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Game story: Aquino puts Morton a head above Naperville Central

By Matt LeCren, 08/22/23, 4:00PM CDT


Senior nods in only goal as Mustangs avenge 2022 loss to Redhawks

BERWYN – Morton star Max Aquino knows it is a new season, and Naperville Central has a lot of new faces.

But that didn’t take away the satisfaction he felt after leading the host Mustangs to a 1-0 victory over the reigning Class 3A state champions in the season opener Monday night.

Aquino bagged the only goal of the game when he headed home a corner kick from Josh Trujillo at the 27:22 mark of the first half, and Morton’s defense made it stand up. It was a sweet measure of payback for a 2022 season-opening loss to the Redhawks, who opened this season as the top-rated team in Chicagoland Soccer's First 50. Morton is ranked third behind Elgin in the state-wide poll. 

“It feels good, not just because it’s the state champions, but first game of the season you want to come out with a good presence, and it just feels good to get that first win,” Aquino said. “They gave us a good battle, and we just held up in the back.”

Fellow senior Trujillo, the starting left back, was a major reason for that. He and fellow defenders Ivan Ramirez, Julian Soto and Christian Valadez never let the Redhawks find any kind of rhythm. The visitors produced only two shots, neither of which was on frame; Morton goalkeeper Efrain Farias was not tested while producing the clean sheet.

“We first predict to see where they go. We also tried to shut down all their long balls, because we had a feeling that that was their play -- to try to isolate us 1-on-1,” Trujillo said. “So, we had to shut those down.”

They did. Naperville Central’s only chances came on a couple of free kicks that didn’t amount to anything and a few long throw-ins from Patrick Bohan. One of those tosses, from 25 yards on the left wing found the head of Carter Adams on the left post, but Adams’ back header was wide left with 24:35 left in the first half.

“Probably the most disappointing thing today was we talked about what we needed to be successful and one of them is being positive in dead balls,” Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. “So, the fact that we gave up a goal on a dead ball and then we had a couple opportunities on dead balls and did not score, with the way we are this year, that’s going to be the difference in games.

“Can we be efficient and effective in the attack and can we be gritty and aware in the defense? The one guy got free, and we weren’t completely organized. But it will get better.”

Aquino has steadily gotten better over his career and is now the unquestioned leading offensive force for the Mustangs. He is diversifying his game, as evidenced by the power header he converted.

“He’s always had the header thing going,” Morton coach Jim Bageanis said. “He’s gotten stronger, and I think he’s just gotten more aggressive as the last couple years have gone on.

“But he’s definitely stronger and his skill is more improved than it was two years ago.”

Aquino credited a recent growth spurt – he’s now 5-foot-11 – for a greater confidence and effectiveness in the air.

“I’ve grown a little bit since sophomore year, so I’ve been getting up there,” Aquino said. “Honestly, we just go through every week, we just see how the other team is and read the other team.
“If they have taller guys, obviously we’re going to play on the floor a little more. If they have shorter guys, we’ll play in the air. But it just depends on how we’re feeling and what we’re more efficient that week.”

The Mustangs showed efficiency on their set pieces, with several corner kicks leading to shots on frame and frequent free kicks, mainly in the first half, causing anxious moments in the Naperville Central defense.

“We’ve been practicing a lot of set pieces, and it just felt natural. I just put the ball in, tried to find a head,” Trujillo said. “Luckily it found Max, and he was able to put it in.”

Trujillo, who is now a captain, appears poised to make a significant impact at both ends of the field. The left-footed veteran is a capable striker of the ball both on corner kicks and other set pieces, and he’s not afraid to make overlap runs.

“My role on defense this year is I push up a lot with the midfield, try to find as many crosses as possible,” Trujillo said. “I really love playing with this team this year. We’ve got lots of talent.”

That’s true for the Mustangs nearly every season and they got this one started on the right foot with a decisive effort in terms of possession and defending.

“I was happy,” said Bageanis, who praised the play of midfielder Caleb Mendoza. “I think we played well defensively and were able to handle the ball in the back to give ourselves ways to relieve some pressure.

“Offensively we’ve still got to click a little bit together. We’ve had some good ideas, but we’re a step or so off. But it was a good mix for the first game. It was a group effort.”

For Naperville Central, which lost nearly all of its offense from last year’s 26-3-1 squad, it will take a group effort to score goals. Troy Adams is still juggling his lineup and formation and the experiments may continue for a while. For instance, Bohan, a star outside back, started the game in the midfield and also played up-top.

“We’re still trying to figure out what exactly is our best fit,” Troy Adams said. “The first half we came out one way. The second half we came out theoretically a very different way, and I thought the second half we looked better than the first.

“I’ve told them it’s going to be a process. You hate losing. You never want to lose, but at the same time the goal is winning five conference games and seven state playoff games.

“There are very few years where we’ve had more possession than Morton. Last year was a very rare exception when we had more of the possession.

“We need to be a little bit malleable. OK, this is what this team does well. Let’s try to take advantage.”

A bright spot for the Redhawks was the play of junior goalkeeper Connor Waite, who made six of his seven saves in the first half of his varsity debut. Waite’s older brother, Austin, was the starting keeper on last year’s state championship team and is now playing at Bradley.

“Morton is always a good program,” Waite said. “I can’t remember a year that they weren’t good, but we have a lot of new guys.

“I think our defense is 90 percent there, and our offense is new. So, we have to get that to jell, too, but I feel like we have a really good chance to go far in the playoffs again.”

Starting lineups

Naperville Central
GK: Connor Waite
D: Patrick Berryman
D: Ryan Lafferty
D: Blake Stevens
D: Michael Cavalleri
M: Carter Adams
M: Patrick Bohan
M: Eli Jarrell
M: Elliott Krause
M: Clay Scherf
F: Michael White
GK: Efrain Farias
D: Julian Soto
D: Josh Trujillo
D: Ivan Ramirez
D: Christian Valadez
M: Carlos Tafoya
M: Alexis Meza Dominguez
M: Caleb Mendoza
M: Sergio Villegas
M: Max Aquino
F: Enrique Ayala
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Max Aquino, sr., MF, Morton

Scoring summary

First half
Morton: Max Aquino (Josh Trujillo)   13’
Second half
No scoring