Tom Harper said Alem Sabic struggled at first this season, because he had a hard time adjusting to the speed and physicality of varsity soccer.
Sabic played his fourth game for Mehlville and coach Harper on Tuesday night, and in some ways, the game had to adjust to him.
The left-footed sophomore midfielder recorded his first varsity goal late in the first half – ripping an on-the-run shot inside the right post – and set up Adis Beganovic’s second-half goal with a well-placed corner kick for his first career assist.
Sabic’s breakout performance proved the difference in the Panthers’ 2-0 win at home against Northwest-Cedar Hill.
“I was happy,” Sabic said. “I was feeling good, came in the game and made a difference.”
Sabic wasn’t the only difference between Mehlville (3-1) and previously unbeaten Northwest (4-1), the No. 9 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings for large schools. The Panthers’ leading scorer, forward Jacob Richter, assisted on Sabic’s goal and put pressure on the Lions’ defense throughout to help his team finish with a 9-3 advantage in shots on goal and a 5-0 edge in corner kicks.
Mehlville’s defense helped thwart some good scoring chances for Northwest, with sophomore goalkeeper Eric Wanninger making a pair of tough saves to deny Lions’ leading scorer Kevin Gregorc.
“I wouldn’t say that we didn’t play (well),” Northwest defender Kyle Mikes said. “We just were outmatched.”
Still, the Lions nearly broke a scoreless tie about two minutes before Sabic did. Wanninger dived to deflect a header by Gregorc off the right post, and then scrambled to keep the ball from bouncing across the goal line.
Beganovic, a Mehlville defender, said his team “got lucky” to avoid giving up a goal.
“I talked to the ref about it,” Northwest coach Dave Willis said. “He said he saw about 90 percent of the ball across the line, but he couldn’t tell if it was all the way across. He didn’t want to call it a goal if he wasn’t sure. He was in good position, and nothing you can do about it.”
The Lions, who also came close to scoring on a Gregorc free kick early in the second half while creating a few other chances during a post-halftime spurt, couldn’t do much else to combat a Panthers team that wasn’t sure how it would fare at the start of the season. They were without their top two players – All-Metro and all-state performers Abdulah Jahic and Anel Jakupovic – from a team that reached the Class 4 state quarterfinals last season.
But Mehlville has started strong, opening the season with wins against tradition-rich Vianney and Kirkwood before losing to Webster Groves, the defending Class 3 state champion, on penalty kicks. Then the Panthers got the best of the previously undefeated Lions on Tuesday.
Seniors such as Beganovic and Richter, who scored five goals in the first three games of the year, have been key. So have youngsters such as Wanninger and Sabic, who according to Harper started to “find his niche” Tuesday night.
“No one expected this out of us, and we came and showed up,” Sabic said. “Now people know that we can win, too.”
SOURCE: St. Louis High School Sports