Three first-half goals sent Lyons Township's fans into orbit while visiting St. Viator spun off track in a 3-0 victory for the hosts in the second semifinal match of the Ninth Annual Pepsi Showdown on Saturday afternoon in LaGrange.
Lyons (8-2-1) will face defending state champion Morton (13-0-0), a 3-0 victor against Larkin, in the tournament's championship match next Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
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"It would be easy to say that playing three games in as many days against three very good ballclubs finally caught up to us and took its toll," said St. Viator coach Mike Taylor, "but that wouldn't be fair to (LT) nor correct, because they were the better team today."
St. viator had beaten Warren 3-0 on Thursday, then earned a 1-0 victory over Totino-Grant (Minn.) on Friday.
"Lyons is big, strong and athletic, and what they do, they do very well," said Taylor. "Of course, we didn't help them by allowing three very bad first-half goals, either."
An LT free kick from the near touchline at 23 minutes saw captain Brett Heimerdinger swing a superb ball toward the back post. Frankie Kocimski was there to thump a ferocious header into the back of the net, delighting the mostly partisan crowd.
"Some might say it's an advantage to play a big tournament game such as this before your home crowd, but the fact is, there's no advantage, because every team still here is very good, and the size of the crowd did not have an influence on the outcome of this game," said LT coach Paul Labbato.
Haimerdinger and Collin Smothers were responsible for winning nearly every ball challenged for in the middle of the park, a statistic which did not go unnoticed by Taylor.
"There was more of a sense of urgency from Lyons than us," said Taylor, "and we just got out-worked in the middle for most of the afternoon."
Once again, it was another set-piece chance that fell in favor of the hosts. This time it was Ben Larson initiating by flashing a cross through the box to Joe Lupano, who was stationed at the back post.
It became 3-0 just moments before the half hour when Matt Murphy was the only man following the flight of a ball flicked forward from Emilio Godinez.
"When it's 1-0, or even 2-0, you know there's always a chance, especially if you can cut the lead in half before the break. But that third goal was a killer today," said Taylor.
St. Viator had a near-miss soon after the third goal when Jackson Owens' slalom run to a superb ball from Troy Wheeler from out of the back nearly connected.
But the second half was far from attractive soccer, with both coaches calling it ugly and chippy.
Several yellow card bookings were in order as the second period went on, and LT's Spiros Kass was sent off following a 50-50 challenge at 60 minutes.
Forced to play a man down for the last 20 minutes of regulation, LT went into a defensive shell. St. Viator changed its formation to three in the back, moving Wheeler, its top back-liner, into the role of attacking midfielder.
Godinez cleared a potential St. Viator goal off the end line at 68 minutes after Spencer Moore's inward serve off a corner slipped through the gloves of keeper Peter Nolan and to an awaiting Wheeler. Later, Moore and Nolan combined on a free kick to nearly have a go on frame.
"We needed to give Spencer more help today, and, again, we didn't defend as well as we have of late," said Taylor. "I thought (Ryan) Henry gave us a lot of quality service today and played a solid all-around game, and at times, especially in the second half, we got some things going. But we weren't as sharp as we needed to be in their end."
"Nonetheless, I am proud of the fact that we got to the semis for the first time, because the boys deserved to be here with their play in the tournament."