The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys soccer team wrapped up its pandemic shortened season by dropping a hard-fought 2-1 contest to visiting Lyons Township High School April 15 in the latest installment of this intense rivalry.
“The last five years or so, it’s come down to either penalty kicks, overtime or the final 10 minutes with the two of us,” said OPRF coach Jason Fried. “It’s the history of us playing back-and-forth; both programs have a lot of energy with their crowds, and a lot of the players know each other. They go at it because they’re competitors, but there’s also a lot of respect for each other.”
For the majority of the first half, the field was heavily tilted in favor of LTHS, which created several good scoring opportunities. But OPRF senior goalkeeper Zach Shack came up big with some huge saves to keep things scoreless.
Ultimately however, the Lions (11-1) would break through thanks to a goal by Max Behm with 11:30 left in the half, and LTHS took the 1-0 lead into intermission.
But the Huskies (5-5-1) responded to begin the second half by taking the attack to LTHS, and they were rewarded about nine minutes in thanks to senior midfielder Paul Garcia, who took a nice feed from junior defender Eric Jackson and beat LTHS goalkeeper Johnathan Laczynski for the equalizer.
“The ball came to me and my only instinct was to shoot,” said Garcia. “Luckily it went in, and scoring is always a great feeling.”
OPRF kept up the pressure and produced a few more quality chances but couldn’t find another goal. Knowing that LTHS is one of the state’s top teams, Fried felt the Huskies missed a chance to take control of the match and that the Lions gradually shifted momentum.
“We had our chances,” Fried said. “We hit the crossbar once, and Easton [Bogard] just missed by six inches left on another shot.”
After those misses, the Lions stepped up their pressure and got the game-winning goal with 6:23 remaining on a header by Brian Salvino off a nice cross by Behm.
Despite the loss, Fried was proud of the effort and determination the Huskies showed against the West Suburban Silver champions.
“I congratulate [LTHS], but I also take nothing away from our boys. They fought the whole game,” said Fried. “It was back-and-forth; unfortunately we came out on the wrong end. But we can live with that, and I’m proud of the way they played.”
Overall, both Fried and Garcia felt the season was a success in spite of the challenges playing in a pandemic.
“We always say this, but it’s more important this year. The best thing you get out of soccer is not just a human connection, but the bond you get from it,” Fried said. “This group of players from the seniors to the freshmen is something special. The last seven weeks have been amazing. They battled every game and played really good soccer. I’m so proud of all these guys.”
“It started off slow, but as the season progressed and we got used to playing with each other, we got better as a team,” added Garcia. “I have a lot of good memories and I’m going to miss the players, coaches and the school.”
The Huskies lose nine players to graduation, including Garcia and Shack. But Bogard and Jackson lead a strong group of returners for the fall, and Fried is optimistic about continued improvement and success for OPRF.
“We look good for next season,” Fried said. “If we continue to get better and hold each other accountable, we’re going to be in good shape.”