Connel McHigh rescued Christian Liberty Academy's boys soccer squad from a defeat at home with his 71st-minute equalizer to give the Chargers a 1-1 draw with visiting Morgan Park Academy on Friday afternoon in Arlington Heights.
"It was a good result for us," said Chargers coach Jed Bennett, who guided last year's group to a nearly flawless season featuring conference and regional championships before a sectional loss ended a deep postseason run.
"We've got just three seniors back from a year ago, and a roster filled filled with so many first-time varsity players," Bennett said. "But I've seen growth with each game that we've played, and today was the first time this season that I felt we looked and played like a team."
The visiting Warriors (1-3-1) proved to be a quality side on this day, which began under clear skies but ended with ominous clouds, spotty rain and a drastic change in temperature after intermission.
Morgan Park targeted Ji Heon Jun, Jeff Cartwright and Arthur Ortiz up top, with unselfish and creative midfielder Sami Shabeeb providing plenty of distribution to them.
Coach Bennett opened with a 4-5-1 formation. He opted to use one of his veterans, David Colbert, alongside newcomer Travis Bennett, and Bennett distinguished himself for the Chargers (1-5-3) in a wonderful 80 minutes of service at midfield.
"Travis did it all on both sides of the ball for us today," said Jed Bennett.
Colbert's angled shot went just wide of the back post in the Chargers' first clean look on frame at 17 minutes. Later, after McHigh created a free kick, Bennett had a go at Morgan Park keeper Tony Szafarczyk.
"Today we possessed and passed much better than any other game this year," said Chargers goalkeeper Jack Salsgiver, who is in his third year as a starter after a career-best 8 shutouts last fall. "It's such a new and different team from last year, but I feel we're slowly coming around as a group."
Salsgiver's brother Tom, along with Josh Nicholson and James Warda, finally settled in along the back after some early troubles with the Warriors' attack. But the trio could do nothing about the opening goal of the game in the 57th minute.
That's when Jun chested down a ball 30 yards away from Salsgiver before smashing home his right-footer.
The goal opened things up from both clubs, but Christian Liberty enjoyed the run of play for the next 12 minutes leading up to McHigh's goal.
The senior collected a loose ball in front of the Chargers' bench at the near touchline, and with an enterprising run, broke down the Morgan Park back line before firing past Szafarczyk. Morgan Park's keeper had ventured out of his box in hopes of cutting down the angle.
The Chargers next host IMSA on Tuesday to begin a stretch of three games in three days.