekeloo said. “They served it in and buried their opportunity. Then the second goal was a miscommunication between our goalkeeper and one of our defenders. Just a mental mistake.
“We just need to clean up some of those things going forward.”
Ortiz’s goal came shortly before a lightning delay of over an hour. After the break, the Vikings threatened for the equalizing goal. Garcia fired just high late in the first half, while Valente Lara put a header wide early in the second half.
St. Laurence goalkeeper Brendan McLaughlin, meanwhile, denied a good look for Bremen’s Adrian Gallegos, diving to the ground to block the shot for the second of his two saves.
With a young team and a new coach in Boekeloo, Arthurs said the Vikings can’t be disappointed with a 4-1 start.
“It’s honestly been better than what I expected,” he said. “We’ve had a bunch of injuries and stuff like that, too. The young guys have stepped in with no experience and they’re playing their hearts out. I love to see that.”
Boekeloo knows the loss will fire up his players.
“These guys hate to lose,” he said. “You can just see it in their faces. We’ve just got to bounce back now and be ready to move forward.”