Clash with LT a headbanger for wounded Huskies

Team hopes to heal as playoffs loom

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By LARRY ROGOWIN

"Maybe they should build an infirmary just for the soccer team."

That was one of the comments tossed around the stands Thursday night at Oak Park Stadium, just prior to the Huskies' clash with West Suburban (Silver) Conference power Lyons Township.

Indeed, OPRF went into the match without the services of three key contributors. Junior midfielders Mark Rosenberg and Liam Bird were both out with sprained ankles sustained in a match five days earlier (Rosenberg also had the flu). Junior defensive stopper Aaron Press has been sidelined nearly for the past three weeks with a torn soleus.

To make matters worse, the team's top scoring threat, senior forward Robin Hargadon, had to leave halfway through the match with a pulled quad muscle. It's an injury that has bothered Hargadon on and off for the past few weeks.

Despite these hardships, the Huskies hung tough--falling 1-0, but nearly equalizing the score in the match's waning minutes.

The Lions, who recently earned the top seed in their own 18-team State playoff sectional (which also includes the third-seeded Huskies), out-possessed OPRF and peppered senior goalkeeper Jim Gullo with eight shots in the first half. Senior Pat Magnesen scored the only goal about 20 minutes into the match, one-timing a cross pass into the lower left corner of the net from about six yards out.

The Huskies, meanwhile, failed to register a single threatening shot on goal through the first stanza.

Things changed in the final 40 minutes. The Huskies tightened up on defense, allowing only two more shots on goal, and generated a few shots of their own, as well as numerous threats within and near the LT penalty area.

"A lot of these guys stepped up today," said OPRF coach Paul Wright. "We held our own; we had numerous chances."

It's a microcosm for the Huskies' season thus far. The team is hurting, but competing. The Huskies are currently 11-4-2 overall. Sure, key players have gone down, but their teammates have been there to pick them up.

With the offense reeling from the losses of Bird, Rosenberg and Hargadon, players like sophomores Drew Golz and Pat Koller have emerged to maintain the OPRF attack.

Of Golz, who had seven goals at week's end, Wright said, "The guy just runs through walls--just a great kid. He's really stepped up and helped distribute the ball and really lead."

All four of OPRF's losses have come by a single goal thanks to a defense that may be young and lacking in varsity experience, but has been bedrock all season.

The heart of this defense has been the stopper-sweeper combination of Press and senior Jared Rifis. But in Press's absence, players like Hargadon and junior Dan Finnegan have deftly filled in.

"I went into the season worried about defense and now our defense has really solidified," said Wright. "We've been in every game we've played."

On Saturday afternoon, the Huskies celebrated "Senior Day" with a 3-1 non-conference victory over Argo.

The visitors stunned OPRF by taking a 1-0 lead within the match's first three minutes. But the Huskies stormed back with three goals in the next 25 minutes.

Goals came from senior Kevin Blaha (with an assist by Pat Maldre), Golz (from Koller) and senior Lenny DeFranco (Koller).

Hargadon, Rosenberg, Bird and Press all sat out the match.

At halftime, the Huskies honored 14 seniors and their parents with a short ceremony.

With the State playoffs less than two weeks away, OPRF hopes to heal and have its full lineup back and clicking at the right time.

"It's like a revolving door in positions," explained Wright. "With new people coming in, it's really hard to get the chemistry going, to really work on our set plays and our combinations. But we're getting there. We can really make a run at this."

 

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