Fenton's Barriga a study in perseverance
Wonderful success stories aren't supposed to end this way.
Angel Barriga, who led Fenton to a school-record 17 wins during the 40th anniversary season of the Bison program, was hobbling on the field during a Class 2A regional championship game loss to Lake View.
An ankle injury may have taken away some of the physical greatness that Barriga showed all season, but there was no way he was going to step off the field and away from his teammates.
"I wouldn't give up the game for anything because it's been my whole life," he said. "I really enjoy playing and can always remember playing. I enjoy the game so much. If the game wasn't enjoyable, or if suddenly I stopped having fun I wouldn't be playing. But I don't see that happening. Those thoughts have never gotten in my head."
For leading the Bison -- a program that started when people had just caught "Saturday Night Fever" and a gallon of gas to get to the movie theater only ran you 65 cents -- to a school record for most wins in a season while producing some of the most eye-popping offensive numbers in the state, Barriga is the captain of the 2017 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area boys soccer team.
The impact player
"Angel was our difference-maker and playmaker on the field," Fenton coach Victor Ruiz said. "Each and every day he would find ways to help his teammates in practice and help set them up to score in games, if he was not scoring himself."
Barriga has been making an impact since his freshman season. Last year he continued to excel and enhance his game, although the Bison didn't garner much attention as a team because they finished with a 9-11-3 record. He scored 9 goals, but that paled in comparison to the numbers he produced this fall.
With Ruiz stepping in as coach at Fenton, he made it a point to tell Barriga that his senior season would be something special. He was right.
"I promised him at the beginning of the season that it was going to be an exciting season and that he would have fun and not have to work as hard on the field as he had in the past three years," Ruiz said. "I surrounded him with a group of great players to complement his game. I also promised him that he would be scoring more goals and be at his best game in his four years as a high school student-athlete."
The Metro Suburban Conference MVP erupted for 35 goals and 24 assists to run away with Team MVP honors. He also was an all-sectional selection who was named the MaxPreps/United Soccer Coaches Player of the Week (Sept. 11) for Illinois.
"What I tried to do all season was mostly attack by getting the ball out wide, and when I had a chance to shoot the ball, I shot the ball," he said. "If I continued to dribble to set up my teammates with the ball, I'd go that way."
Top players obviously draw a lot of attention, and Barriga noticed that immediately when the season started and acknowledged that he had to adjust to seeing more and more opponents sticking to him like glue.
"Being marked like I was at the beginning of the season I knew I had to adjust and I progressed," he said. "More teams saw that we had some good players and that you can't always keep the ball away from me and I can still take on players or get the ball to someone else so it's not going to make as much of a difference."
Being a leader
Some players are above and beyond most of the competition so they become complacent. Not Barriga. He's constantly trying to improve his game, to become a better teammate and ensure success can be found in the win column.
"I enjoy the hard work I put into it," he said. "I keep working because I love the game and I like to practice by myself. It's all about getting better. I try to do whatever I feel like I'm missing. I work on my skills, my shooting and try to build those up. I work on my technique and passing and everything really. There's always something to work on."
Barriga understood that his duties included being a leader and role model for his teammates, and that's why he constantly emphasized the importance of hard work.
"Angel is a very passionate person, especially during games," Fenton senior Darwin Medina said. "He doesn't let anything go and never lets the team down. He makes really good decisions and he expects everyone on the field to go 100 percent and to know what they're doing. We know he's the one that controls the ball and usually makes the run so we need to be there for him."
Unless you're wearing headphones in the stands, it's pretty much impossible to not hear Barriga communicating with his teammates.
"He's very vocal and the one that's speaking throughout the game," Medina said. "He's in control and as a captain he has to speak up and tell the players what to do. He's made me and the whole team better in that way."
Some of Barriga's biggest moments included beating Glenbard South, which won a regional championship; ending St. Edward's 21-game undefeated streak before the Green Wave went on to take third place in Class 1A; and netting a hat trick while beating a Timothy Christian team late in the year that also went on to win a regional, as well as a sectional semifinal game.
"He's a crafty soccer player, a playmaker and a goal scorer with an attacking prowess and outstanding vision," Ruiz said. "He's a great teammate, a motivator to his peers, and he would draw at least three or four defenders at times that would not be able to stop him."
That was his attitude, that he couldn't be stopped, and he wanted to prove that to his teammates. So he pretty much went out there and did it.
"I think the biggest difference for us was our attitude," Barriga said. "We wanted to win every game and in the games we didn't, we made sure to realize our mistakes and looked forward to correcting them by our next game."
It proved to be quite a final season for Barriga and the Bison. Now, Barriga is hopeful that his next game will come in college.
"I was skeptical when I joined the high school team at first and now I don't want to leave because it's been such a fun experience," he said. "Now I'm focusing on my ultimate goal to play (Division I) soccer. I think I can do it and I have my coaches to support me."