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."