BERWYN — The moment seemed to break just right for Aaliyah Leanos.
The jet-quick and electric junior is the only player at the top of the Morton formation.
She is a danger from anywhere on the field, turning the smallest and tightest of windows into her private space.
Early in the second half, she caught a through-ball and bolted past the Plainfield South backline for a classic encounter with the Cougars’ keeper.
Lanky and agile, Hannah Folliard had no choice but to bolt off her line. The two players converged about 17 yards from the goal.
Leanos was the first player to the ball. The combination of her angle and attempt to generate contact on the ball off movement proved tricky, if not impossible.
“I just couldn’t get enough power on the shot,” Leanos said.
“I feel like if I had more power, I’d have gotten the ball to the upper right corner. That’s where I was aiming, but unfortunately I didn’t get a good angle or get the power I wanted.”
Folliard made a brilliant play of her own, using a sliding tackle to knock the ball away.
In a moment, the Mustangs’ chance at the equalizer vanished — and with it, any hope of a comeback.
Plainfield South scored a goal in each half for the 2-0 victory in the ninth-place game of the 32-team Windy City Ram Classic on Thursday before a crowd of about 150 people.
Host Morton (3-2-0) saw its two-game winning streak snapped.
The Mustangs arguably had the better run of play throughout the first half. Leanos and star midfielder Carisma Rosales created some fantastic actions.
Almost never counts, and Plainfield South (4-1-0) had the two breakthrough plays that determined the outcome.
Cougars forward Addison Grigg earned the Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match distinction for her game-winning goal.
She caught the Mustangs off guard and out of formation in the 22nd minute, smashing home a left-footed shot from about 14 yards after a beautiful ball played by midfielder Mason Hillery.
“We finally got our rhythm communicating,” Grigg said of her fourth goal of the year.
“It helped in that situation that Mason was able to get out wide. She got the diagonal ball across, and I was able to get to the opposite corner.”
The Cougars managed to withstand the early pressure and work out of some tight jams, with some sharp play by Folliard.
“The tournament really helped us work out the pros and cons of our team, and figured out the things we had to work on,” midfielder Izabella Haddad said.
“We’re better off knowing how each of us plays and having the team chemistry, and now we can hopefully work together.”
Haddad ostensibly put the game out of reach moments after Folliard stopped the Leanos’ near breakaway.
Off a deflection, she blasted a ball home from about 15 yards in the 46th minute that doomed the Mustangs.
Morton could only wonder what might have been.
“It was a frustrating result, because you step on the field really confident with a certain game plan, and you’re not executing the way you want. I am trying to be dangerous but not being able to execute it,” Leanos said.
A Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater as a sophomore last spring, Rosales is one of the best juniors in the state.
She had 25 goals and 20 assists last season. A lot of her shot creation and playmaking directly impacted Leanos.
“I thought we had them on their heels most of the first half, even after they scored,” Rosales said.
“As a team, we didn’t give up, and we kept playing hard. We are still getting used to playing together. Being older now, with my game, I think it’s just important to know the different girls and communicate as a team.”
Rosales was limited to just a couple of minutes in the Round of 16 winners' bracket loss to Andrew.
Her return immediately bolstered the lineup and amplified the attack. Her speed, savvy and ball control are a thing of beauty.
“We’re still learning how to communicate out there, and how to get the ball around,” Rosales said.
The ball just explodes off her foot.
“I think right now our focus is just keeping the same strong mentality with every game,” Leanos said.
“Just playing hard the whole game and being consistent and connecting and keeping the chemistry in building from the back. This was our first tournament, and we are still getting used to each other and the new players.”
If Rosales and Leanos are the face of the attack, stopper Brianna Avalos is the connective thread.
She helps congeal all the different parts, weaving together the defense with the middle of the attack and igniting the offense.
Avalos and Leanos were Chicagoland Soccer All-State Watch List players last year when the Mustangs captured the regional.
“I feel like I am a pretty good asset,” Avalos said. “I control the back, and I talk to the players.
“I see most of the field, and it just makes sense, how I am looking out for those plays and keeping an eye open about everything, and playing my part.”
Morton finished as runner-up to Downers Grove South in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division standings last season.
With foundational talents like these three, the Morton girls are staking out their own identity from the boys powerhouse program.
“The guys have accomplished all of this, and then naturally people say, ‘What do you have to offer?” Avalos said.
“It’s a completely different style of play. They have their accomplishments, and now we are working with what we have.”
As the team leader and natural voice, Avalos said the five tournament games gave the team time and opportunity to determine roles and improve cohesiveness.
The loss stung, but the next step is making sure it was an exception and not a trend.
“We’re still in the beginning,” Avalos said. “We haven’t really gotten the connection yet.
“We’re getting there, but we still need some work. Most of us have played together for a while, and that’s what is really helping us right now.”
Even in the loss, the framework for a positive season was evident, from the build-up to the athleticism demonstrated throughout the attack.
“We were having some good chances in the box,” coach Jim Bageanis said. “We had some good pressure early on, and hopefully by the middle of the season we are going to be getting to some of those balls.”
Winning three out of five games in one of the toughest early season tournaments is a promising way to start any new season.
The season is not even two weeks gone by.
“In every one of the five tournament games, the fight has been there, and we haven’t quit,” Bageanis said.
“It’s early in the year, and right now we are just trying to get a sense of where our team is as a group.”
GK; Hannah Folliard
D: Maya Gray
D: Arabella Gaudiuso
D: Mackenzie Whitmire
D: Kendall Pachowicz
MF: Mason Hillery
MF: Alexandra Arnold
MF: Izabella Haddad
MF: Kara Smith
F: Kaitlyn Cheop
F: Addison Grigg
GK: Cindy Jimenez
D: Ariana Valdovinos
D: Crystal Ozuna
D: Brianna Avalos
D: Pamela Hernandez
MF: Angela Nevarez
MF: Stephanie Salmeron
MF: Citlali Chavez
MF: Carisma Rosales
MF: Fatima Garduza
F: Aaliyah Leanos
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Addison Grigg, sr., F, Plainfield South
Plainfield South—Addison Grigg (Mason Hillery), 22nd minute
Plainfield South—Izabella Haddad (unassisted), 46th minute