The title of the 2004 book, "How Soccer Explains the World," by Franklin Foer, says it all, using the
sport as a prism on economic, cultural and social changes brought about by globalization.
I was thinking of that book as a wrap on the just concluded season.
The 2011 boys' soccer season came to a glorious and dramatic close last weekend with Mather dominating Chatham Glenwood 6-0 to capture the Class 2A state title and Morton outlasting Naperville Central 1-0 in overtime on Joel Salmeron's goal.
Much has been made, and for good reason, of the international make up of the Mather team. It was a team of many parts, and the Rangers' first-year coach, Branko Cvijovic and his top assistant, Gabriela Fonzetti Iselin, did a terrific job of getting the players to submit to a disciplined and team system.
The players did not exactly surrender their personalities in the process. They played free, open and relaxed.
The circumstances vary, but at the heart of the matter, each players arrived here with the desire to get an education and use soccer as a means to open up the possibilities. "I thank God and feel blessed every day since I've been here," senior forward Chizom Ogbonna told me in an interview.
Morton's story is no less interesting or dynamic. For the purposes of athletic competition, Morton is a single entity, made up of the west campus in Berwyn and the east campus in Cicero. Its 8,112 students make it the largest in the state, by nearly double of the second largest school, Lane.
The Mustangs' team was made up almost entirely of children of Latino emigres. When Salmeron scored his goal, it was both fitting and extremely touching the emotional outpouring, from both the players and the cheerleaders, many of them in tears.
In both instances, the victories symbolized more than just games: they represented a belief of the team, and also sterling and vivid examples of what we might call American pluralism.
The sample is much to small to make any larger claims, but it suggests, at least on an anecdotal level, that Chicago high school soccer is no longer the sole province of affluent communities that have superior access to facilities and private instruction.
Who's better: Morton ended No. 1 and Mather No. 2 in the final rankings of the Sun-Times. They never faced each other, but they did have some several common opponents. Mather tied Warren 2-2, the team Morton beat in penalty kicks in the Class 3A state semifinals. Both teams also beat Lane; Mather beat the Indians twice, including 1-0 in the city title.
Morton's run in the state tournament was a survival test. The Mustangs beat Lyons in double overtime and Lincoln-Way East in four overtimes. By contrast, Mather ran roughshod over the Class 2A field, outscoring its opponents 43-6, punctuating the state title run with back-to-back shut outs.
Top to bottom, Morton played a harder schedule. Mather was a force of nature. The Rangers ended the year riding a 16-game winning streak and won 19 of its last 20.
It's a match a lot of fans would like to see.