As the Lyons boys soccer team enters the 2007 campaign, there is a big unanswered question facing the Lions.
While the cupboard is far from bare, this is the first time in recent memory Lyons is lacking a true go-to-player. The program, which has been a consistent sectional and state contender, has been home to numerous all-state players in recent years.
“Preseason was a learning process for the players and coaches,” said longtime Lyons assistant coach Paul Labbato, who took over the head coaching duties from Alex Hernandez in the offseason. “I feel very confident the players are buying into the style and philosophy. Time will tell.”
A year ago, the Lions won 13 of 20 matches, which included five victories in six conference games. They advanced to the title game of the Pepsi Showdown at Toyota Park and the Class AA sectional final.
Without a true star to lean on, Labbato’s squad is going to need big performances from its senior core. Defenders Jake Federlick and Andy Kelly, forwards Mike Schrieber and Matt Solik and midfielder Ben Gabrek are just five players the Lions will need consistent production from.
“Overall, I think we have a strong team,” Labbato said. “We’re looking for a good season.”
The most interesting position battle going on is in goal between Robbie Johnson and Gyl Ponce.
“Our season could hinge on strong keeper play, so somebody will have to step up and take the job,” Labbato said. “Right now, our biggest strength is our senior leadership.”
While some may think this is a rebuilding year at Lyons, past history has shown this program is in the running for a state trophy year in and year out.
“Our goals are to get better every game,” Labbato said. “We want to do well in the Pepsi Showdown and make a run in the playoffs.”
The Lions are the No. 5 seed in the Fourth Annual Pepsi Showdown, which has been hosted by Lyons the past three years. Labbato’s squad will open with Farragut in a tripleheader on Lake Shore Dr. in Chicago on Sept. 4.
Lyons advanced to the semifinals of the tournament in 2005, and lost to Warren in the title game a year ago.
“It’s an honor to host a tournament like this,” Labbato said. “We have been very fortunate the past couple of years to play in the semifinals and then in the final at Toyota Park last year.
“It’s a great event for high school soccer, and I hope people throughout the community get a chance to come out to the soccer complex (Sept. 8 and Sept. 15) to watch. There is no other event in the Midwest where you can go to one site and see more than 30 teams playing all different styles of soccer.”