Boys soccer / 36th Mid-Suburban League Cup
Palatine vs. Buffalo Grove
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Buffalo Grove High School, 1100 W. Dundee Road.
Prior meeting this year: Palatine 3, Buffalo Grove 1
Palatine update: After conceding 3 goals in its first two matches of the season, the Pirates allowed a paltry 8 over its next 16 games, including a 1-0 victory over one of the league's best, Barrington, last Thursday night to earn a spot in its 10th MSL Cup in program history. Palatine is in pursuit of a conference-best eighth league championship trophy.
"I never had any doubt this team would be playing for the MSL title," said Palatine talented junior sweeper Kyle Clancy. "It's a group that plays so hard, and for each other, both in training and during the games. A lot of hard work and effort can go a long way."
While many opponents come away wondering exactly how they lost to the MSL West champs, all agree the Pirates' work rate, high energy and defensive pressure is what finally did them in.
"It's what we do, and we do it for 80 minutes, whether it's a starter or a guy coming off the bench, and everybody understands their role and has bought into the systems," said Palatine's Jeremy Velinski.
The Pirates' senior captain figures a 2-1 loss in PKs to Evanston at the recent Mid-States Classic gave Palatine a reminder about just how quickly things can change if it lets down for even a moment. That kind of flaw didn't show much against MSL foes. On their way to a 10-0-1 record in the conference, the Pirates outscored their opponents 18-6, squeezing in a quartet of nervous 1-0 victories along the way.
Buffalo Grove update: The Bison got off to a rip-roaring start as they handed seven straight teams a footballing lesson, outscoring the competition 35-9 to march into the MSL with plenty of momentum on its side.
"It was great winning the Lake Park tournament to open up the season, and beating our first seven opponents so badly, but I feel it gave all of us a false sense of confidence, and those straight losses to Lake Forest, then Conant really woke us up to what could happen if we didn't get back to playing the way we knew we could," said BG senior Alberto Eloyza. The back-to-back losses helped the Bison rebound, but after winning three of their next four matches, another bout of back-to-back defeats (2-1 to MSL East rival Hersey and 3-1 to Palatine) suddenly put the club in a precarious position on the final day of the regular season.
"We needed to take care of our own business, and we did, beating Hoffman Estates," said BG senior defender Alexix Herrera. "Then we got some help from Conant (who defeated Hersey), so we were able to get through. For a team with so many players back from last year, when we thought we had that game against Prospect in the sectionals (semifinal) but then lost in PK's ... This was really important to all of us to get into the championship match in our final year here."
BG is playing for the league title for the first time since 2000 and the fourth time in its history.
Palatine key players: Jeremy Velinski (Sr., DMF, 7g, 12a), Kyle Clancy (Jr., D), Josh Lee (Sr., F, 7g, 5a), Kyle Leber (Sr., GK, 7.5 shutouts), Matt Fleischhauer (Sr., D), Dave Clark (Sr., MF, 6g, 9a), Ulises Alcaraz (Sr., D), Cesar Valdez (Sr, F).
If attacking is your style, Palatine's probably not your favorite team. It's not that the MSL West representatives can't get forward and strike, but it's their pressure from box-to-box and team defense which sets the Pirates apart. "We've had a lot of 1-0, 2-0 games, and it's no secret that we can hold and manage a lead very well, defend, create a lot of pressure, and control the flow and rhythm of the match the way we'd like it to go," says Pirates coach Willie Filian. For Palatine, it all begins with Kyle Clancy, the leader of the pack along the back. He's a strong tackler and an excellent reader of the game, and his defensive mates Matt Fleischhauer and Ulises Alcaraz also are first-class. Pirates keeper Kyle Leber is a proven leader, consistent as a shot-blocker and strong with his distribution and verbal instructions. Senior Jeremy Velinski never stops working for his team, is superb in the air, ferocious on the tackle, and downright dangerous in the Pirates' trademark dead-ball plays with his inch-perfect long throws. The midfield unit led by Dave Clark out-hustles opponents and counters sharply. Senior forwards Josh Lee and Cesar Valdez initiate a high percentage of deep throws and corners, but both are quite capable of striking on their own when the situation arises. Filian and assistant coach Charlie Gries are masterful tacticians, and their rotation off a strong bench always seems to provide just what the coaching duo is looking for.
Buffalo Grove key players: Irving Eloiza (Sr., MF, 6g, 10a), Irving Balboa (Sr., F-MF, 12g, 9a), Demo Drakoulis (Sr., F, 15g), Zach Masciopinto (So., MF, 8g, 4a), Alberto Eloyza (Sr., MF, 7a) Alexix Herrera (Sr., D), Daniel Ramirez (Sr., D), Aldo Figueroa (Sr., MF).
The true strength of this club is at midfield, beginning with Irving Eloiza. Unfortunately, he'll be unavailable for this contest after an red card was issued during BG's division-clinching match with Hoffman Estates late last week. Fortunately for the Bison, midfield is their strongest position in terms of depth and talent, and while Eloiza is a key figure, teammates Alberto Eloyza, Zach Masciopinto and Aldo Figueroa all have the kind of skill to get the BG attackers scoring opportunities. "It's going to be hard not to be out there in the match that I've waited four years to be a part of, but we have a lot of very good players in place to step up and do the job, many of them who remember what it was like to be so close advancing into the sectional final against Fremd," said Eloiza, BG's captain. The dynamic duo of Demo Drakoulis and Irving Balboa has produced at total of 27 goals between them. Alexix Herrera is a well-rounded back-liner, while Daniel Ramirez delivers quality service in all of the set-piece opportunities for this high-powered attack.
Palatine coach Willie Filian (22nd year, 316-135-44): "Tactically, we won't do anything different from our approach the entire season -- that is, to get distribution behind their line and pressure them into bad decisions, or mistakes in their own third. With BG and their highly skilled attackers, it's important to have them in their own half of the field. If they establish possession in our half, we're in trouble."
Buffalo Grove coach Rick Carlson (2nd year, 24-10-6): "We've been able to control the run of play with our possession all year long, and even in our first match with (Palatine) we were able to do so. I don't think that will change, but our focus this time around will be to defend their dead-ball opportunities, while limiting them to just a few, and then try to finish our chances. This will be match of polar opposites. We will try to possess and control with skill and finesse, and Palatine will try to control by being incredibly athletic and aggressive. I don't believe you can find two (more) opposite teams. I hope our lads understand an appreciate what they have been able to accomplish by getting into a match like this in such a highly competitive soccer conference like the MSL, because it's something very special."
-- Mike Garofola