Boys soccer: Naperville North ties Morton in early showdown
Morton senior forward Johnathon Murillo was aware nothing would come easy for the Mustangs on Saturday against Naperville North.
"We knew it was going to be a difficult game from the beginning," Murillo said. "Everybody knew it was 1 and 2."
Naperville North is ranked first in the state, while Morton is ranked second. The traditional powers always play each other in the first week of the season and the games usually are filled with hard-working, talented players.
This match was no different. Both teams had a couple of good scoring chances but neither could convert and the result was a 0-0 draw.
The visiting Huskies (0-1-1) had a slight edge in play in the first half and squandered the best scoring chance of the game when star forward Alex Barger missed wide on a penalty kick at the 21:13 mark. Three minutes later, Jacob Ryu hit the crossbar with a long free kick.
"The first half they had us," Murillo said. "But at halftime Coach (Jim Bageanis) talked to us and said we have to come out stronger and attack more, so that's what we did."
Indeed, the Mustangs (2-0-1) outshot the Huskies 6-2 after intermission. Murillo nearly won it for Morton with a minute left when he fought off tight marking from a defender and got around the right corner.
Murillo sent a line drive from a tough angle that caromed off the crossbar and through an empty crease.
"I turned and I knew I could take him 1-on-1," Murillo said. "Coach has been telling me to take them 1-on-1, and I attacked him and once I cut with the right, I knew it was done.
"I was trying to cross it, but I was also trying to trick them and have it hit the crossbar and somebody rebound. I was hoping somebody would crash the goal after it hit the crossbar or even have it go in. I thought it might go in."
Nothing did, which was a bit of a surprise considering both teams are offensively oriented this season, with greater experience and talent in the offensive third of the field compared to their back lines.
"We survived," Bageanis said. "They did a really good job of closing us down and not letting us play our 1-on-1 game.
"We thrive on our 1-on-1 play, connecting with players once we get into the attacking third, and they did a good job of shutting that down. We'll have to work on that."
Despite the draw, both coaches were pleased with the result.
"It was a good game," Bageanis said. "Both teams had chances. I thought we put it on them pretty good there in the last five minutes."
Naperville North, which lost to Lyons 2-0 in its season opener on Thursday, has only one returning starter on defense but showed marked improvement.
"I'm happy with today," Naperville North coach Jim Konrad said. "Our back line did a better job of anticipating danger, whereas on Thursday they were reacting to danger, and that's been a huge step up.
"Battling Morton to a draw is always something we can take some pride in. We love that program so much. It's such a classy organization and it's a thrill to play them every year."
Many people expect the Huskies and Mustangs to meet again in the supersectional like they did in 2019, when Morton won to end Naperville North's three-year run as state champs.
"We all played our hearts out," Murillo said. "They did, too, and it was a draw, so it was a win-win.
"We're looking forward to playing them again."