STREATOR – After a four-game road trip that turned into a four-game losing streak, the previously unbeaten Streator Bulldogs boys soccer team was happy to get back home Tuesday against Illinois Central Eight Conference rival Manteno.
And back in the win column.
Streator edged the Panthers, 2-1, at the SHS Athletic Fields, scoring once each half – by Brady Grabowski and Davey Rashid, each assisted by freshman Noah Russow – and then holding off a furious Manteno charge in the closing minutes behind the work of keeper Noah Camp aided by standout help from defensemen Adam Williamson, Keaton Yedinak, Connor Akin and Parker Phillis.
“It’s really a team effort,” Bulldogs defenseman Parker Phillis said. “The goal we’ve had all year is everybody plays offense together, and everybody plays defense together.
“We’ve run into a problem where we’ve had an accordion effect – one side stretches out, the other side stays back, and that’s when the opponent’s offense finds gaps in our defense. That’s what’s been getting us in trouble, and that happened the first half, but the second half we started figuring out what to do about that and made the adjustments we needed to make.”
With huge gusts of wind at their back, the Panthers (5-3, 2-1 ICE) outshot Streator (6-4, 2-1) in on-target attempts by an 11-8 margin in the first half. The only one to find the nylon, however, was Grabowski’s hard grounder almost 15 minutes in, a shot off a Russow/Phillis assist that spun off the hands of Manteno keeper Andrew Heuring (14 saves) and slowly trickled over the goal line.
That 1-0 tally held up until halftime, and also for the opening 19:40 of the second half. The Bulldogs – now with the wind at their backs – played a smoother brand of soccer and were rewarded midway through when Russow’s picture-perfect ground-ball pass crossed the face of the Peotone net and found Rashid, who tapped it in to make it 2-0.
Streator would need both goals.
“We pulled it out today,” Streator coach J.T. Huey said, “and I think we pulled it out today, honestly, on some lucky touches. Manteno’s defense was holding us down. Manteno’s strikers were just unlucky, really ... but I’d say the second half, the wind helped us get a better momentum.
“I jumped on these guys about the first half not realizing how big of a factor the wind really was. Because as soon as we stepped out (for the second half) and got going in the other direction, things changed.”
With 12:38 to play, Manteno finally got one past Streator keeper Noah Camp (15 saves of 16 shots on goal), using fantastic interior passing with Drew St. Aubin ultimately booting it in off an Alec Robinson assist.
The Panthers created multiple opportunities for a potential equalizer as the remaining minutes ticked away, most notably a shot just over the crossbar with about five minutes remaining and then a Scott Eldridge header off a corner kick in the closing minutes expertly played – and more importantly, expertly stopped – by a diving Camp to preserve the Bulldogs’ victory.
“Credit to the goalkeeper, because for most of the game he played really, really well,” Manteno coach Justin Emerson said. “And that last play of the game, he made an outstanding save that got them the win. ...
“I don’t think we played poorly. We held the majority of possession of the ball, especially the first half, and we created some opportunities. We need to be better in the final third. And that’s kind of been a [familiar theme] during the early parts of the season. If we don’t find goals early from our senior leaders, we struggle a bit.”
Streator is scheduled to return to action Thursday at Indian Creek and back home Saturday for the Streator Challenge Cup.