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posted: 9/15/2012 7:35 PM

Larkin falls to Morton in Pepsi semis

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By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent

Reigning state champion Morton ended Larkin's hopes of reaching the finals of the prestigious Pepsi Showdown boys soccer tournament with a convincing 3-0 victory in the semifinals Saturday morning in LaGrange.

The highly anticipated contest between two highly skilled, and technically advanced clubs never came when the Mustangs struck twice within 60 seconds to all but finish the Royals (8-2-0), who weren't able to fight back following the lightning-quick strikes.

"We had such a good start, in fact, we probably enjoyed the run of play for most of the first 25-30 minutes, but we didn't come out for the second half, and we defended poorly on those two goals, and you cannot do that against a team as talented as Morton and expect good things to happen for you," said Larkin head coach Ken Hall.

The Mustangs (13-0), who will meet Lyons Township next Sunday afternoon at Toyota Park in the championship match, would open the match by man-marking the Royals' marvelous forward Erik Rodriguez, but would later just double-team the Royals co-captain, effectively keeping the ball off his foot for long stretches, albeit allowing the likes of Tony Hernandez, Matthias Warren, Jazael Medina, and even backliner Michel Gomez to have plenty of touches to help keep Mike Caruso's club from getting forward as much as it would have liked.

"Most of the first half belonged to Larkin, but I really felt that things began to change in the second half when we started to win more 50-50's and knocked the ball around the way that we know that we can," said the Morton head coach, who lost, among others, his top three scorers from his state championship club, including two-time all-stater Joel Sameron.

"We were without our top forward today (Abel Guzman) after he collected two yellow cards the other day, but as you can see, we can be defensive minded when we need to."

Rodriguez and Hernandez would string a couple of nice passes together to trick their way in close and if not for a well-timed tackle, Hernandez likely would have gotten in on Morton keeper Ian Chacon in the 22nd minute.

Hernandez's looping serve to the spot forced Chacon to pull Griffen Perez' close range attempt out of the sky to prevent a potential dangerous chance for the Royals but moments later both Warren and Larkin keeper Aldair Dominguez would parry away a ball in close from which Mario Romero, Giovani Garcia and Edgar Garcia each would orchestrate for the Mustangs.

The Royals got caught ball watching when Chebelo Marquez and Romero were camped out just outside the box and it would be Danny Eufracio who would benefit from the quick touches from his mates as he finished from in close at 50 minutes.

Morton's fine defender, Joel Leori, doubled the lead for his side when his slalom run up the pitch brought him inside the 18 and a high end touch into the back of the net.

"We've been down (1-0) in each one of our tournament games, so I never felt we were out of this one but giving away two goals like that, each defended so poorly, didn't bode well for us the rest of the way," Hall said.

Larkin would initiate a freekick, and with Freddy Alvarez over the ball, the junior's serve sent toward teammates Tito Velasquez and Rodriguez was hauled in cleanly by Chacon.

It would be the closest the Royals would get to anything on frame for the next quarter hour, as the Morton midfield would continue to outwork its counterparts, while clearly enjoying a higher percentage of the possession.

Another mistake along the back in the 77th minute gave the Mustangs' Luis Alvarado the chance to get his name in the score book.

"Getting those two goals back-to-back was so big for us, and it would allow us to settle in, knock the ball around, and make (Larkin) chase the lead," said Caruso.

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