Haris Sarajlija

Senior Will Swicionis often helps the Lyons Township High School boys soccer team’s offense with long sidelines throw-ins.

On Sept. 26, that skill played a hand in settling a friendly family rivalry.

Junior Haris Sarajlija scored off a Swicionis throw-in with 11:01 remaining to give the Lions a 2-1 victory at Riverside-Brookfield.

While LTHS (10-2-3) overcame an early deficit with three key players out, Swicionis and brother Ben enjoyed another victory over their cousin, RBHS junior Max Swicionis.

“When we were younger, all of the time we used to play together, so it’s kind of different playing on different teams,” Will Swicionis said. “It’s hard to always go down 1-0. You’ve got to make sure you keep pressuring, using all of your energy because we’ve got guys on the bench that can do everything the starters can.”  

The Lions had to dig deeper, especially after the Bulldogs (7-6) took a 1-0 lead with 21:31 left in the first half. Senior Hunter Ferguson notched his 12th goal off a beautiful right-side cross from sophomore Diego Villegas. 

“We knew that they’re a great team. We knew we were going to have to compete throughout the night, but we stayed with them,” Ferguson said. 

Playing without key starters Collin Sullivan, Brian Salvino and Ryan Wheeler, the Lions tied the game as senior Larry Martinez converted Sarajlija’s corner kick 11:11 before halftime. 

The Lions also were minus those players in losing to Bloom 3-2 on Sept. 23. Sarajlija scored both goals on penalty kicks.

“We needed this one. We get scored on early and it shows a lot of character to keep pushing forward for goals,” LTHS coach Paul Labbato said. “It’s been a bit of shuffling figuring out who is going to play where, but to our credit, we played pretty well here and there.” 

The Bulldogs also had a rough day on Sept. 23, losing 4-0 to defending IHSA Class 1A state champion Wheaton Academy with the Metro Suburban Blue lead at stake. 

Max Swicionis and Ferguson were pleased that the LTHS result was significantly closer than the Lions’ 6-0 victory in 2021. Max Swicionis had two second-half blasts over the goal.

“Obviously, [LTHS is] ranked higher than us,” Max Swicionis said. “They’ve had some big wins. After that first goal, we were like, ‘We have a chance,’ and it kind of boosted our morale.” 

LTHS pressured with 11 corner kicks, eight in the second half, and Will Swicionis’ throw-ins were nearly as effective. Sarajlija scored on the far post after junior Owen Suda slipped the ball through the 6-yard box.

“I heard my coach saying go back post and I was there,” said Sarajlija, who has eight goals. “Our set pieces, everyone has their role.”

The victory had added meaning for Sarajlija, who lives in Brookfield and was a Chicago Inter youth club player.

“I played with some of these kids,” Sarajlija said. “I knew three or four of them on the field and even some of the fans remembered my name, so it was a cool experience.” 

With the game tied, the Bulldogs showed second-half grit. With less than 30 minutes left, Liam Carolan headed a corner kick that RBHS defender Mak Scheuermann headed over the crossbar. Senior Omar Vidales later ran across the crease to deflect an open by Sarajlija and goalie Aidan Hernandez made a one-hand save over the crossbar on Suda’s shot.

“I felt we kind of ran out of gas at the end,” RBHS coach Ivek Halic said. “Unfortunate to lose that way, but a good learning moment.”

The loss to Wheaton Academy was more painful. The Bulldogs could still share the MSC Blue if they beat Timothy Christian on Oct. 5 and the Warriors lose to fourth-place St. Francis.

“We created numerous opportunities. We just couldn’t score, whether it was the goalie making a save, hitting the post, hitting the crossbar. Just one of those games,” Halic said.  

LTHS beat rival Hinsdale Central 5-2 on Sept. 20. Will Swicionis helped the Lions break a 2-2 tie in the 54th minute. Instead of throwing on goal, he turned nearby to brother Ben, who dribbled and scored on a beautiful shot. 

“Ben just kind of was like, ‘Throw me the ball.’ I think it was a cross, but it was on his weak foot, it hovered. I was amazed on how he scored,” Will Swicionis said.