A tough season got a little tougher Thursday night for host Hoffman Estates after visiting Elk Grove dealt the Hawks a 2-0 Senior Night defeat.
The Grens (4-5-4, 3-5-1) were in control as soon as the second half began after coach Joe Bush changed his formation, adding a third striker. Though it took nearly half an hour for Elk Grove to double its lead, there was no doubt who was the more dynamic side after the Hawks had honored their senior players and their families.
"(Their) sweeper was getting to everything in that first half, so we knew we had to do something in order to get something going in our attack in the second half," said Bush, who recently welcomed a second son, Michael. "Our backline did a terrific job of holding off (Hoffman) so we figured if they continued to do so, we could then afford to push another forward up. And it didn't take us long to create some chances, and be more dangerous in the final third."
Elk Grove leading scorer, Connor Murphy, one of only four seniors on the roster, noted flexibility is a strength for the Grens.
"Our back line of (Manny Pillado), Avery (Chang) and Tony (Romero) are a very skillful group, and they have really come into their own, which is going to make us a better team from here on out," Murphy said. "We had a lot of success the other day against Prospect when we went to three up top, and tonight, after we made the change, our attack really began to come alive."
The Hawks (1-10-1, 0-7-1) opened with Luis Ortiz and John Kubota enjoying most of the touches going forward, and plenty of the play stayed in the Elk Grove end. But Hoffman Estates had trouble getting into the final third with any regularity.
"We had a very good start for the first 20 minutes or so, much like we've done so many times this season," said Hoffman Estates coach Matt Sriver. "But it seems when we concede that one goal, and because of our tremendous youth and inexperience, we hang our heads a little bit and go back to some of those old habits that we seem to have trouble putting behind us.
Hoffman Estates had a half-dozen freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup, including freshman Conrad Kieruzal, whose return from injury helped tighten up the back line.
The Grens applied pressure in the final 10 minutes before intermission, primarily through Murphy as well as with Jonathan Arzeta, Gio Garcia and Ben Castellanos. Their midfield play gave the visitors needed pace and energy to rev their attack.
An emphatic finish by senior Guillermo Anaya off a helper from Keyshawn Brown at 55 minutes brought the Grens' bench and fans alive.
Then, for the second time in this match, the Hawks were gifted a big chance to get into the back of the net when keeper Alberto Centeno bobbled a serve into the box. But he quickly pounced on the loose ball inside the 6-yard box to end the threat.
"It seems when our opponent makes a mistake, we cannot seem to take advantage -- but when it's our mistake, well you know what happens then," said Sriver.
Mynor Sarti, who was strong all evening for the Hawks along the back line along with teammates Kieruzal, Alex Tooren and Adam Schultz, could do nothing when Murphy redirected a corner from Garcia in the 78th minute to close out the match.
"We just need our guys to continue to play hard, just as they did against Palatine recently, which is the top team in the MSL and the No. 1 seed in our sectional," said Sriver. "We've got a very young team, and it's taken us awhile to come together, but for us, it's all about the postseason from here on out, and I really feel that we've got a good chance to have a strong run."