By Bob Narang

Matt Laude is a former District 210 soccer star, having made a name for himself at Lincoln-Way East in the early 2000s.

Since then, Laude has gone on to build a solid boys soccer program at Lincoln-Way West both on and off the field. The Warriors captured a sectional crown in 2019 and are poised to become an annual postseason contender under Laude’s leadership.

While Lincoln-Way West has its act together on the soccer field, Lincoln-Way Central is hoping to build upon what former coach Sean Fahey started to rebuild after the Knights’ program took a major nose dive over the last decade. Fahey, another former district star in the late 1990s, stepped down as head coach to pursue additional college degrees.

Fahey did a masterful job leading Lincoln-Way Central to a 15-5 mark in 2019 and will remain on staff as an assistant under new coach Dave Brown, who also starred for the district. Brown was a member of the back-to-back teams that finished second in the state in 1999 and 2000.

And then there’s Lincoln-Way East, a program that hit rock bottom over the past five years. New coach Matt Ribbens, who was a standout player at Andrew and built Soto in the Chicago Public League into a Class A power, doesn’t plan for his program to be the district’s stepchild for long.

Former coach Brian Papa quickly built the Griffins into a state powerhouse, winning 14 or more games for five consecutive seasons before his run as head coach ended in 2011. Since 2015, Lincoln-Way East has struggled to finish over .500.

“I didn’t take over this program to not win championships,” Ribbens said.

Dave Brown (left), Matt Ribbens and Matt Laude (right) all played club, high school and college soccer. The trio will now compete against one another as coaches to bring another state championship to the South Suburbs. (Bobby Johandes/CornerKICKS Media)

Papa, who is an assistant on Ribbens’ staff, said the key for all three district schools is to build a solid year-round program and partnership with the local clubs.

“We had a good one with the Chicago Magic back when it was one Lincoln-Way and the start of Lincoln-Way East in the early 2000s,” said Papa, a Hall of Fame coach who has won nearly 900 games as a boys and girls soccer coach. “You get your kids in there, because club is the way to go.

“If you are thinking you are going to be a very good soccer player playing just three months a year, it’s not going to happen. To be successful, you have to have talent. You have to get the kids into the club scene as much as you can.”

From Papa’s perspective, the Lincoln-Ways are building toward a renaissance with three talented coaches. Brown and Laude played for Papa, and Ribbens played against Papa’s teams.

“All three of the coaches are very pro into the club scene, which is good,” Papa said. “Matt (Ribbens) is going to learn all the clubs, and Matt (Laude) and Dave know the area clubs very well.

“You have to network and be patient. It doesn’t happen overnight.

“You are going to get five-to-six strong players, but you have to be patient with the other kids. They will see the positives, because this area is just big.

“You have good people. The district is heading in the right direction. The Lincoln-Way schools have three fine young men, who all have experience.”

Laude, a former Milliken standout, has a good understanding of the area from his playing days. He was an assistant at Lincoln-Way Central for the girls team and served as an assistant at Lincoln-Way East for the boys and girls programs.

“Coach Papa’s coaching tree is insane,” Laude said. “I’ve learned so much from him that’s helped me.

“We have three huge schools in the area. Soccer will bounce back.

“A lot of area kids are playing club, getting that experience and passion breeds success later on and helps competition. We also have to keep our focus by going out to the youth camps.”

Before arriving at Lincoln-Way Central, Brown was the boys head coach at Plainfield South for seven seasons and one at Plainfield North. The former Eastern Illinois soccer player said the three Lincoln-Way schools have a deep talent pool.

“There’s certainly a different dynamic when you have multiple schools in the district,” Brown said. “In the Plainfield district with four schools for example, it was tougher to be that dominant team every year with Naperville North and Naperville Central, which only pulls talent to two schools.”

Ribbens, who played at the University of Rhode Island, said the recent success of Lincoln-Way West and Lincoln-Way Central is a source of pride for the community.

“Each one of us coaches are trying to revive the passion for high school soccer,” Ribbens said. “I couldn’t think of a better community where a few former players can do that than here.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 25 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.