NILES — It was the “imperfect” storm for the Lakeview High School boys soccer team in its Division II district championship match against Howland on Saturday afternoon.
That didn’t include the persistent rain and chilly temperatures at Bo Rein Stadium in Niles.
The top-seeded Tigers, who are ranked ninth in the state, are finally healthy and have been adding strong offense to their defensive prowess. That proved too much for the Bulldogs, as Howland rolled to a 5-0 win to capture its fifth district championship.
“We had a lot of injuries early in the season and we won with defense, but now we’re healthy and putting it all together,” said Howland coach Brian Stiles, whose team improved to 18-0-1. “We had to become a defensive team because we lost three key players in (midfielders) Gabe Atawil, Gio Lisi and (defender) Peter Lerakis.”
The Tigers advanced to a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Ravenna. They will play Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (13-2-2), which is ranked fourth in the state.
The Tigers beat host Lakeview 3-0 on Sept. 7, so they entered the district final unbeaten, with confidence and health. The young Bulldogs, who had one senior on the roster, may have lacked some confidence entering the match.
“Howland is an excellent team that just got healthy at the right time,” Lakeview coach Scott Smith said. “We saw them early in the year and they’ve improved and added some great players. So things were stacked against us. They’re ranked in the state for a reason and then we fell behind 2-0 midway through the first half.
“I just told our guys not to give up or quit and to play hard for our one senior, Dylan Sarko.”
Howland searched for open spots early and Lakeview responded with some counters, but was unable to penetrate the Tigers’ back line.
Jordan Sperling scored off an assist from Atawil with 19:56 remaining in the first half. About 100 seconds later, Sperling made it 2-0 as he controlled the ball following a shot by teammate Pano Gentis that was blocked. Sperling settled, spun and beat the Lakeview keeper.
“We had a good scouting report on (Lakeview) and we were confident and prepared,” Sperling said. “It’s so important to get a goal or two in the first 15 or 20 minutes. It really opens things up because they have to start attacking us and that just gives us more space to work with and that’s when the goals really come easier.”
A goal by Guillermo Fuentes Gonzalez, off an assist from Austin Stassinis, was Howland’s third in a span of 5:12 and came with 14:44 left in the half.
In the second half, Altawil scored unassisted at 39:24 and Sperling tacked on his third goal on a penalty kick with 14:23 remaining. The Tigers attempted 25 shots and put 17 on goal. Lakeview managed six shots, four on goal.
Howland’s backline defense of Andrew Yassall, Conor Burwell, Gentis and Lerakis in front of goalkeeper Lucas Brill helped preserve the team’s 11th shutout of the season.
“Every good possession team has a great back line that can handle the ball and we have an all-senior back line with a lot of soccer experience,” Stiles said. “Those guys back there are very talented.”
“Our guys in the back set us up and help us get so many opportunities,” Sperling said. “Their defensive ability is of the charts and they all distribute and help the offense flow much easier. We are confident and able to continue to attack because of what they do back there.”