LA GRANGE — It’s impossible not to notice Patrick Pekala on the soccer field.
The Glenbrook North senior forward plays with maximum effort all of the time. Pekala’s work rate stands out, and he’s always a threat to score because of it. Pekala cut Lake Zurich’s lead in half during the second half of the Spartans’ 2-1 loss in the first round of the PepsiCo Showdown on Saturday.
He’s also an agitator. He seems to always initiate contact when an opponent is nearby, giving little bumps and shoves, as well as extending his arm into an opposing player when they both go up for a header.
There were a couple of instances where Pekala’s physical play was caught and penalized by the referees Saturday. Late in the first half, he was given a yellow card for knocking over a Bears player with a very late challenge.
Pekala’s style of play has been a source of frustration for many of the Spartans’ opponents this season.
“He gets under peoples’ skin, which is good,” senior forward Tommy Metzger said.
Metzger added that Pekala’s playing style serves as inspiration for the Spartans.
“Sometimes it gets him into trouble, but most of the time it helps us out and lifts the whole team up,” Metzger said. “We all see him playing like that, and it makes us all want to go out there and play a little bit harder.”
Effort hasn’t been an issue for Pekala this season, but it’s been lacking at times for the Spartans, who fell to 2-5-3 Saturday. That was the case against the Bears, who built a 2-0 lead in the first half and held Glenbrook North to just one shot during that time.
“We’ve been playing soft, kind of, this whole year,” Metzger said. “Coach [Paul Vignocchi] talked to us at halftime about playing with more heart, playing with passion; [how] it’s our senior year, and just leaving it all out on the field.”
Glenbrook North’s players responded by increasing their work rates and passion during the second half, and Pekala’s goal with 16:36 left in the match embodied that. He fought through congestion in the Bears’ penalty box, and then punched in a loose ball to make it 2-1.
“We just had momentum,” Pekala said when asked what changed in the match’s final 20 minutes. The team’s mentality “was ‘Keep attacking and attacking and attacking,’ and eventually we got that goal.”
The Spartans held the majority of possession after Pekala scored, and they created several dangerous opportunities. Their best chance to equalize came with 2:15 remaining when Pekala controlled the ball in the 18-yard box, and then beat Lake Zurich senior goalkeeper George Maroudas from about 10 yards away.
Pekala’s goal was waved off, however, as the referee ruled the ball had touched Pekala’s hand. Pekala vehemently disagreed with the decision in the moment and maintained that the ball went off of his side afterward, yet the result underlined a principle Vignocchi has been preaching all season.
“It comes down to effort. That’s the biggest key,” Vignocchi said. “We’ve got to do it for 80 minutes. It can’t be just five minutes here, five minutes there. It’s got to be for 80 minutes.”
• The Bears’ goals were both scored by senior Ian Murray. The midfielder gave Lake Zurich a 1-0 lead with 31:05 remaining in the first half when he scored on a header off a free kick. Then, with 4:42 remaining in the first half, he fired a shot that beat Glenbrook North junior Ian Albert to the near post.
• With the win, No. 9-seeded Lake Zurich advances to play Larkin in the PepsiCo Showdown’s second round on Tuesday. The Royals, who are the tournament’s No. 8 seed, are scheduled to host the game. Glenbrook North will play East Aurora, which lost 3-1 to Larkin on Saturday.