By Chris Sich
Friends and family settled in and took their seats on the frigid bleachers of Morton West Stadium as the J. Sterling Morton men’s soccer team took the field Tuesday of last week. There is a buzz in the air. The lights and sounds from Harlem Ave. passively filter into the stadium; brakes screech and car engines rumble as traffic stops and goes. Players’ warm-up and coaches discuss tactics, as they prepare to kickoff against the Willowbrook Warriors. A win would add to the Mustangs already stellar season.
According to Max Preps rankings, the Morton men’s soccer team is ranked first in the nation and has a 19-0-1 record. With a convincing 4-2 win over the Warriors and only a couple of games left in the season, the team has its sights set on finishing strong.
“I think we have been successful this year because of our teamwork on the field, and the skill of our players,” said Head Coach Mike Caruso. “One of our main strengths of our team is that we have players that can play several different positions, which gives us a lot of versatility for the different styles of teams we face. “
The team is focused on achieving its goals, but knows that the support from the community plays an important role in their success.
“Our team goals are to finish off strong in our last few games before the state tournament, taking first in conference, and hopefully making a deep run in the playoffs for a state title,” Caruso said. “Morton soccer means a lot to the community because soccer is very popular in our area, which the team knows, so they want to do the best that they can to make them proud.”
According to Caruso the home crowd motivates the players to play as hard as they can. The new stadium that they play in, along with the hometown support, improves the team’s level of play.
The team’s current success has the community excited for what the near future holds.
“It’s always a joy to see the Morton program do well, whether it’s on or off the field,” said Daniel Vargas, a resident of Berwyn and a member of the 2011 Morton High School state championship team. “Being ranked at the national level doesn’t happen every year, so of course it’s special not only for the school, but the community as well.”
According to Vargas, the Berwyn and Cicero community is predominately Hispanic so soccer is seen as a “religion” among the community. Seeing the kids on the soccer team succeed makes the whole community happy.
“The Morton soccer program means a lot more to the community than what people think,” Vargas said. “Every year this program gathers families, faculty, students and alumni to come out to all the home games; the Morton soccer program isn’t only a tradition, it’s a huge family.”
It is important to note that most of the team consists of players who have been playing together since they were about seven or eight years old, Vargas added. So the players and families are very close with one another.
Esmeralda Mariscal, a resident of Berwyn, takes pride in the success of the Morton soccer team.
“The Morton soccer team is a very big deal around town,” Mariscal said. “The Morton soccer team signifies pride in the youth in our cities; it’s a source of great pride that our communities be recognized by the achievements of the youth.”
Morton soccer is a family, and the family unity can be felt. According to Vargas, once you throw on that Morton jersey for the first time, you never take it off, even years after you graduate.
With a couple of games left until the playoffs, the teams’ confidence is high and the community is excited for the playoffs to begin. This year’s team is fast, highly skilled, and versatile, but the competition in the playoffs is tough and every game must be their best.
When the team is struggling and has their back up against the ropes, there is one line that Coach Caruso would always say; one line that suits the passion of the school and community.
“Make sure you let them know they played Morton.”