ELGIN -- Eduardo Nava is tough on himself.
However, after the finish of the Class 3A Elgin Regional on late Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, even the Maroons senior would have had to cut himself a break. He collected a remarkable 10th hat-trick of the season to lead the top-seeded and 14th-ranked Maroons past South Elgin 4-1.
“There are defenders and coaches that clearly tell me that there’s no way we can stop you,” he said. “At the same time it’s good, but from the other side it puts pressure on me if I don’t play a good game or don’t score. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make myself better.”
South Elgin (9-8-4) struck early. The Storms’ goal leaders, seniors Ryan Nguyen (nine goals) and Ashton Kerrigan (17) connected 4 minutes and 24 seconds into the game.
“Ryan won a ball and like we’ve done all season, he found me through,” Kerrigan said. “I just placed it in with the inside of my foot like we’ve done all season.
“We had club season, so we had the chemistry built up. (With) the formation and stuff we were playing, it clicked this season.”
Kerrigan had a similar scoring opportunity soon after, which would’ve been quite the blow for the Maroons (14-3-3). After the Storm didn’t convert, Nava did off an Aaron Saldana corner kick.
“It was beautiful,” Nava said. “It was a cross I controlled and took the guy on, left top. I’ve said it before in different interviews, I’m a both-footed player and a lot of players don’t have that. That’s something I really like about myself. If they say to block (my) left, I have my right. They can’t block both at once.”
The only player who almost stopped Nava was Nava.
The forward, who did not play in the Maroons 1-1 Upstate Eight Conference tie at South Elgin on Oct. 4 due to yellow card accumulation, got one Saturday with 14:28 remaining in the half. He later avoided getting another.
Instead, he got another goal about five minutes later. The absolute beauty of a free kick from 24 yards made the score 2-1, which is how it remained at halftime.
“His first two goals were two of the best I’ve ever seen a high school player hit,” South Elgin coach Jerzy Skowron said. “It’s really the game right there. We were there, punch for punch, with them. We made them change formations three times. Everything we could have wanted our players to do they did, except score. I’m incredibly proud of the kids.”
The Storm have been battlers not only in this game, but throughout their fall schedule.
“They’ve been through some challenges,” Skowron said. “I told the kids ‘Let’s shock the world!’ You are in this game. Let’s shock the world right now. We had our chances. But as talented as Ryan (Nguyen) and Ashton (Kerrigan) are, it’s giving a guy like Eduardo Nava too much. If you give him an inch, he’s going to score a ton.”
The challenge of shutting down Nava is one that many try, but few can say they’ve been successful at accomplishing.
“We knew it was going to be trying to take him off the scoresheet, but to say we didn’t have our chances … We scored early, and I think we shocked them a bit,” Skowron said. “And Ashton had the one inside the box. If he put that one away, it might have been the nail in the coffin. But if you give a monster a little bit of room, they are going to keep cooking.”
The way the Maroons answered the 1-0 deficit was exactly what Elgin coach Jimmy Romano wanted from his veterans.
“I was very happy with the way our guys responded,” he said. “They stuck with it. We didn’t put our heads down. At halftime we knew what we had to do in the second half. Our guys played well together as a team unit. and defensively we created the offensive chances.
“We talked to them at halftime about how to respond. They’ve been here before in this situation. Having Nava back helps us with the goal scoring, with the style of play and his maturity in getting guys to play at a high level. If some levels of play drop off or guys are off, he’s there to help with his experience. That’s a big part of it.”
Nava sent a pass to senior forward Adan Garcia as the duo raced downfield in the 65th minute in pursuit of an insurance goal.
Garcia fired the ball back to Nava who fought and won possession and buried it from the front of the box.
“I called Adan to give me the ball,” Nava said. “I guess it was my signature move. … This wasn’t just me. It was my defense and my mids.”
Nava scoring is not an uncommon occurrence. Throughout his high school years in the maroon and cream, he has found the net. Last season he had 23 goals and 12 assists despite playing only 14 games for a team that fell a game short of advancing to the Final Four; Elgin dropped a heartbreaking PK shootout against eventual champion York at the Class 3A Streamwood Supersectional. As a sophomore he had 11 and 5. He’s been doing big-time things as a big-time player for years now.
“He raised the energy level and gives the team a lot more confidence as well,” Romano said.
Few play with the same intensity as Nava.
“Players know not to take anything personal, because he’s so passionate and loves to play at a high level,” Romano said. “Even in practice he doesn’t allow them to slack or take time off.”
While Nava took care of the brunt of the offense, guys like senior defender Roberto Salinas made sure to keep things clean in the back. Whenever the Storm picked up its offense, he and fellow backliners Oliver Garcia, Geovanny Aviles and Edgar Perez were there to keep the area clear.
“It was hard with the pace they had up-top, but I want to say that our defense kept it nice and cool. We tried to keep it calm back there,” Salinas said. “We had a lot of communication. The first (and only) goal was a miscommunication. From then on we went forward instead of coming back and worrying about it.”
Salinas said Elgin needed to get rolling after a loss to Streamwood and back-to-back ties to South Elgin and Larkin late in the regular-season.
“Our team as a whole is playing way better than we did at the end of the regular-season,” Salinas said. “We’ve bounced back not individually, but as a team. It was a little hard when we went through a rough patch when we were tying teams that we were expecting to beat. South Elgin is an example, so being able to overcome it this time, it feels really great.”
Elgin ended the scoring in the 72nd minute. Crashing the goal after a shot from Beto Gaytan shot was redirected, freshman Alex Villarruel scored his third goal of the season.
“Alex pays attention to detail and did exactly what we asked of our players by crashing the goal anytime there’s a shot or cross coming in,” Romano said. “He made a great run into the box and got on the end of a ball that was redirected toward him. He finished that ball with confidence. Even though he’s a freshman, he doesn’t play like one. He’s smart, deceiving and technically gifted. He provides an extra energy and a competiveness to the team.”
When the Maroons are on their A game they’ve proven to be extremely difficult to beat.
“It can happen at any moment with this group,” Romano said. “There is the main core that played last year, so they know what this is like and what it entails. They bring it. They know that this is it. They have to play at a high level for 80 minutes and minimize mistakes and capitalize on others. It’s the postseason, and they lock in.”
The wind, which grew stronger throughout the day in Elgin, gusted at times by the game’s start. However, it didn’t seem to hinder the Maroons possession or their ability to break the game open with a pair of goals in the final 15 minutes.
“I knew it was going to be a different game,” Nava said. “I kept my guys’ heads in the game and went straight forward from there, and we scored four after that. I just kept the guys and myself in the game, and we took it home.”
South Elgin center back Jonah Stueck knew it would be tough to silence Nava.
“He has (33) goals, and the kid is just so good,” he said. “The game plan going into this was to prevent the ball from going into him. We tried to do the best that we could, but he’s just an outstanding player.”
The Storm ended the season with plenty to be proud of.
“I think this season we played fantastic,” Nguyen said. “We started off rusty and bumpy, but we overcame a lot of adversity throughout the season. We began to click and weren’t a one-man show. Everybody was there to support each other, and I think we accomplished a lot.”
As he walked off the high school field as a competitor for the final time, Nguyen shared that he has hopes to play in college and even professionally.
“Obviously, this is not the outcome we wanted, but Elgin is a very good team,” he said. “They move the ball really well. I was exhausted in the first and second half running back and forth and side to side just because they moved the ball so well. That was one of the biggest challenges I had to face in the game.”
Next up for Elgin is Huntley in Tuesday’s Class 3A Round Lake Sectional semifinal. The winner will get either Streamwood or the hosts.
The last time Elgin faced the Red Raiders, who were an honorable mention team in the final Chicagoland Soccer Top 25 of the regular-season, was in a 2021 sectional final. The Maroons fell in that match in a shootout.
GK: Aaron Cacucciolo
D: Xavier Marquez
D: Tyler Goldstein
D: Jonah Stueck
MF: Ryan Nguyen
MF: Quentin Albert
MF: Justin Defensor
MF: Guido Gonzalez
MF: Matt Lipp
F: Ethan Jimenez
F: Ashton Kerrigan
GK: Carlos Benitez
D: Roberto Salinas
D: Oliver Garcia
D: Geovanny Aviles
D: Edgar Perez
MF: Fernando Cuahquentzi
MF: Jayden Plancarte
MF: Aaron Saldana
MF: Alberto Gaytan
F: Danny Perez
F: Eduardo Nava
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Eduardo Nava, sr., F, Elgin
SE: Ashton Kerrigan (Ryan Nguyen), 4’
E: Eduardo Nava (Aaron Saldana), 6’
E: Eduardo Nava (free kick), 30’
E: Eduardo Nava (Adan Garcia), 65’
E: Alex Villarruel (Beto Gaytan), 71’