Boys soccer: Buffalo Grove hoping to keep its grip on MSL East
Buffalo Grove was a runaway winner of the Mid-Suburban League East Division boys soccer race last year, finishing the season with 30 points.
Bison coach Darren Llewellyn would admit his team wasn't perfect, but that it did keep improving as the season went on.
The Bison lost one of the best in the state, Kevin Eloiza, who is playing at Dominican University after being honored as the 2018 captain of the Daily Herald All-Area team.
Eloiza was magnificent, while teammate Christian Kozaczka was a first rate center-back, and Jon Peici came out of nowhere to strike fear into opponents.
"We lost a lot from last year, but we have a lot of talented players, tremendous chemistry and a group of seniors who want more than last year," said BG's Ryan Kim.
Buffalo Grove won its first six last fall in league play to all but close out division rivals Wheeling and Hersey and claim its second consecutive MSL East crown.
Then, with former U.S. National team and Everton (EPL) star, Brian McBride on hand along with teammates from the 1988 state championship club, the Bison beat Fremd to earn their first MSL title in 30 years.
Five days later, the Bison were upset in their regional opener against Round Lake to put an abrupt end to their season.
"Going out so early in the state playoffs is all the motivation we need this year," Kim said. "The goal is always to play for the MSL championship, but this time around we want more."
"This team is so much more technical than a year ago, so a lot of our training has focused on one and two-touch drills, working on playing quick, getting everyone involved and introducing several different looks in the way we might play this year," says Llewellyn.
Brian Perez and Kim will partner in the middle of the park, while the return of Michael Lollino to the back line after missing most of 2018 to injury will make Shane Adams, Alex Berk and Marcin Czaplinski an even more watertight unit defensively.
•The 3-9-0 league record of Elk Grove is deceiving in that Alex Stavropoulos' team was 4-2-0 away from the MSL to end at 7-11-0.
"We lost several key seniors, but we have quality coming back who improved during the offseason, plus we picked up a few new players that will make us a strong, competitive team this fall," said the Grens' coach.
Stavropoulos will miss MF Brandon Lazaro-Llanos, but the return of Luis Godinez up top will help the Grens' cause.
•Hersey, along with Wheeling, finished at 7-3-1, but 8 points off the pace of Buffalo Grove for the top spot.
"We'll look to continue to build off the strengths we had as a team, and the overall success (10-4-3) we had last year," said Huskies' coach Mike Rusniak. "We had a good summer and I am very optimistic with the growth of some of our younger players and I expect them to be big contributors this fall."
Ronan Wilcox, who enjoyed a wonderful campaign as a sophomore, will be one player Rusniak will lean on heavily in the middle to help offset the graduation loss of Trey Schmidt, whose work rate and leadership were second to none.
•Prospect enjoyed several quality victories in league competition during a 9-7-1 overall season.
"The MSL is incredibly tough, but I want my guys to approach every game like it's a championship," said Knights coach Mike Andrews, now in his fourth year. "We'll need to show urgency, intensity and composure for 80 minutes and if we do, I feel like we're ready for the challenge ahead."
Andrews has a very good keeper in senior Szymon Mocarski and four other returnees -- Declean Flanagan, Jonny Keane, Bryan Morrison and Colin Sand. •The promise of a bright 2018 fall season was dulled by a laundry list of injuries to send Rolling Meadows to a 1-4-1 start and eventual 5-11-2 finish.
"Things just didn't go our way last year and this season we lose over 50 career goals from our top two players who graduated, so we're going to look to a veteran squad to give us more balance in our attack," said Mustangs coach Brett Olson.
The two-time all-area duo of Sammy Olague and Sergio Lucero Herrera were fun to watch and Olson will ask the veteran trio of Adam Ramirez, Erick Martens and Isaac San Roman to make their mark in 2019.
•Wheeling has continued to churn out highly technical and exciting players during the last 4-5 years and last fall was no different in Jared Urueta, who would share MSL East Player of the Year honors with Eloiza.
The three-year star is gone as is Jesus Avila, a defensive gem, and others who coach Kevin Lennon and his staff will somehow look to replace.
"We lost a lot of good players to graduation, so we'll be looking for players to step up and provide leadership for a team of young and inexperienced players," Lennon said.