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updated: 10/22/2013 8:38 PM

Dominant Burlington Central ready for long run

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  • Burlington Central coach Mike Gecan, left, Sean Fitzgerald, and Matt O'Connor talk at a recent practice.

      Burlington Central coach Mike Gecan, left, Sean Fitzgerald, and Matt O'Connor talk at a recent practice.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent

In a word, the Burlington Central boys soccer's team has been dominant this season.

Top-seeded Central, which opened the postseason with an 8-0 win over Sandwich Tuesday at the Class 2A Sycamore regional, also made that its 20th win of the season against just 2 losses. The Rockets won the Big Northern Conference East Division title with a perfect 12-0 mark, the first time the program has won an undefeated league title. Tuesday's win also tied the program record for wins in a season. The 2010 team that finished fourth in Class 2A also won 20 games.

Central, which is looking to come home to its own Class 2A sectional next week, has outscored its opponents 115-15 and has prevented opponents from scoring in 11 of its 22 contests thus far.

For ninth-year coach Mike Gecan this dominance weaves two tales. One, his squad has obviously excelled on both ends of the field. But Gecan wonders how that dominance will play out if the Rockets get into hotly contested postseason matches. Central's only losses were a 4-1 setback to Class 3A DeKalb at the DeKalb Barb Cup back in August and a close 1-0 loss to a strong Class 3A Streamwood team earlier this month. The team also had to come back in a 2-1 BNC East road win at Harvard.

"With our schedule we did not have a lot of competitive games," he said. "That's out of our control. In some of these games we were up three or four goals with less than 10 minutes gone in the game. We will have to be ready. We're looking forward to the postseason. This is where the fun begins."

Central senior defender Austin VanAcker isn't worried about the team in close games.

"We'll be OK," he said. "We know how to get it done in close times. We played well against Streamwood and that was a close game and we had to come back against Harvard. We do well under pressure."

The Rockets benefit from a core group of seniors that have played with each other for numerous years now.

"Most of us have been together all four years," said Van Acker. "That's been really good for us. We know how each other works and we know how to push each other."

Central has excelled by charging out to substantial leads early in games. In eight games this season, the Rockets have scored a goal or more within the first 10 minutes of action.

"We emphasize scoring quickly," said VanAcker. "We try and get teams early and when they are most vulnerable. We score in bunches. We score one and then we score another."

The Rockets also have spread the wealth on the offensive end. While Sean Fitzgerald (19 goals) and Alan Camarena (18 goals) are going down to the wire for the team goal-scoring lead, 12 other players have scored multiple goals this season. Senior midfielder Matt O'Connor has 14 goals, Paolo Sespene has 11, while Argirios Gouriotis has 9. Goalie Brett Rau also has seen action in the field and has 8 goals, while Christopher Leberecht, Stefan Jochum and VanAcker each have 4 goals. Fitzgerald leads the team in assists with 11. Jacob Schutta has 9 assists.

"We know how to finish well and how to get that final pass in," said Fitzgerald, a senior forward, who leads the team with 48 points. "We pass well and we get the ball in the box and finish."

"Offensively our midfield has shown the most consistency," said Gecan. "Our forwards are all very skillful. We have a lot of speed up top. We're able to stretch teams and open up the middle. Our midfield has created most of our offense."

O'Connor added: "Speed is a big part of our offense. We're able to hold the ball and create a lot of opportunities through possession. We're possession-based and we play as a whole unit."

The team's defense certainly isn't chopped liver either. Central goalies, led by Rau, have only been required to make 79 saves.

"We had to replace some people on defense this year," said VanAcker. "Our defense works really well together and we keep improving as a unit. Brett Rau in goal has been amazing for us."

"Austin and Steve (senior defender Saletta) have been a big part of our defense," said O'Connor. "They are back there talking a lot and communicating to everybody. We defend well as a team."

Rau has allowed only 9 goals this year in nearly 1,300 minutes. He has 6 shutouts and 3 shared shutouts.

"Our back line is very consistent and very organized and athletically our goalie is one of the best in the area," said Gecan, who sports a 121-64-20 career mark at Central. His teams have now won 10 or more games seven years in a row.

"I don't want to jinx it, but if you look at this team's accomplishments, they are doing the same things the (2010 team) was doing. This is a good group of guys that has potential right in their hands. Our conditioning is good, the athleticism is there and the technical side is there. It's hard to find flaws with this group. At this point, they have to apply all of it."

Gecan's crew is ready to do just that.

"We know every time we play now it could be our last game," said VanAcker. "We aren't taking anything for granted just because we've had a good season. We have to keep working hard."

Fitzgerald said the memory of last year's playoff exit is still a vivid one.

"Last year was a little disappointing," he said. "We've been waiting for this since Day 1 this season. We're looking forward to showing who we really are."

Central's win against Sandwich sends it to the regional championship game Friday at 4 p.m. at Sycamore against either Kaneland (No. 2 seed) or host Sycamore (No. 3 seed). Central has not faced either of those squads this season.

The Sycamore regional winner advances to the Central sectional Tuesday, Oct. 29 against the winner of the Rochelle regional. Other No. 1 seeds in the sectional include Wheaton Academy (Glenbard South regional), Harvard (Belvidere regional) and Sterling (Rochelle regional).

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