Chicago Sun-Times
By Patrick Z. McGavin

September 2012 Archives

One thing about soccer, once the season starts, it goes by in a blur.

The regular season has only a couple of more weeks. The Public League and other conferences are gearing up for their postseason tournaments.

The IHSA just published the seedings and assignments for the Class 2A and Class 3A state tournament. The most interesting development is the historically strong near-west suburban sectional. Last year, Hinsdale Central was the host and eventual Class 3A champion Morton endured a gauntlet in beating Lyons in double-overtime and a very good Oak Park-River Forest team that fueled their championship run.

An already loaded field is ridiculously deep this year with the inclusion of Benet. The Redhawks secured the No. 3 seed there, behind No. 1 Morton and No. 2 Lyons. As their Pepsi Showdown game proved last Sunday, those two stand with Naperville Central as the best three teams in the western suburbs.

Nobody is hotter than the Red Devils. Their 3-2 victory over Lyons last week was overshadowed by the Pepsi Showdown championship the following day. Lyons in fact created their own narrative when they beat Morton and ended their 24-game winning streak.

Hinsdale Central is 11-1-1 in their last 13 games. They also beat Sandburg, the No. 1 seed at Lincoln-Way Central, 1-0, on Friday. Morton, St. Ignatius (No. 4 seed), Downers South and Hinsdale South are the regional hosts.

The other curious thing, whether it is political or not, is seeing how damaging the recent Chicago Teachers' Union strike was to the seedings. Six of the eight lowest-seeded teams at Argo are Public League programs, including two very good teams, Young and Kelly.

If anything, that could create some very intriguing opening round games and only increase the potential for upsets. "We finished third in the state in 1994, and this year's team is just as good. We are going to shock some people," Kelly coach Stan Mietus said after his team lost to Oak Park-River Forest 2-1.

The seedings also underlie the strength of the toughest conferences, the two divisions of the West Suburban and the two leagues of the Upstate Eight. At York, the top eight seeds either come from the Upstate Eight or West Suburban. St. Charles East, Addison Trail, Larkin and Streamwood are the top four seeds. Watch out for Glenbard West, a tough and skilled team that has also impressed this year.

Because of the travel times involved, the Rockford Auburn sectional is split into four quads: Boylan, Warren, Huntley and in a surprise, Cary-Grove, are the respective No. 1 seeds. Barrington, a regional host, is No. 2, behind Cary-Grove. Like the girls' team last spring, the Broncos have a great incentive. They are hosting the supersectional. They are going to be a very tough out.

At Conant, undefeated Palatine (twice tied) is the top-seed, followed, in order by, Buffalo Grove, Stevenson and Libertyville. The Patriots, who have beaten Warren, are the highest-seeded team to also be regional hosts, and that could give them an edge.

The Conant winner faces the winner of the New Trier sectional at Glenbrook South. Behind Nelson Herrera, Maine West is the No. 1 seed, followed by Maine South, a very good Leyden team and Public League power Lane. (Here's another stark example of how the games missed by the teachers' strike hurt the Public League. Lane beat Leyden in the Pepsi Showdown.) The darkhorse there is No. 9 seed Loyola, a surprisingly low-seed who feature a much improved offensive attack and a very good playmaker in Kevin Francis.

Finally, top-ranked Naperville Central, in an interesting reversal, is the top-seed at West Chicago over their crosstown rival Naperville North. Last year, of course, North put together one of the most dominating runs in the sport only to lose to the Redhawks 1-0 in the sectional final. Next to Argo, this is the deepest sectional. Central, North, the host Wildcats and Neuqua Valley are the top four seeds. Watch for Metea Valley, the eighth-seed though a regional host, who just beat Benet. The other darkhorse is West Aurora, the unlucky No. 13 seed who are coming off a stunning upset of Naperville North.

Up next is a breakdown of Class 2A.

Reaching the Pepsi Showdown championship typically notes a mark of distinction.

The players, coaches and fans who turn out at Toyota Park Sunday afternoon should only dream the two participants, Morton and Lyons, have the kind of game they did the last time they hooked up.

In a Class 3A sectional semifinal in late October of last year, Morton senior midfielder Jesus Morales converted a penalty kick score with six seconds to play in double overtime for the Mustangs' 4-3 victory.

Morton rode the momentum of that dramatic victory to the Class 3A state championship.

The game marked the eighth time in the last fifteen years that Morton and Lyons have faced each other in the state tournament. All eight games have been decided by one goal and Morton snapped a personal three-game losing streak in the state tournament.

Morton has won 24 consecutive games and is riding a 28-game unbeaten streak. Their last loss was against Leyden nearly a year ago, on September 27, 2011.

"Every game between us is always decided in the last few minutes," Morton coach Mike Caruso said. "The proximity between the two schools, we're in the same conference [West Suburban], one in the silver, one in the gold, and we always seem to get the chance to play each other."

Caruso's team has not lost since last year. They enter the championship game sporting a 15-0 mark. The team's emotional leader, senior sweeper Joel Leon, who scored a goal in that sectional game last year, leads the Mustangs. "He's the team leader in the back, and he keeps everybody honest," Caruso said.

Caruso graduated his top three scorers from last year, keyed by all-state performer Joel Salmeron, who scored the game-winner in the Mustangs' 1-0 state championship overtime victory over Naperville Central.

"We knew this year it was going to be more of a collective effort to score," he said. The emerging star is senior Abel Guzman. He leads the team with 12 goals, including the game-winner against Hinsdale South in the Mustangs' 1-0 tune-up victory Thursday night.

Guzman showed great poise and promise as a freshman until he missed most of his sophomore and junior seasons recovering from a knee injury. "We knew it would take some time to get in game shape and get his rhythm," Caruso said.

Morton reached the championship game two years ago, where they lost to Libertyville.

Lyons lost a 2-1 overtime thriller to Libertyville in last year's championship match.

Lyons had its seven-game winning streak snapped against Hinsdale Central Saturday night. The Lions (10-3-1) are a tough, experienced team that knows how to win. Brett Heimerdinger is a dynamic midfielder. Coach Paul Labbato is blessed with depth and talent.

"They're a classic [Lyons] team," Caruso said. "They play hard and they keep coming. They don't waste a lot of balls in the offensive third and they make the defense work. They're most dangerous on their set pieces, that's how they scored twice against us last year."

Maine West forward Nelson Herrera made his name as a freshman two years ago who powered an upstart Warriors team to a sectional final appearance.

The 5-10, 170-pound is an elite scorer who is lithe, agile and capable of dominating the ball with either foot. In less than two and a half years of varsity competition, he already owns the Warriors' career-scoring record.

He has been on a tear this season. In the Warriors' first 14 games, he massed 19 goals and four assists as the No. 6 Warriors jumped to a school-best ever start of 11-1-2. This follows his startling sophomore year of scoring 24 goals and dishing out six assists.

His electric start makes him the star of the week.

"I have great teammates and they make it easier for me to score and do what I do," the quiet, determined Herrera said. "I have a lot of natural ability, and I'm able to do what I want out there."

Against Maine East last week, he registered a hat trick in running his career scoring totals to a magic 50. (Former Warriors' star Steve Gonzalez, who also played at Northern Illinois, was the former career-leader with 45 goals.)

Maine West coach Mike DiVincenzo said Herrera's unique skill set combined with his unorthodox style of play makes him particularly difficult to defend. "He really plays under control and understands change of pace," DiVincenzo said.

"He has a very mature game. What I mean by that, he's sneaky.

"He kind of lulls a team to sleep and then he really turns it on. He's by far the fastest player on the field; in fact he's one of the rare players who runs probably faster with the ball than without."

Behind Herrera, Maine West is looking to advance on last year's supersectional qualifier. DiVincenzo's squad returns 18 experienced players from last year's team. Herrera is the star on offense; senior keeper Jecsan Torres is his opposite number on the backline.

Gerardo Espinoza, Ozzie Fernandez and the twins, John and Josh DeLeon, are also critical performers. " I think right now we're just going game by game," Herrera said. "We are really close, the whole team, and that's the strength, our defense and our position.

"We're not cocky but we know we can go pretty far," he said.

In soccer, with scoring at a premium, the one great player is a considerable tactical advantage to have at your disposal, DiVincenzo said.

"Nelson is a great finisher who can finish with power or finish with finesse. He could do it by himself, he could do it off a teammate.

"He could do everything."

Yesterday, we wrote about Bendik Krogh, a sophomore foreign exchange student from Lillehammer, Norway after he scored two goals to power the Dolphins past Amundsen 3-1.

Here's some more about him.

"I've been here for [26] days," he said. "I was part of this exchange program and they pick a family. One of the host sisters in my family goes to Young, and that's how I wound up there."

Young coach Ian McCarthy had no idea of his dynamic new addition. "He came the third day of try outs and we got him eligible a little over a week later," McCarthy said. The left-footed Krogh, who's lanky and lithe, has scored four goals in the Dolphins' first six games. Young is 3-3 in those games.

I asked him how the style of play in America compares with that in Norway. "You have a lot of different sports that are different from soccer," he explained. "We have a different mentality. I'm very impressed with the skill level you have here.

"I didn't think it would be this good."

Emerging stars

Krogh immediately joins a class that appears deep and talented. Robbie White, a sophomore keeper at Glenbard West, has yet to allow a goal this year, opening the season with four shut outs for the talented Hilltoppers.

Calum Bishop, a tall, talented forward, powered Lake Forest Academy to the championship of the Evanston Invitational last week. He scored a goal and recorded an assist as the Caxys defeated Glenbrook North 2-0. He also scored in the team's 5-0 victory over Payton and 4-2 defeat of Evanston.

Neuqua Valley is experiencing a transition year, adjusting to a new coach, but Ryan Ross continues to impress. Antioch's Iven Hernandez is also proving himself an elite player.

Steve James new film

At the end of the girls' season last spring, we wrote about the alarmingly high rate of concussions experienced by young women. Using data from a decade long study, the article pointed out girls' soccer has the second highest rate of concussion incidents after football.

The great filmmaker Steve James, who made the landmark Chicago high school basketball documentary, "Hoop Dreams," and last year's sobering study of urban violence, "The Interrupters," premieres his new sports-themed film, "Head Games," this month.

Drawn in part from the same titled book by former Harvard football player Christopher Nowinski, James' new film explores the personal, social and medical consequences of head injuries and its impact on amateur and professional contact sports.

The film opens Friday, Sept. 28, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. James is scheduled to attend the Sept. 28th screening at 8 p.m. and the Sunday, Sept. 30th screening at 5:15.

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