Maine West secured a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Niles North on Thursday night to set itself up for a share of the Central Suburban North crown.
Scoring sensation Nelson Herrera stunned the Vikings in the opening seconds of the match when he bagged his 22nd goal of the season. Then, midway through the first half, teammate Alonso Guerrero helped the home side earn 3 key points with his game-winner before a Des Plaines Park District Soccer Night crowd inside Maine West Stadium.
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"We played a great 10 minutes of the first half, then again in the second half, but in between we didn't manage the lead as well as we should have and basically did what we had to do in order to come away with a win," said Warriors coach Mike Divincenzo, whose club is now tied with Highland Park and Glenbrook North for the top spot in the division with one week to go in the regular season.
Herrera slipped free along the left side, then tricked his way in on Vikings keeper Dan Miranda, who had little chance to stop the well-placed shot from the Warriors junior just 20 seconds into the contest.
As expected, the Warriors (13-1-2, 3-1-0) unleashed their usual high-tempo attack after the opening strike. And they nearly got another when the North back line allowed Herrera to get in close once again -- only this time, Miranda stopped a low smash in the fourth minute.
"It was like we got the lead, but didn't go for the kill," said DiVincenzo, "and even after we added that second goal, we still didn't put them away to allow them to hang around until they got their PK."
A foul gave the Warriors a free-kick chance, and Jerry Espinoza's superb bending serve around the Vikings wall found Guerreo. He flashed across the six to redirect past Miranda with a header to double the Maine West lead at 22 minutes.
Maine West defenders John DeLeon and Jason Gonzalez helped make Jecsan Torres' time between the sticks in the first half a calm one. They helped keep the Vikings (3-8-3, 0-3-0) from generating anything dangerous on frame in the first 40 minutes, but were called upon in the final quarter hour to assist keeper Dennis Chronopoulos, who took over for Torres after the break.
It was almost a case of deju vu all over again for the visitors, who saw Herrera get to the near post and go just wide, this time 22 seconds into the second period.
"It's not good when you allow a goal right when the game begins, then (almost) again when the second half starts up," said second-year Niles North coach Yoon Lee. "We've been behind so often of late, but we didn't hang our heads or give in. And after that PK, we came alive an made a game of it, much to the credit of all of our guys."
Vikings captain Will Braubach stepped up and calmly converted on a spot kick to bring the visitors within a goal of getting even in the 63rd minute.
"Hopefully we've learned some things from what transpired tonight, and correct them after we watch some film, and talk about what we need to do to put teams away and make things a little easier on ourselves," said DiVincenzo.
The Warriors finish divisional play next week at Deerfield, while co-leader Highland Park meets Maine East and Glenbrook North faces Deerfield.