Two of the best Class 3A boys soccer teams in the northern half of the state played to a 2-2 draw Saturday afternoon at Maine West Stadium in Des Plaines.
Miguel Lopez drove home the equalizer in the 74th minute to give Maine West a well-deserved result with visiting Warren (12-3-2) in a nonconference contest between two clubs recently awarded the top seed in their respective sectionals.
The under-manned Warriors (13-1-3), who were without five starters, overcame a drab second-half effort.
The Blue Devils found themselves in immediate trouble off the opening whistle, but eventually sprang to life to strike for two first-half goals, led by senior Daniel Szczepanek.
"We could not have started any worse than we did today, and despite the conditions, we came back to give a pretty good effort to get the draw," said Warren coach Jason Ahonen.
A rock-hard playing surface for a different style of play from a couple of clubs who can possess the ball with great success.
"It was very difficult to possess for us, but that was no excuse for their first goal which came just a few moments into the game," Ahonen said.
Alexis Salgado finished with a low drive past keeper RJ Hill after standout Nelson Herrera (22 goals) provided the helper by waiting for his mate to finish a nice little run from left to right.
"With us sometimes having four sophomores and a freshman out there, it was great for us to get on the scoreboard first and not be chasing the lead with so many new guys out there," Divincenzo said.
Szczepanek, among the top players in the state at his position, caused plenty of trouble for the Warriors with more than a half-dozen flip throws he unleashed toward Dennis Chronopoulos and a pair of first-time back-line starters.
That forced the Warriors' keeper to make a couple of close-range saves while also taking a physical beating when he elevated to challenge the throws aimed at Nick Wegrznowicz and Sean Kirwan.
Chronopoulos could do nothing about the Blue Devils' first goal at 25 minutes when Nick Haas' one-timer off a Szczepanek corner settled into the back of the net.
Without the veteran presence of Jerry Espinoza, Chayanne Trejo and Ozzie Fernandez at midfield for the Warriors, it wasn't long before the senior trio of Kirwan, Wegrznowicz and Szczepanek grabbed hold of the run of play.
They helped keep the ball in the Warriors' end for the next quarter hour after the Haas goal, leading up to a second goal in the period for the visitors.
"We were just way too young and inexperienced in the middle without those guys, and Warren really took advantage of us," said Divincenzo.
A brilliant individual display of skill and desire allowed Szczepanek to beat three players down the left side.
When his initial shot at Chronopoulos was turned away, spilling a rebound inside the box, the senior, who never stopped running, finished just seconds before intermission.
For all of its troubles with possession in the first half, the Blue Devils finally seemed to find their form with a strong 15-minute effort after the break.
That prompted the Warriors once again to defend with all their might.
Szczepanek's marvelous cross-field serve to Auner Solis appeared to be just what the Warren faithful was looking for. However the right post stopped Solis' wicked strike in the 68th minute.
Six minutes later, the Warriors got even when Lopez ran freely to Danny Silva's well-struck free kick from the near touchline and headed past new keeper Nick Hathuc.
"I am very pleased with the draw, especially when Warren had so much of the play, and we had a bunch of guys missing, and so many new players out there against a really great team," Divincenzo said.
Warren has a busy week ahead of them with four matches on its schedule, including an important fixture with NSC Lake Division rival Libertyville on Thursday.
"We got out of here healthy, and with a draw, and that's a positive for us right now," Ahonen said.