Boys soccer: Zdravkovic scores twice, Larkin blanks Huntley
The advice given to Larkin's Aleksandar Zdravkovic by his coaching staff at halftime of a scoreless regional game at Huntley Tuesday was rather simple. And somewhat prophetic.
"Take some one-timers, some volleys and go straight up at the keeper," Larkin coach Ken Hall said after the Royals downed No. 12 Huntley 2-0 in a rather chippy Class 3A Huntley regional semifinal.
And that's exactly what the forward did in the second half. Good advice coupled with even better execution made things happen for Zdravkovic on a rebound in the 60th minute. The tall forward sent home a one-timer just from the left of the 18 on ricochet to finally break through for the Royals.
But not even a minute later, Zdravkovic struck again similarly for his 26th goal of the year as No. 5 Larkin (12-7-2), who beat Huntley for a second time this year by a 2-0 tally, capitalized on its best sequence of the night. The Royals can win their ninth regional plaque at Red Raider Stadium Saturday against No. 4 Jacobs at 2 p.m.
"He's got a tremendous sense of the game," Hall said about Zdravkovic's ability. "He's big, fast, has great skill, a great shot but I think it's his sense of where to be and what to do with it at times and certain situations."
It was a dire one for Larkin, who came in on a 2-game skid and fired a 14-7 shot advantage. The Royals watched 12 previous shots go to no avail as Huntley keeper Andrew Fulcer made 7 key saves as Larkin let opportunity after opportunity slide.
"If anything we were playing a little sloppy but it we just needed to play a little harder," Zdravkovic said. "We just needed to play with the ball and we got confused in the first half. We were trying to fight for the ball and at the same time we needed to play with the ball."
It took three-fourths of the game to finally do so, and the sophomore finally broke through when he received a ball to the left of the box off a header and launched a shot that rocketed across the goal and ended up inside the right post.
"It takes practice, that's all it takes," the forward said of his laser. "Without practice it wouldn't have happened."
Goal number two saw another shot come from the right to the left again that Zdravkovic finessed it home.
"It's creating the chances you need to score," he added. "Without getting the chances it's not going to happen. And when you play as a team you're going to play way better."
That's where the defense comes in, and Larkin couldn't have asked for a better performance, as a switch to a 3-5-2 paid off and a mark on Raul Valladares didn't give Huntley much chances.
"We've learned a lot from coach Hall and assistant coach Mike Huizar, they helped us out all season," sweeper John Bahena said. "They let us know how to play and we follow what they say. They say we clear the ball, we clear the ball."
On the flip side, Huntley, who scored just 2 goals in its last 3 games, ended its campaign 7-15 and basically saw a microcosm of what cost them all season.
"I thought we played a good 60 minutes and then we had, unfortunately, our typical breakdown," Red Raiders coach Kris Grabner said. "When you have a talent like (Zdravkovic), you can't have a breakdown. He buried that ball (on the first goal)."
And while Huntley attributed its inability to take away time in the back let alone forcing turnovers, the chippiness on both sides did take its toll toward the end in a game that oddly only featured 2 yellow cards.
"It's a beautiful game when it's played beautifully," Grabner added. "But when it's gimmicked up it's not. And that's where I struggle with all this. (Larkin) deserved to win, they didn't have the breakdowns we had and it's as simple as that."