There's a feeling of optimism around Schaumburg's boys soccer team this fall, and despite a 1-0 loss in its season opener Tuesday at Maine South, coach Hamid Mehreioskouei believes this campaign will be much more successful than last year.
The Saxons conceded the lone strike of the night at 36 minutes on a well-aimed free kick from Joe Gryzik. But Schaumburg had chances throughout before falling short in its bid to find the equalizer against the Hawks in the third annual Mid-Suburban-Central Suburban Challenge.
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"I saw a lot of good things out there tonight -- especially that we're near 100 percent healthy," said Mehreioskouei, who last season watched one player after another go down to injury, sometimes leaving the former Saxons star with just two or three healthy reserves.
"We had three guys in our first 11 who weren't with us last year (Nick Abel and Christian Michalowski) as well as John Franco, who we lost to an ACL, and we have a few others who are young and have the desire to improve and make contributions. And once we get everyone where they need to be, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape."
Abel, who brought his long-range throw-in skills with him from St. Viator, and Michalowski, back from a stint on the club level, were key figures along the back in the Saxons' revamped defense. Franco and captain Joe Faleni helped get their club going forward from the midfield before Mehreioskouei pushed Faleni, a senior, up top in an effort to spark the attack with Jake Savino sidelined for the night to an injury.
"We were a little rough around the edges at times tonight, but I thought we played well enough at times, and showed that we're capable of doing a lot of good things when we finally sort things out, and correct some of the things that we are doing wrong right now," said Faleni.
Abel, dangerous when he unloads his searing long throws into the box, tested the Maine South defense with several tosses near the spot. But to the credit of the Hawks and keeper Erik Wagner, they kept most of the attempts in front of them with headers or one-touch clearing efforts.
"(South) defended well in its box, they were big and pretty athletic, and although we got a lot of pressure (on) them, they didn't fold and we were unable to get one into the back of the net," said Mehreioskouei.
A wind-aided free-kick from Abel crashed off the woodwork at the half-hour. Moments later, Maine South's Theo Karabatsos hit a low drive on which Saxons senior keeper Ben Beard was forced to stop. Soon after, Beard touched an errant ball just outside of the box, and Gryzik would calmly and deftly hit a wonderful ball over the Saxons' wall and off the post with enough pace to send the ball over the end line.
"We got a little careless with that exchange to give them a chance to score, and we'll have to keep those chances to a minimum this year," said Mehreioskouei.
After the break, both sides played with a faster tempo.
The Saxons used a more aggressive trap with numbers forward as they looked to draw even.
Nick Malone was sent through at 46 minutes and nearly doubled the Maine South lead from in close as he went just over the bar.
Alan Santana connected with Faleni, who attempted to chip Wagner from just inside the box in the 55th minute, while Drew Simon almost redirected past Wagner on a ball sent back in from Abel.
The Saxons' best chance to get level came at 76 minutes when Faleni put Norikazu Honda through -- but an alert Wagner raced from his line to deny the speedy sophomore.
"Things will be different for us this season," said Faleni. "We are healthy, and when you look at our bench, you see guys who can come in and make an impact on the game, and that will be a big difference when compared to last year."