BERWYN – Morton boys soccer coach Mike Caruso said before the season the only thing the Mustangs needed to be a dominant team was a top goal scorer.
While Morton still isn't blowing teams away or capitalizing on all of its chances, the Mustangs are succeeding without that true go-to finisher. Morton won four games in the Pepsi Shodown, three of them by one goal, to advance to Sunday's final at Toyota Park.
The Mustangs have shown well in the tournament, making last year's final and advancing to at least the semifinals in each of the five years they've participated.
"We're just hoping to take it this time because we lost in the Pepsi last year," said senior defender Luis Alvarado. "It's a pretty good test."
The intensity of the single-elimination format creates a playoff-like atmosphere that provides invaluable experience.
"It's a good tournament early on for the state tournament because it's one game and you're out," Caruso said. "That's how you got to play when your back is against the wall and there is no tomorrow."
Jovany Garcia scored once in a 2-0 quarterfinal win over Streamwood and scored both goals in a 2-1 semifinal win over Wheaton Academy. Garcia, a senior forward, is providing the early scoring punch for the team.
Despite Garcia's emergence, the Mustangs still left plenty of opportunities on the table throughout all four tournament matches. Even the two-goal win against Streamwood was only finally clinched by a last-minute counter attack goal while even the Sabres' goalkeeper was forward in the attack.
Morton's defense is built around talented, veteran players Alvarado, Abdon Delgado, Alonso Fregoso and Hector Luna. The strength of the defense is the familiarity the players have with each other from growing up together and playing on the same club teams.
"We've known each other way before high school," Luna said. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and if our teammates are going to get the ball or not and most of all get everyone's back."
The back line has done well this season, but the offense will have to lighten the pressure on the defense in these one-goal games.
"Eventually it's going to bite us," Caruso said. "We've got to be able to finish games and get some breathing room. We're battling. I can't complain about the effort, but eventually it's going to bite us in a one-goal game when we have opportunities [we don't finish]."
Pepsi Showdown final
Who: Morton vs. Lane Tech
When: 12 p.m. Sunday
Where: Toyota Park, 7000 S. Harlem Ave., Bridgeview
Morton at the Pepsi Showdown
Morton 2, Loyola 1
Morton 2, Streamwood 0
Morton 1, Huntley 0
Morton 2, Wheaton Academy 1