The offense is a work in progress but the defense never rests.
The Lyons Township High School boys soccer team is rarely overmatched and figures to be competitive in every game this fall despite graduating the bulk of its scoring.
The Lions have three strong goalkeepers, including senior starter Donald Darrus, and center backs Nick Economou and John Mazur return from a defense that surrendered just 21 goals in 27 matches last fall.
Darrus posted shutouts in the Lions’ first two games last week as LTHS blanked Young 1-0 on Aug. 24 and then shut out 2014 supersectionalist Naperville North by the same score on Thursday.
“Donald was a really good goalkeeper last year,” LTHS coach Paul Labbato said. “He didn’t lose many games. He didn’t play in two of our losses.”
Despite his prowess, Darrus isn’t a lock to play every day. That’s because junior Gabriel Drobny and sophomore Matt Vear are talented backups and are pushing him for playing time. Drobny will miss the first few weeks following minor surgery and Vear was on varsity last year as well.
Darrus wasn’t tested against Naperville North, whose potent attack was completely neutered by the play of Economou, Mazur and fellow senior Greg Piechalak.
“We had a shutout and our goalkeeper did not have to make a save,” Labbato said. “That is impressive. I thought Donald had a great first half just taking control of everything.”
That bodes well for a team which again faces a daunting schedule. In addition to the always-competitive West Suburban Conference Silver Division, the Lions face Streamwood, Buffalo Grove and New Trier in the New Trier Invitational and again will host the Pepsi Challenge. Games against traditional powers Rockford Boylan and Saint Viator also are on the schedule.
The win over Naperville North may foretell another solid season for the Lions, who went 21-6 last season and won their 11th regional championship in 13 years before losing 1-0 on penalty kicks to eventual state champion Hinsdale Central in the sectional semifinals.
Hinsdale Central also prevented the Lions from winning the WSC Silver last fall. LTHS will host the Red Devils on Sept. 25 and is expecting a massive crowd for the Friday night Homecoming game.
“They’re by far the front runner,” Labbato said.
Speaking of front-runners, the Lions are looking for some after graduating their star forwards. LTHS may have found at least one in junior Isaiah Nieves, who scored the game-winning goals in the first two games.
“He’s fantastic,” Labbato said. “He’ll probably be considered one of the best players in the state by the end of the year.”
Nieves is listed as a forward but played midfield against Naperville North.
“He’s everything,” Labbato said. “He’s a playmaker but he finds the spaces for opportunities. He finds the way to get in the open spaces and he takes good shots.”
Senior forwards Diego Lopez and Carolos Santoyo and senior midfielder Camilo Drobny also will be called upon to provide offense. The Lions added two big additions from club soccer in senior midfielders Aaron Onion and Alex Contreras.
“We’re going to be rotating guys up top,” Labbato said. “We’re hoping they’re going to be dynamic going to goal.”
While Onion and Contreras are new to high school soccer, they have played club ball with most of their teammates, which should make for a quick transition.
“All of the kids have played club together for two or three years so it’s a cohesive unit,” Labbato said. “We have good players and they are going to jell.”