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Game story: Technical, fast Morton runs past Young

By Patrick Z. McGavin , 08/30/23, 2:30PM CDT


Mustangs break open game with 3 goals in 13-minute 1st half flurry

Technical, fast Morton runs past Young

Mustangs break open game with 3 goals in 13-minute 1st half flurry

By Patrick Z. McGavin

CHICAGO — Gilded, brilliant Morton often seems like the soccer equivalent of Andy Warhol’s Factory where the artist produced his successful work.

In mold of Warhol's art, the players are artistic, creative and fun to watch. They are also successful.

Mobile, quick, great with the ball, fast and alert to everything, Morton players flow seamlessly.

“We have all been playing together for a long time, and we know how to pass and move the ball together really well,” Morton midfielder Sergio Villegas said.

The Mustangs appear turbocharged and intertwined; all the pieces gloriously mesh together.

A talented Young defense largely looked on with awe.

“I think, especially in the first half, we were playing scared. We just watched them,” Young keeper Jackson Sprenger said.

The Mustangs, ranked second in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, scored three goals during a decisive 13-minute first half blitz for the 4-2 victory Tuesday night in the West Loop.

Four different players scored, and two different players generated assists.

Morton (3-0-0) captured its third-consecutive victory over a high-quality opponent, having beaten previously top-ranked Naperville Central and then current no. 20 Stagg on Monday night.

The only somber note for the Mustangs came when star Max Aquino suffered an apparent leg injury in the closing seconds of the first half and did not return. The severity of the injury was unknown.

The game marked a rematch of a brilliant showdown last August 30 when Young stormed out to a 2-0 lead in Berwyn. Deyair Ruiz came to the rescue with two goals four minutes apart, and Morton escaped with a 3-2 victory.

In the beautiful and gorgeous late summer air Tuesday night, the contrasting styles and counterweight of the two programs made for thrilling soccer.

Morton's precise passing attack can be devastating. With its five-midfielder formation, the Mustangs like to control and shape the middle.

Young sits on the cusp of making the Top 25. The Dolphins (2-1-0) are a physical and tough team that likes to push the pace, create off the edge and work the ball into the middle of the field with three athletic and skilled forwards.

Morton midfielder Yahir Aguilar opened the scoring, smashing home a rebound deflection from about 14 yards from the right wing in the eighth minute.

“Once I got the ball, I saw the opportunity. I just took the shot,” Aguilar said.  “When you score early and first in a game like this, it just bumps up the team, and you get more confidence and start playing harder together.”

At its best, Morton is like a ballet company. The team moves rhythmically off each other despite having only four starters back.

The return of Aquino and fellow academy player, forward Enrique Ayala, has opened up the attack.

After the early body blow delivered by Morton, Young settled into a more comfortable rhythm, and started pushing the ball into the Morton defensive third.

The trinity of forwards — Cole Hockman, Reese Kruschke and Garen Petrulis — have been a revelation. Petrulis is excellent on the edge. Hockman is gifted with the ball, and has an intuitive sense of place and time. Just as he did in the game last year, Kruschke delivered for the Dolphins. The trio's applied pressure yielded a Morton foul in the box.

Kruschke hammered the penalty kick in the 19th minute for the only tie of the evening.

The equalizer proved somewhat chimerical, imparting a false sense of security.

Moments later, Aquino got free on the right edge for a rocket ball from about 15 yards to return the Mustangs’ advantage.

Aquino is bigger, stronger and faster than the precocious talent who was named a Chicagoland Soccer All-Stater two years ago.

“He’s a really important part of our team and somebody that we rely on,” midfielder Jonathan Almaguer said.

Young was caught off balance at the speed and force of the attack. Morton repeatedly got to the outside edge of the right flank, and did their damage.

“We were not quite set up right defensively,” Young defender John Stanton said. “They had a lot of possessions down on the outside, and they crossed some balls. We had some defensive lapses.”

Morton’s speed and next-level late kick repeatedly put the Dolphins at a disadvantage.

The tone and momentum changed hard with two backbreaking Morton goals, minutes apart, in the closing stretch of the first half.

In the 31st minute, defender Rafael Ramirez worked a beautiful give-and-go with Sergio Villegas on the right wing.

His ball from about 12 yards on the right flank clipped off underside of the crossbar for the third goal.

“We kept up with our opportunities and kept playing hard there,” Almaguer said.

“We were playing with a lot of confidence and felt we could take advantage of their breakdowns.”

Morton closed out the breathtaking run with Almaguer slotting a ball on the right wing that midfielder Carlos Tafoya finished from about nine yards in the 33rd minute.

A competitive game suddenly turned into a three-goal deficit for the Chicago Public League power.

“I think some of those goals could have been prevented,” Sprenger said. “We didn’t have the ball much in the first half, but that doesn’t mean we have to fall apart and give up easy goals.”

After Aquino’s injury, Morton appeared a bit deflated, and Young found its nerve and style in the second half.

Young played looser and more engaged. The Dolphins generated multiple corner kicks.

Hockman played a sharp ball up-top that Petrulis ran on to for a golden opportunity. Morton keeper Efrain Farias came off his line and made a spectacular stop.

The set piece has been a go-to action for the Dolphins during its earlier games.

Stanton has become an authoritative figure with a real sense for the ball. In the 49th minute, he blasted a header inside the back post. He is averaging a goal per game in the young season.

The play originated as a corner from the right edge from midfielder Sam Henle — the same location of Young's dramatic 80th-minute game-winner against Payton on Saturday.

The original corner was played back to Henle on the right edge, who took a dribble and served the ball into the box.

Stanton finished on a clean shot.

“They dominated us in the first half, but I’d say we had the better play in the second half,” Stanton said.

“Their keeper played a great game, but I think we definitely tested them.”

Young coach Nick Maska saw the game as a self-assessment test, a way to gauge where the team is.

“They’re probably one of the best teams in the state, if not the best, so it was good to see that we could hang with them in the second half,” Stanton said.

“We still have a lot of work to do.”

As the first goal-scorer who set the tone, Yahir Aguilar earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor. 

“They played hard, but we showed what we could do out there with our team,” Aguilar said. “We have had three pretty good games so far. We know how to play together, and that has helped us a lot.”

Starting lineups

GK: Efrain Farias
D: Rafael Ramirez
D: Josh Trujillo
D: Ivan Ramirez
D: Christian Valadez
M: Jonathan Almaguer
M: Alexis Meza Dominguez
M: Caleb Mendoza
M: Yahir Aguilar
M: Max Aquino
F: Enrique Ayala

GK: Jackson Sprenger
D: Liam Herrada-Maher
D: John Stanton
D: Ernie Camerena
D: Leo Antoiewicz
MF: Adrian Cogolludo
MF: Ivo Hoying
MF: Sam Henle
F: Cole Hockman
F: Reese Kruschke
F: Garen Petrulis

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Yahir Aguilar, jr., MF, Morton

Scoring summary

First half
Morton: Yahir Aguilar (unassisted), eighth minute
Young: Reese Kruschke (penalty kick), 19th minute
Morton: Max Aquino (unassisted), 21st minute
Morton: Sergio Villegas (Rafael Ramirez), 31st minute
Morton: Carlos Tafoya (Jonathan Almaguer), 33rd minute

Second half
Young: John Stanton (Sam Henle), 49th minute