AT Soccer took a tumble the week of Sept. 26 after losing two conference contests against the Mustangs of Downers Grove South (DGS) and the top-ranked Dukes of York.
Despite the games’ shared heartbreaking aspect, both were incredibly different in nature. The Blazers’ wrestle with DGS on Sept. 28 resulted in a botched penalty kick shootout after a two goal comeback and double overtime while the Sept. 30 showdown against York was a 5-0 Blazer battering.
The road melee against the Mustangs was attributed largely to a subpar showing during the first 40. Despite a back and forth effort, AT lacked energy and left the scoreboard empty. The Mustangs, however, managed to sneak past the Blazer defense and Goalie Joey Dionne twice to sway the score and momentum away from the visitors. One of these goals marked the first time AT had allowed a penalty kick score this season.
“That was something unexpected,” said head coach Ryan Dini after the penalty kick score. “It definitely changed the complexity of the game.”
Despite having fallen into a two goal hole, AT managed to grasp onto some impetus.
Captain Alex Sandoval kickstarted AT’s comeback after firing a long goal into the top of the DGS’s net.
Energy surged for AT.
The Blazers came in at the half now only down by one score.
The Mustangs found themselves struggling as AT blazed through the back half, creating a plethora of scoring contingencies. The game tying goal came on a Blazer free kick from midfield. After one Blazer missed the ball, Midfielder Sebastian Alicea jumped into its path and fired a perfect shot on the Mustangs.
“Going into the second half, the energy was completely changed,” said goalie Mateo Gomez. “We had the energy on our side, so we did not let them score and we came back.”
Regulation ended with a balanced scorecard and a very unbalanced share of momentum favoring AT.
“I think that the come from behind really shows the character of our guys,” said Dini. “Being on the road, we showed who we are.”
The game was far from over. Two 10 minute overtime periods of absolute fight filled with scoring chances resulted in incredible saves and clean sheets for both goalies. The game went to penalty kicks, where each team received four opportunities to determine the victor.
“In overtime we were playing to win it,” said Dini. “They [DGS] were playing to go to PKs [penalty kicks] so they were putting everybody behind the ball. We just couldn’t break through.”
Gomez entered the net prepared to continue his save streak and four players set out to finish out a great offensive showing.
AT’s effort fell to shambles.
After AT missed its first kick and DGS capitalized, the Blazers lost their morale. Despite getting hands on three of the Mustang’s four shots, Gomez’s efforts fell short as DGS completed a perfect 4-0 penalty kick sweep. AT only made two.
Emotions seethed as Blazers broke down.
“I can’t believe we lost that,” said captain David Peters. “It’s all of our faults. We came in thinking this game was gonna be easy.”
“Our guys were devastated,” said Dini. “ The bus ride home was the most quiet bus ride I’ve ever been a part of.”
AT returned home two days later desperate to delete a long streak of defeat against the Dukes, ranked in the top five in the state.
Despite a flash of Blazer confidence, York capitalized early on a stolen possession and fired a shot across the field and past Gomez, smothering AT’s morale. AT never took back the momentum and after 40 minutes of mainly York possessions, the Blazers limped off the field in a 3-0 deficit.
“How many times can we lose to York?” senior teammate Michael Gamboa asked his team at halftime. “I feel disrespected.”
Gamboa, who suffered an ACL tear early in the season, was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
“This team can bring it back up. We can give them a better game, tie this game, or win this game,” he said.
AT continued to struggle. York put up two more goals as teammates began to take out frustrations on one another. One Blazer even walked out on his team and left the campus.
According to Dini, however, the frustration wasn’t to blame for the score.
“I don’t think the anger towards one another was the reason we lost the game,” Dini later said. “The game was a result of them [York] being good, and us letting ourselves down.”
The final score sealed AT’s worst loss of the season thus far, being only their second time allowing more than one goal. DGS was the first instance.
Despite the negative impact on AT’s record and conference title chances, Dini described a few positive aspects of the last few games.
“We’ve been through overtime, penalty kicks, we know how to change up our order, and we have this tough experience now,” he said. “Now that that’s over with, we can learn from it and come back.”
AT is set to head to the playoffs after a third place finish in conference.