It may have been just a simple off-the-cuff comment when Downers Grove North coaches told OPRF head coach Paul Wright after the Trojans edged the Huskies 1-0 on Sept. 20 that his team is going places, but it was information Wright already knew.
After all, the first year head coach had just seen his injury-laden squad go toe-to-toe with a top-notch team. The Huskies (10-3-2) had also shown their prowess defeating such ranked teams as Hinsdale Central and Leyden at the outset of the season.
Despite changes in the lineup against Downers, OPRF outshot its West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe 17-15 and nearly tied the game in the closing minutes. The Trojans scored the game-winner with 15 minutes remaining on a corner shot.
"This game was a tough one to lose," said Wright. "Again the boys showed a lot of heart and pride. Our chemistry is really developing and we should have had this one. A loss like this is tough, but it shows how talented these boys are."
Coming off a brutal Morton tournament where the team suffered numerous injuries but persevered to earn third place, Wright was forced to insert players in different positions against Downers.
Robin Hargadon, himself nursing several ailments including a deep thigh bruise, was moved to stopper to take the place of the injured Aaron Press, who Wright expects to be out with a severe muscle pull for at least another week.
"[Hargadon] not being up top really took away one of our solid feeds," said Wright, "but he really distributed the ball well and gave us numerous opportunities."
Other members of the walking wounded include Mark Rosenberg (ankle), Liam Bird (ankle), Brad Clarke (ankle) and Hilel Erhman (ankle) and Jared Reddrick (muscle pull).
Stepping up of late for the Huskies is goalkeeper Jim Gullo, who has notched nine shutouts and allowed just six goals (non PK's) on the season. Wright calls his Division I prospect "one of the premier goalkeepers in the state."
Gullo has been aided by Jared Rifis, a former midfielder and forward who has moved to the sweeper position. "[Jared] is one of the reasons why Jimmy has many of the shutouts," said Wright.
Wright has seen enough of the way his team plays to make some bold predictions.
"We have not gotten a lot of recognition but we just went to toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in [the] state. Teams are going to hear about this close match and think twice. We took down Hinsdale Central with one man down for 65 minutes and a loss like this says a lot about the development of the program. Expect to see the Huskies make a run in the playoffs."
The Huskies edged Hinsdale South 1-0 in a conference crossover game on Saturday.
OPRF veers back into the Silver Division race again when it hosts Lyons Township tomorrow (Thursday, 4:30 p.m.). The Lions crushed Proviso West last week 7-0, finished third at the Pepsi Showdown tournament, and currently hold an impressive 9-1-1 overall record.