Boys Soccer: Mather rolls to 2A title
Updated: November 5, 2011 5:01PM
Mather’s motley crew of soccer players represents a host of different nationalities and cultures.
The Rangers call themselves Nigerians, Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Costa Ricans, El Salvadorans, Bosnians and Mexicans.
Now everyone will be calling them something else – state champions.
Utilizing a blend of speed, skill and creativity that awed friend and foe alike, Mather became just the second Public League school in the 40-year history of the state tournament to win a state championship when it crushed Chatham Glenwood 6-0 in the Class 2A title match Saturday at Lincoln-Way North.
Qudus Lawal, one of five Nigerians on the team, led the Rangers (21-3-1) to their first state title in any sport by scoring a title-game record four goals, including two in a span of 17 seconds. That gave the senior forward 40 for the season.
“It means a lot,” Lawal said. “I am not going to forget today.”
Lawal, who scored four goals in a game for the third time this season, tallied the first four goals for Mather and was not surprised by the rout.
“I believe. I have the confidence,” Lawal said. “First minute of the game I have the confidence that we are going to score five, six goals.”
Lawal gave the Rangers the only score they would need at the 27:23 mark of the first half, scoring on a breakaway off a feed from fellow Nigerian Chisom Ogbana. That assist was the only point for Ogbana, but it was his quick passes in transition that set Mather’s attack in motion.
“I’m so happy right now,” said Ogbana, who has been in the United States only two years. “It is a great feeling to be from a different country yet be together as a family.
“Mather High School has different people, different countries, but we came together as one family. Seeing a lot of people makes me happy.”
The Rangers made their fans, who filled seven buses, happy, though it took a while to break the game open.
Steven Younus, who emigrated from Iraq three years ago, hit the right post with a shot with 50 seconds left in the first half, but he wasted no time making a difference after intermission, springing Lawal for a breakaway goal just 20 seconds into the second half.
That triggered a flurry of action that saw Mather score on five consecutive shots. Lawal made it 3-0 on a short shot off a feed from Kevin Ramirez with 35:50 remaining, then scored again 17 seconds later after the Rangers stole the kickoff. Younus set that goal up with a cross from the right end line to the left post, where Lawal headed it in.
“We share the ball,” Younus said. “We never play selfish. You saw that [on that play]. My chance was 95 percent but [Lawal’s] chance was 100. I don’t care who scores it. I only care if the team wins. I didn’t want to graduate without a state championship.”
The Rangers also say they don’t care where anyone is from or what language they speak.
“Outside the field we speak a lot of languages,” Younus said. “We speak Nigerian, Iraqi and Mexican, but no matter what we all speak, on the field we only speak soccer.”
“Mexicans bring the style, we [Nigerians] too bring our style, the Assyrians, they bring their style, so we join it together and turn it into one,” Lawal said. “In the beginning it was hard, but later, as we kept going, it got easier.”
And so it did against Glenwood (17-6-2), which simply couldn’t keep up with the Rangers’ attacking style. Juan Mendez scored the fifth goal with 33:28 remaining and Younus finished the scoring with 25:58 left off a feed from Enitan Junaid.
If not for the play of Titans’ goalie Colton Schreyer, who saved five breakaways, including one which saw him make back-to-back stops on Lawal and Ogbana, the score would have been much worse. Mather goalies Eduardo Garcia and Edwin Vazquez combined to make six saves to share the Rangers’ ninth shutout.
For Mather coach Branko Cvijovic, who came to America from Montenegro in 1989, the key to victory was simple.
“They love the game,” Cvijovic said. “We allow them to play the game, not overkill them with the physical game. We played some physical teams but I didn’t see anyone that had as much fun or as much skills as we had. That’s what we emphasize.”
Now a school that had never won a state trophy in any sport is on top of the soccer world thanks to a diverse group of players who worked together for a common cause.
“We respect each other and that’s what Mather is about,” Cvijovic said. “Our fans were so well-behaved and this is what we take pride in, even as much as [the title].
“Finally we stepped up as a public [league] school and said we can do this, we can be as good as anybody else in this country. That’s why I’m so proud of them. I’m proud that I’m coach of this team.”