CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Marian Catholic boys soccer coach Nasser Shahtaji said the beautiful game can be cruel at times, too.
That was the case for the second-seeded Spartans in Saturday's Class 2A Regional championship game, which they hosted against Tinley Park.
Despite the Spartans out-shooting the Titans in both halves, the regional's top-seeded Titans took advantage of a yellow card to score the only goal of the match with less than five minutes remaining to win its first boys soccer regional title in school history.
The Titans (13-12-1) advance to the Class 2A Lincoln-Way West Sectional Tuesday, while the Spartans' season ends at 9-14-3.
"I told the kids at halftime that both teams are playing hard, and the game will come down to one defensive mistake, and the other team capitalizing on that," Shahtaji said. "And that is exactly what happened."
With five minutes remaining in the match, the Titans made a late surge that resulted in a corner kick in Spartan territory. As players quickly began to assemble for the play, Spartan goalkeeper Chris Tabom was issued a yellow card for dissent with an official.
The card meant that Tabom, who had turned back eight shots to that point, had to be substituted for before the play.
The subsequent feed from the Titans Bobby Neylon was met in front of the goal in mid-air by teammate Mikey Swierczewski, who then headed the effort past substitute goalie Jacob Fodness for the only goal of the match.
"When Bobby crossed the ball over to me with his left foot, I saw the ball in the air and knew I wanted to take advantage of the situation," Swierczewski said. "When the ball went in the net, I was never happier in my entire life."
The Spartans had a handful of solid chances to score in the match prior to Swierczewski's header.
Twice the Spartans were denied goals due to offsides calls, and with 14 minutes remaining, Dominic Guarino hit the crossbar on an attempt from 30 yards out.
"We did create enough scoring opportunities to win this game," Shataji said. "But that is why sometimes it is a cruel game; you can be doing everything right, and it doesn't turn out the way you want it."