AT boys soccer punched their ticket into the finals of the Joe Novy tournament on Tuesday with a 2-1 triumph over the Glenbard North Panthers in a second-half comeback.
The win came after goals from Midfielders Sebastian Alicea and Alex Sandoval as well as stellar performances from keepers Joey Dionne and Mateo Gomez. It also kept the Blazers’ record flawless, boosting them to 3-0-0 on the season.
The game was a part of the ongoing Joe Novy tournament. Despite a win over the defending state champion west Chicago the previous Saturday, AT still had a lot on the line. A win would send them to the championship game. A loss, however, meant a contest for 5th place on the dreaded East turf.
During a huddle before the game, several players reiterated a message to the team.
“We want more than Saturday.”
AT’s energy quickly fell flat on the field, as they failed to take control of toss-ups.
“Keep hustling Sandoval, we’ll get one,” head coach Ryan Dini told his co-captain.
However, AT’s efforts soon became subpar as the Panthers came out prowling.
Glenbard relentlessly fired on Dionne and the Blazers’ crumbling defense. After numerous saves and even a ball that the Panthers thought to be pulled out of the net, chaos broke out in the box and Pablo De La Cruz put a deafening goal on the disheartened AT team.
“We are not good enough just to come out here and play,” head coach Ryan Dini told his players after the score. “The energy level raises us to a very good team. I didn’t see us energy-wise where we need to be at.”
Energy remained flat. Frustration and anger hiked between coaches and players as AT continued to struggle. Despite numerous corner kicks, free kicks, and throw-in opportunities, AT failed to get anything going.
The team trudged in defeatedly at the half.
Dini was firm on what needed to be done in the second half. “We are dribbling way too much. Get rid of the ball,” he said.
“We promoted the hell out of this game and we gave the fans nothing,” midfielder Matias Aguilar told his teammates. “We have 40 minutes to turn this around.”
“You’re gonna have a fun second half,” said Dini. “We’ll see what this team is made of.”
Gomez took over the net and the team marched back out ready to make a miracle.
The team instantly played stronger, keeping the ball away from Gomez to start the final 40 minutes. After a solid sequence of passes 10 minutes in, AT fired off a shot that had too much power and sailed over the goal.
The Panthers began to retreat back onto offense, but in the blink of an eye, Alicea had possessed the ball again. Alicea called off Sandoval, found the open spot, and sent the bench into a state of pandemonium as he tied the game with a perfect shot.
“I thought I hit the post, not going to lie,” said Alicea. “I never call Alex (Sandoval) off of anything. I literally yelled at him ‘mine.’”
“I feel so good I don’t even want water,” Alicea added to his teammates.
The Blazer energy was off the charts as both the offense and defense boomed. Several Blazer shots and a rolling grab in traffic made by Gomez kept the crowd on their feet.
With 15 minutes left in the game, defender David Peters took the ball out of the defensive zone to set up a play near Glenbard’s goal.
Defender Brian Teran went down hard in the corner. The Panthers were called on the fall and shown the yellow card.
The foul set up a Blazer free kick. Midfielder Nico Parente delivered the kick and assist and connected with Sandoval, who managed to maneuver the ball through the jungle of Panthers and past the keeper for a goal. The Blazers once again exploded into epic madness, running to the bleachers to cheer with the rowdy crowd.
The Panthers failed to match AT for the remainder of the half. With seconds to go, the Blazers grabbed possession and ran down the clock, finalizing the 2-1 win.
“No matter what, we’re always humble,” Sandoval told his team. “We’re not gonna brag about it. They [the fans] talk about it. Let them mention it.”
“We let the skills show what we can do,” added Peters. “This is the sport for our school.”
Sandoval ended the huddle with a harsh reminder as he looked at his injured teammates.
“Every game is the state final. We don’t know what’s gonna happen to any of us.”
AT will take on Sycamore for the tournament title this Saturday.