“Super” Mario Graciano’s form gives men’s soccer the one-up over conference foes

By Santino Torres / Staff Reporter

Senior midfielder Joe Oswin advances the ball toward the attacking zone.  Photo by Danny Carlino.

The men’s soccer team here at Roosevelt University began conference play a week after a tough loss to defending national champions Central Methodist University (CMU). While the Lakers did come up short, team captain and midfielder Joe Oswin described the result as, “one of the top performances this season.” The only goal of the contest came early on in the seventh minute off the foot of CMU’s Marcos German. 

They wouldn’t score again as goalkeeper Mario Graciano shut the door for the rest of the game. In fact, neither opponent in Roosevelt’s first two conference games would score at all against the sophomore from the south suburb, Harvey.

The opening game in CCAC play was held at SeatGeek Stadium, former home of the Chicago Fire, against Governors State. The scoring opened up 22 minutes in when sophomore midfielder Jose Solis sent a through ball in stride to Oswin. The England native aimed for inside the far post and managed to give the Lakers the lead. Moments into the second half, senior standout Albert Arabik sent a pass to the right side, where he found Luis Arreola, who also shot far post to put the Lakers up by two goals against the Jaguars. Governors State failed to score any goals, and Graciano earned his second clean sheet this season. 

On Sept. 25, Graciano picked up another clean sheet against the Trojans of Trinity International University (TIU,) securing a second straight win in conference play for the Lakers. Solis’ corner found an Edmond Montano in the area, and his header went straight into the back of the net to give Roosevelt the lead. A foul against TIU inside the box resulted in a penalty kick for Arabik, who converted to put the Lakers up 2-0 to secure a second straight win.

Graciano would not concede a goal for more than three games until Robert Morris’ Ethan Emmons sent one low towards the right past Graciano only seconds into the second half of their game on Sept. 28. Emmons also aided teammate Geraldo Flores 67 minutes in when his cross pass was headed in by Flores. However, led by two more goals from Arabik, the Lakers earned their third straight victory. 

In their next game against the Holy Cross Saints, the Lakers  saw a first half without goals. That changed in the second half, as Arabik advanced towards net with the ball before sending a through pass to midfielder Jose Rivera. Once he settled the ball, he sent a shot beyond the goalkeepers reach for the only goal of the game. Shortly after, Holy Cross’ freshman midfielder Elmin Ejup began to test Graciano with a few free kicks. When the final horn eventually sounded, Roosevelt had survived a late onslaught to beat Holy Cross 1-0, making it four straight wins. Graciano now has four clean sheets so far this season, with three of them coming in conference play.  This is good enough to tie Cardinal Stritch’s Pablo Ortiz for the most clean sheets in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) regular season.

“Mario has been a solid keeper for us throughout the season making some huge saves in crucial games,” said Oswin. “If it wasn’t for some plays that Mario had made, we would have some games gone to overtime or even end up losing the game. It’s great to know we have a strong goalkeeper we can rely on.” 

Oswin’s leadership and abilities in the clutch were needed in Roosevelt’s match against Olivet Nazarene. In a game the Tigers desperately wanted to win, Edgar Pani opened up the scoring for them just about four minutes after the match kicked off. About eight minutes later, Roosevelt equalized. 

“I picked up the ball on the right side of the field. I got some luck with a rebound from a tackle and managed to dribble past a couple of players,” said Oswin. “I looked up and saw Lalo making a run in the box so I squared the ball back to him for a great finish.” 

Before the half was over, senior defender Ronan Perennes put Roosevelt in front at the half hour mark. The goal was effective as it proved to be the game deciding one in a 2-1 result in favor of the Lakers. The win now puts Roosevelt on top of the conference standings. St. Xavier, however, is also undefeated, but with only four wins as they await the Lakers later this month in a crucial conference matchup. For Perennes, the goal solidified the week’s campaign en route to earning himself CCAC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in his collegiate career.

“We have been in excellent form as a team so far in the season and we are training hard every week trying to improve on some minor details,” said Oswin. “Prior to the season, we knew we had a strong squad with some very talented freshman coming into the team and it was our goal to win conference and go undefeated.”

“Our start was okay, but it wasn’t the best,” said Eduardo Hernandez, a freshman business management major. “We had several things to work on and fix early on, and we did just that in time for conference, and we are now currently undefeated in conference play.”

A key reason for the Lakers success is down to eight year coach Graham Brennan, who has continued to get the most out of players ever since taking control of the program. 

“Playing under Coach Brennan is a great experience,” said freshman business management major Jose Rivera. “I like the way he coaches, and how he talks to the team in a straight up manner when trying to motivate us.”

“Playing under him has really changed me to be a better player,” said Hernandez. “He helps us get out of our comfort zone and makes us become more versatile. This allows us to see other areas of the field and makes us become better all-around players.” 

Now, the team has its sights set on going all the way this year. “The main goal and aspiration for the end of the season is to make it to nationals,” said Rivera.

The Lakers next home game is on Wednesday, Oct. 23 as Roosevelt will take on St. Ambrose at IIT Stuart Field at 2:30 pm.

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