Blackhawks win Tuesday but thoughts are with Berg



By Darryl Mellema

West Aurora played a man short on Tuesday night. But while the Blackhawks spent only 15 seconds playing 10-on-11 against Glenbard East, the hole in their lineup is real and lasting.

Nate Berg, a senior midfielder at West Aurora, was diagnosed last week with Stage 3 Lymphoma and he is about to start treatment. In a matter of days, Berg went from preparing to attend last Saturday’s Homecoming dance to preparing for spinal taps and bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy.

“Mr. Handsome is one of the things that happens during Homecoming week and (Berg) was having a great time at that,” West Aurora senior James Brink said. “The next day, he finds out he has cancer. It’s horrible that things work out like that. He was like ‘I’m going to miss Homecoming and I’m going to be in the hospital for the next couple of weeks.”

Brink and Berg are more than just teammates.

“Berg has been my ride to school and my ride home from school all year,” Brink said. “I’ve been around him every day of the school year. One day, tells me his lymph nodes are getting really big and he’s having trouble breathing. The next day, he texted me said that he just went to the doctor and it might be cancerous and he’s going to the hospital the next day. Then that next day, he texted me during school. I got his text after school and he said that he has cancer and it just hit me.”

The suddenness coupled with the unexpectedness of Berg’s diagnosis rippled through the Blackhawks team unit. And it clearly affected team members as they prepared for Tuesday’s match, in which they defeated Glenbard East 2-1.

“I haven’t known anyone ever who had cancer,” Brink said. “This was a first-time thing for me and I don’t really know what to think about it. I don’t know all that much about cancer. I’ve known (Berg) since kindergarten. To have it hit as quickly as it did, it was such a surprise and you’re thinking ‘how did this happen?’”

Brink said he hasn’t had a chance to visit Berg in the hospital yet, though he expects to see him before the week ends.

“I text him every day asking him how things are going,” Brink said. “We’re cracking jokes back and forth. I’m telling him to come back so he can give me a ride to school again.”

One of the phrases that kept getting repeated by West Aurora’s players was that despite the diagnosis, “he’s still Berg.”

“I went and saw him last Sunday and he’s still got the same spirit,” West Aurora senior Matt Koth said. “He has that positive attitude and he’s cracking jokes. It’s the same old Berg.”

Berg was a starter all season the Blackhawks. Tuesday was the team’s final home match prior to next week’s state playoffs.

“I’ve known him playing soccer and we’ve played on the same club team and I just wish he was here,” Koth said. “I wish he could have watched us win these last games, this one and the last one.”

Berg’s name was read last prior to Tuesday’s game and members of both teams as well as the fans in the stands broke into loud, sustained applause. Someone in the grandstand shouted “we love you Nate!”

“It’s been hard,” West Aurora senor Collin Malina said. “We’re seeing pictures on Facebook of him in the hospital. He’s got a page at caringbridge.org and you read the comments and a lot of this is new to us. We’ve never had a friend who’s ever had cancer or anything. Maybe we’ve had a relative, someone who’s older. But it’s never been anyone our age.”

Malina said he first came into contact with Berg through park district soccer.

“Back then, we had reversible jerseys that were red and blue,” Malina said. “We went to elementary school together and it’s just weird seeing someone we know that close going through something like this.”

Glenbard East’s players presented West Aurora with a signed soccer ball to give to Berg.

“We talked about it before the game,” Glenbard East coach Josh Adler said. “My big message to the guys was that you have got to learn that things can be taken away very fast and very unexpectedly. There are things in life that are going to happen that you have no idea about. You have to make the most of your time and cherish the time because what you love – might be taken away.”

Adler said that while a signed ball is a small gesture, he knows it will resonate with Berg.

“The littlest thing can go a long way,” Adler said. “By us giving a ball and signing it and wishing him well and to keep the fight, it will give him something extra because he’s hearing it from some other people. And that’s what he needs now. He needs a support group and to know that people are behind him.”

Adler said Berg will find out in coming days, weeks and months just how many people he has supporting him through his battle.

“Soccer’s a big family and we look out for each other,” Adler said. “When (Sustersic) called me and told me, you hear it and you’re devastated by it. You hear about it and you feel for them and you want them to know ‘hey, we’re here for you.’”

After the National Anthem, West Aurora’s players ended their pregame huddle with “1, 2, 3, Nate!” And then their 10 men stepped onto the artificial turf at Zimmerman Field. Glenbard East, aware of the symbolism, took the opening kickoff, played a couple of passes and then knocked the ball out of bounds so Danny Rotolo could enter the match and bring both teams to 11 players.

“Even though each player is trying to deal with it in his own way, it’s hard to lose somebody from the team,” West Aurora coach Joe Sustersic said. “You look and he’s not there and expect him to be there. It’s a hard time. I know I’m distracted and I know that 18-year-old boys, who are his friends, are distracted.”

The match had element of the bizarre about it. The Blackhawks (15-8, 3-4 DuPage Valley) went ahead 2-0, then survived a second-half fightback by Glenbard East (4-10-3, 0-7.)

Brink scored West Aurora’s opening goal, shooting low and on the ground to beat Rams goalie Seth Quam. That goal came at the midpoint of the first half. The second goal came in the final minute of the half. First the Blackhawks had a penalty kick which Quam saved. From the ensuing corner kick, Malina sent the ball to Juan Cerda, who scored his first goal of the season.

Glenbard East picked up the tempo in the second half and got on the scoreboard within 2 minutes when Hugo Aguilar took a shot that was blocked. The ball came directly to Kyle Ricely, who hit a first-time shot into the net.

With 15 minutes left, Ricely fed Samir Ghiasi, who hit the crossbar.

And with 5 minutes to play, the Blackhawks received another penalty kick, but Quam again made the save, his second penalty kick save of the match.

“On penalty kicks, I just try to go in there and see if I can read what he’s going to do,” Quam said. “I pick a side and go with what I see.”

One factor helping Quam make his saves was that neither penalty kick was that far from his body. Still, penalty kicks are a heavily tilted in the shooter’s favor and the Rams’ junior netminded pulled off a pair of saves.

“Certainly a shot that’s near to you is better than one in the upper 90,” Quam said. “You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out. But you try to get big and do what you can do.”

The shift at halftime was positive for a Glenbard East team that faces Wheaton North on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We’re trying to get the guys to think of the game as a two-touch game,” Adler said. “It forces the other team to play faster than they want to. We have to be that team that plays fast. We may not be the most skilful team. But you receive the ball, you pass it and move and run off that guy and work a combination off that guy that you passed it to.”

Adler said the second half showed what the Rams can accomplish if they work hard. In addition to Ricely’s goal and Ghiasi’s shot off the crossbar, Miguel Godoy brought a sharp save from Alex Guillen.
“I thought our energy level went up,” Adler said. “I thought they played faster. We tried to put a target forward on their last defender and gave our other forward the responsibility to sit deep and roam a little more. I thought (Ghiasi) did a great job of bringing energy to the middle of the field. He kind of sat in behind (Aguilar.)”

Coach: Joe Sustersic
Alex Guillen So., GK
Roberto Chavez Sr., M
Nay Sirr Jr., F
David Quinones Sr., D
Olivier Dasilveira Sr., F
Collin Malina Sr., D
Daniel Rotolo Jr., M
Alvaro Perez Sr., M
Matt Koth Sr., D
James Brink Sr., F
Do Thieu Sr., M
Saif Riyadh Sr., M
Nate Berg Sr., D
Steve Rivera So., F
Miguel Moreno Jr., M
Danny Talancon Jr., M
Josue Mejia Sr., M
Haitham Al Rubai Sr., F
Andres Alberto Sr., F
Emmanuel Ochoa Sr., M
Juan Cerda Jr., M
Chris Koulos Jr., D
© 2011 WestSuburbanSoccer.com. All Rights Reserved.