Boys soccer: Mundelein upsets Warren in regional final
With 10 seconds left in Saturday's game, Mundelein senior goalie Nathan Espinosa knelt down at the 10-yard line and slowly collapsed forward on the field turf.
A first-year varsity starter, Espinosa was one of the star players in Saturday's 1-0 win over Warren in the Class 3A Mundelein regional boys soccer championship game.
Espinosa collected 8 saves in the shutout victory to knock off the North Suburban Conference champion on a cold afternoon.
The Mustangs (11-7-3) advanced to play Barrington in Tuesday's Fremd sectional semifinal. The Broncos posted a 2-1 win over Libertyville on Saturday.
Before a large crowd, Espinosa etched his name into Mundelein soccer lore with two dramatic penalty kick saves in the 79th minute to preserve the victory.
Espinosa followed the same game plan on each penalty kick: Control his emotions and dive to his right. Both times, Espinosa was successful, causing bedlam on the field following a pair of questionable referee calls.
"I saw my teammate, John Chambers, who kept telling me to 'stick to my gut', the same thing he told me against Lake Zurich in our last game during the penalty kicks, and that's what I did," Espinosa said. "This is special, especially since we were playing for a regional plaque. This is amazing. Ever since the start of the season, finding out I was going to be a starter, I've played every game with heart. That definitely was the best two saves of my career."
What prompted the odd scenario that nearly caused bedlam in the stands on the pitch was a pair of referee calls. First off, Mundelein's Carson Kowalski was called for a foul for tripping in the box with 1:37 left.
But Espinosa's diving save to his right at the near post seemingly signaled a victory for the Mustangs. However, the referees gathered away from the box, ruling that Espinosa came off his line early.
Warren's Alexis Medina attempted the second penalty kick, though Espinosa doubled his pleasure with another diving save to his right. After another referee discussion that nearly prompted a third penalty kick, the Mustangs finally were allowed to celebrate their first regional title since 2018.
"They were saying our keeper stepped off the line before it was touched, both times," Mundelein coach Sebastian Falinski said. "I have a lot of questions. But Nathan has been spectacular all season long, coming up big when we needed him. We never gave up hope. We kept fighting back and bounced back and found ways to get it done."
The Blue Devils (13-5-4) fell shy of winning their second straight regional title, and came up short of their goal of duplicating the program's run to the sectional finals in 2019. Warren had to replace 15 seniors from its spring team, which finished undefeated in 15 games of the non-playoff season. Still, the Blue Devils managed to win their second straight conference title.
"We had a lot of positives and fun this year," Warren coach Jason Ahonen said. "These games, like today, are ones we have won throughout the season. To lose, it stings, but I have to say I was very proud of the way the boys handled the loss after the game. They congratulated them and handled the loss with class."
Mundelein junior midfielder Omar Mangato, off an excellent cross from Nico Rodriguez, tallied the only goal of the game. Mangato notched his ninth goal of the season, knocking a shot into the back of the net with 17:57 remaining.
"We were on a counter attack, and Nico gave me a great assist," Mangato said. "I saw it coming perfectly across the box. I just had to slide it a little, put it into the top corner with my left foot."