Elk Grove's steady improvement this season continued as two first-half strikes from Jonathan Arzeta earned them a 3-2 victory Tuesday night in a Mid-Suburban League boys soccer matchup at Palatine.
The outcome helped keep the Grens (5-1-0, 3-0-0-9 points) atop the MSL table at night's end after Wheeling drew (0-0) against visiting Barrington.
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"We haven't won anything yet and there's a long way to go, but this was a big win for us tonight," said Elk Grove defensive standout Manny Pillado, who was a key figure in the opening goal of the night and also later as the Pirates (4-2-1, 1-2-1-4 points) poured forward in search of the equalizer.
"They're a fun team to watch, but not play against," said Palatine coach Willie Filian. "To go down 1-0, then 2-0 on a great goal, forcing us to chase the lead, is not the position we wanted to be in tonight. Maybe if we play as hard and well as we did in the second half, it's a different result -- I really don't know."
Palatine meets Fremd on Wednesday night in its third consecutive MSL matchup in as many days.
Pillado's long-range free kick in the 6th minute crashed off the bar and conveniently to teammate Ivan Corona, who went past keeper Kyle Leber to give the visitors an important early advantage.
"(They) had an early chance, but we finished the one we had, and getting that first goal against a team like Palatine was just the thing we needed to give us the momentum," said Pillado.
Senior Gio Garcia, who ran the Grens' attack with flair during the first half, gave Arzeta a wonderful ball down the left side to put the clever senior in a 1-on-2 situation. After turning around a pair of defenders, the Grens' striker buried a ridiculous shot into the far inside netting to double the lead at 19 minutes.
"It was just a great shot, but you have to remember he beat two of our guys before shooting," said Filian.
Down but not out, the Pirates responded quickly with Tyler Curylo pulling one back after Gavin Falotico and Erick Lule helped put their teammate in the position to place his shot just inside the post in the 21st minute.
The Grens and Arzeta provided first-year head coach Rob Shepard with a reminder of just what his club is made of when they fired back to regain the 2-goal cushion just eight minutes after the Pirates had drawn closer.
David Bahena was the architect on the second Arzeta goal, in the 29th minute.
"We did just about everything we wanted to do in that first half -- possess, keep the ball, and make sure Palatine didn't create too many set-piece chances," Shepard said. "It was a great half of soccer, but Palatine really came at us in the second half and make us sweat a little before we got the win."
A brilliant save from Leber kept Bahena from making it 4-1 just moments into the second half, and later, in the 53rd minute, Kyle Clancy brought the Pirates' fans alive when he drove a low smash past keeper Alberto Centeno.
The Pirates got a half-dozen deep, long throws from Falotico and another four corners during the first 20 minutes of the second half. Elk Grove bent but didn't break.
"The guys are working hard to show that they belong at the top of the heap, and a win like this against a storied program and coach sure helps with our confidence," said Shepard. "But there's a lot of soccer still ahead of us."