BERWYN – At a time when many teenagers may have been watching TV, hanging out at the beach or engrossed with their smartphones, Lyons Township midfielder Haris Sarajlija was booting balls.
Lots of them.
“He’s a soccer junkie,” Lyons coach Paul Labbato said after Sarajlija had a goal in a 1-1 tie with Morton on Sept. 16. “He works on his craft. He loves taking a bag of balls and trying to hit spots on the goal. He’s probably been doing that since he was little.”
In recent months, Sarajlija has been doing it almost every day.
“This summer I actually got two of my goalies and I just begged them every morning,” Sarajlija said. “There is a perfect grass field near my home and every single morning when I could, I just went out and got at least 200 shots a day. It’s paying off.”
It sure did Sept. 16. Sarajlija scored on a brilliant 28-yard free kick with 2:10 remaining in the second half. That allowed the Lions to tie host Morton at the Morton Premier Invitational.
It was Sarajlija’s team-high seventh goal of the season and second on a free kick. This one came from straight away. Sarajlija somehow sent his kick sailing over Morton’s defensive wall and under the crossbar into the upper left corner of the net.
“The wall was directly in front of me but the goalie was in the middle of the net, so I saw the far post was open,” Sarajlija said. “All summer I’ve been working on far-post free kicks. I call it my specialty. I just went for it. It was last minute. It was when it was needed.”
The Lions (7-3-2) felt they needed any kind of positive result after losing 1-0 at home to Benet on Sept. 15. Coming from behind to secure a draw with Morton (8-0-2) certainly qualifies.
“We absolutely needed this tie in the scenario that we were in,” Labbato said. “We were down a goal, we looked at the clock and when it was 10 minutes, we brought an extra guy up top and sometimes that works out.”
It helps when you have players such as Sarajlija, who constantly prepare for every little scenario. Few high school players can bend free kicks like he can.
“It doesn’t happen by accident,” Labbato said. “He’s got a lot in the way of feeling the way he’s going to hit a ball and he gets them up and down, which is what you need to be able to do. It looks like it’s going over and it dips down at the last minute.”
Morton coach Jim Bageanis wasn’t happy that his team surrendered the lead in the final minutes. The Mustangs led ever since senior Johnathan Almaguer converted a penalty kick with 17:13 left in the first half.
“You give them credit on the shot, but we shouldn’t have given up the foul in that position on the field,” Bageanis said. “We know the clock is coming down. We should have forced them to make a play instead of giving them a set piece. We paid for it. Hopefully we learned from it.”
The Mustangs learned the Lions are big and physical defensively. The visitors allowed only five shots, only one of which was on goal.
“I think Lyons Township defensively had a very good mindset,” Almaguer said. “Their center backs were physical and playing very well. Props to Lyons Township. I think they are a really good team and good luck to them for the rest of the season.”