Boys soccer: Palatine downs Buffalo Grove to win 48th MSL Cup
Palatine survived an inspired Buffalo Grove Thursday night at the 48th MSL Soccer Cup to claim the top prize in the league after its 2-1 victory before a big crowd at Chic Anderson Stadium.
Sebastian Khoury was the scoring star on this night — finding the opener in the 31st minute after a mistake in the Bison end — then making it 2-0 with a brilliant finish at 60 minutes.
“We came out nervous and played that way for long stretches of the game against a team that had a lot of the play tonight,” said Khoury, who returned from club soccer to play his senior year for the MSL champs. “But we found a way to work our way through those tough times to get the win.”
“I agree with Sebastian. We played nervous, and for the first 20 minutes they dominated the game. (But) it says a lot about this team that we were able to stay in the game even when we were not at our best,” added Pirates captain Jordan Mok.
After a 4-0 thrashing of the Bison in the first week of the season, the MSL West champs found its opponent on this night to be far more organized and prepared this time around. Buffalo Grove proved worthy of advancing into this final — and more than ready to send the Pirates to their first loss of the season.
“We had a lot of time to get ready for this game, and I felt like the guys did everything we asked in order to compete against the best team in the MSL,” said Bison coach Darren Llewellyn.
“(We) followed the plan almost to perfection. But in this sport, it's not always enough.
The Pirates (17-0-3) survived an early scare when Bison senior Jorge Hernandez Lopez raced into the box in an attempt to win a 50-50 ball to the left of keeper Alex Ganji.
When the two met, and Hernandez Lopez went down, the Bison staff believed their man was fouled and should have been awarded a PK.
“I thought the keeper took me down. (It) all happened so fast, but when the call didn't go our way, we had to put it behind us and get ourselves back into the game mentally,” said Hernandez Lopez.
The visitors did just that. Playing with purpose, verve and conviction, they won far more first and second balls, while defending with a formation that kept the Pirates' high-powered attack from finding its rhythm.
“Credit Buffalo Grove for playing some great defensive soccer, which we had trouble solving. Some of that was because we just did not connect our passes or possess the ball like we've done all season long,” said Pirates coach Aaron Morris.
The Bison looked comfortable in their play until a poor pass deep in their own end allowed the aforementioned Khoury to collect touch away from the Bison keeper to give him time and space to finish with ease.
“We could have easily hung our heads after their first goal, as we've done a couple of occasions this season, but we came out in the second half and played just as strong as we did in the first,” said Bison senior Dennis Likhovid, who during an intermission ceremony was named MSL East POY.
Karol Noga was honored as the MSL West POY. The Pirates star senior was not in uniform after suffering a season-ending ACL injury during the regular season finale against Conant.
“We obviously missed a leader and great talent like Karol out there tonight, but we have a terrific and deep roster so others will need to step in from here on out,” said Morris.
On 60 minutes, Jerry Afonrinwo raced up the left side beating a pair of Bison players before playing a lovely ball to Khoury.
On the turn, and from a near impossible angle, Khoury fired in his left-footed effort that found its way into the far inside netting to double the Pirates advantage.
“That goal was all because of Jerry,” said a gracious Khoury of his 10th goal.
The visitors would continue to throw numbers forward for the final 20 minutes of play hoping to pull one back with enough time to get back even.
However, it would not come until the 80th minute when Deny Grabshuk was brought down in the box.
Likhovid would convert his spot-kick for his 15th goal of the season.
“I am extremely proud of the guys for their effort tonight. We played about as well as we could have,” said Llewellyn.
“I am very happy for the guys and thrilled for this conference championship, but we've got a lot of work ahead of our regional opener next week,” said Morris.
The Pirates are now 9-2 overall in this longest running championship contest in the state.