SYCAMORE – The Sycamore soccer team held off DeKalb for the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s match as the Barbs controlled the ball in their offensive third, unable to completely break through Sycamore’s swarm of defenders in the penalty area.
In the 22nd minute, Akim Suraji had had enough.
The speedy senior collected the ball 40 yards from the goal, put his head down and started dribbling. He didn’t stop until he reached the goal, weaving around four defenders and the goalkeeper before tapping the ball into the net. He would score twice more in DeKalb’s 7-0 win at Sycamore.
“I’m able to get the ball and go all the way inside the box and pass,” Suraji said. “Why not just get a goal? Immediately, we get a goal, and we break them down. When we got a goal, you saw our goals flow in. So I was like, just go. When I cut in, I saw the open space and I was like, ‘I’ll go for it.’ So I just went for it and, God willing, I got the ball in the net.”
Then, the floodgates opened.
In the 24th minute, Trevor Freeland played a through ball to Suraji, who cut back twice before finding Freeland for an open goal. One minute later, Sean Woodford weaved into the penalty area and was taken down before converting the penalty kick. Fifty-five seconds later, Woodford dribbled into the box and scored to the near post.
In the span of five minutes, the Barbs (14-2, 8-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) took a 4-0 lead.
“I definitely commend Sycamore for their first half of the half, doing well defensively, packed in well, and they were getting behind the ball,” Woodford said. “One goal is all it takes for us to get momentum. So Akim’s solo run fired us all up. It gets easier after that because teams get demoralized. It just gets easier to get through people.”
In the second half, Suraji tacked on another two goals, and he assisted Freeland’s second goal of the day.
After allowing a few early tap-ins the last time the two teams played, the Spartans (2-16-1, 1-6-1 NI Big 12 East) were able to hold off the Barbs. In the end, the result was the same, but the beginning of the game was a small victory.
“We tried to, right off the bat, make sure we weren’t making those same mistakes,” Sycamore coach Dave Lichamer said. “DeKalb is a very good team. It was simply a matter of time, I suppose, before they broke through. Other than putting all 11 guys inside the box and hoping for the best, it’s tough to counter when they have so many guys with such tremendous speed and ball skill.”
DeKalb showed its superior talent Thursday, but the Barbs hold themselves to a high standard. Even in a big win, Suraji came away with plenty his team needs to work on.
“Based on what we did today, how we played today, we can’t play that way against a regional team at the start,” Suraji said. “They can get a goal and that’ll break us down totally. So these are some of the adjustments we have to make. Even though we got the outcome, that’s not what we have to work on. We have to build on our starting and our ending.”