Edgar Garcia is the soccer equivalent of the Swiss Army knife for the Morton soccer team, a more talented and versatile player who plays a variety of roles for the Mustangs.
“You can plug him in anywhere, and he can do something for you,” Morton coach Mike Caruso said.
The Morton senior is a crucial piece of what Caruso calls the “four by committee,” the four midfielders the coach calls the heart of the team’s offensive attack. “By rotating that group in there, it keeps them fresh and let’s me get those guys in there to put more pressure on the defense,” he said.
Garcia showcased his abilities to sharp effect by scoring two goals and adding an assist as the No. 3 Mustangs earned a 3-0 win over Kelly in a second-round PepsiCo Showdown game Tuesday in Berwyn.
Top-seeded Morton (9-0-2) advances to play the winner of the Larkin-Lake Zurich matchup in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
Morton snapped Kelly’s eight-game winning streak. The Trojans’ only other loss came against top-ranked St. Charles East the first game of the year. Kelly interrupted the Mustangs just enough to throw them off-balance, especially in the area Caruso called the “12-yard box.” Junior Kelly goalkeeper Victor Montoya made a great diving stop of Garcia and also denied senior midfielder Mario Romero on a penalty kick in the 13th minute.
“I thought I scored there, but the goalie made a guess and he guessed right,” Romero said.
Morton’s relentless pressure wore the Trojans down. After repeated forays toward the Trojans’ goal, the Mustangs strung together a sharp sequence as midfielder Jorge Mercado lofted a cross that Garcia elevated and smashed inside the near post off a header in the 29th minute. Mercado, who’s just 5-3, is the unsung player in the midfielder collection, Caruso said. “He can play some really nice balls,” Caruso said.
The goal also tightened the Mustangs’ resolve, who played with greater purpose and clarity from the moment of the first goal.
“We had some chances beforehand, but we seemed to not want it as much,” Garcia said. “I saw the ball that Jorge put up and I went after it, and after that, everybody got more focused.”
Morton broke the game open early in the second half. In the 43rd minute, Romero worked a beautiful sequence with Garcia. Trailing him on the right flank, Romero worked wide and collected his pass in stride as he blasted the ball from about 16 yards out.
“I took that fast sprint and I was just thankful that he passed me the ball,” Romero said.
With Kelly (8-2) now reeling, Morton effectively put the game away in the 47th minute. Off a free kick from about 30 yards out, the left-footed Mercado drilled a lofting ball that Garcia perfectly timed his run and redirected past Montoya.
“I really like this group,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of determination and discipline to be the best. We’ve been playing together for a long time, since we were little, and you see the chemistry our there.”
By monopolizing possession time, Morton rarely allowed Kelly to mount any countermoves or attacks on its own. Senior midfielder Emmanuel Rodriguez, who scored two goals against Lane on Monday, had two decent shot, one a deflected ball, that Morton standout keeper Ian Chacon smothered.