Boys Soccer: Some unexpected teams have their eyes on prize10/26/11 Hinsdale,IL Morton's Joel Leon (24) celebrates after evening the score at 3-3 late in the second half against Lyons in the sectional semifinal on Oct. 26, 2011 in Hinsdale. Morton won in overtime 4-3. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 3, 2011 6:38PM
Soccer is dominated by the unpredictable, especially in the state tournament. A strange bounce here, a deflected shot there. It all adds up to success or heartbreak.
The remaining teams are in survival mode.
As the Class 3A finals close out the season, the background is underlined by several considerable absences. Two nationally-ranked teams that dominated during the regular season, Naperville North and defending champion Rockford Boylan, failed to advance beyond the sectionals. Last season’s runner-up, Libertyville, is gone, too.
Those left standing have their eyes on the top prize.
“You’re looking at putting a two-game streak together and you’re the state champion,” Morton coach Mike Caruso said. The Mustangs (22-3-1) face a hot Warren team in the second semifinal Friday night at Lincoln-Way North.
Naperville Central (18-4) and Fremd (16-5-2) square off in the first semifinal. The Redhawks blanked the Vikings 3-0 in the Best of the West tournament in September.
Morton outlasted Lincoln-Way East 1-0 on Joel Leon’s goal in the fourth overtime Tuesday. Star forward Joel Salmeron, a Sun-Times’ first team all-area player last year, sprained an MCL on the eve of the season opener.
With Salmeron out, midfielders Jesus Morales and Alonso Torres emerged as the Mustangs’ new threats. Salmeron is back, playing a different role this year, using his explosiveness to ignite the team’s offense.
After beating Lyons and Oak Park-River Forest in the sectional, Morton confronts Warren (22-3-3), which stunned 26-0, nationally-ranked Boylan in the sectional final.
Morton and Warren both last reached the semifinals in 2006, when Warren finished second and the Mustangs fourth.
Naperville Central ended the regular season on a down note, losing three of its last four games. The state tournament arrived just in time as the Redhawks have posted five shutouts, including a 1-0 sectional final win over Naperville North.
Goalie Mike Pavliga has been phenomenal, but the Redhawks face a vastly-improved Fremd team.
The Vikings smashed previously-unbeaten Prospect 4-0 in the sectional final and dominated New Trier 5-1 in the supersectional.