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Northern Illinois Soccer League Proves It's More Than A Game

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Spencer Tritt
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The action at the semi-finals of the Sycamore-DeKalb Soccer League

Soccer fever has hit northern Illinois hard this year. Since May, teams across the region have competed in the 10th season of the Sycamore-DeKalb Soccer League.

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On a recent Sunday, the soccer fields at the DeKalb Sports Complex are filled with players in brightly colored coordinated jerseys as fans cheer from the sidelines.

These are not kids on the field but adult men from their late teens to early fifties. Players come from LaSalle/Peru, Rochelle, Sycamore, and DeKalb, but they represent much more as most of the teams are named after their hometowns in Mexico. Players usually have some family ties that bond them, making the recreational sport more than just a game.

Guillermo Hurtado says the sport brings people together.

“Soccer is the most popular sport for us Mexicans,” he said. “Since we were young we have enjoyed playing and we feel [the] need to play every week,” he said. “It serves to de-stress us after a week of stress at work. In addition, we are passionate about playing. So the years pass and we continue to play.”

On this day, it feels like autumn came to watch - a bit cloudy but mild. Players from team Union Laguna gather on the sidelines, watching team Yecuatla play against team Durango, after losing their match to Deportivo Toluca.

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Spencer Tritt
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Rodolfo Montoyo plays central defense for Durango. He says this particular match fits into the overall tenets of this league -- pride and respect.

“This game is tough -- though it’s good,” he said. “We had two missed opportunities to make a goal. But they had one and they now are winning one to zero. They are a good team.”

Durango has several more experienced players, including Rafael Bacall Galindo.

The 45-year-old proudly tells me he is from Mazatlán, Sinaloa and played soccer professionally in Mexico. In this match, he takes it in stride that he didn’t get much playing time.

“Well, I got assigned to the bench,” Galindo jokingly laments.

But he says what happens on the field reflects the values of the player as a person.

“Soccer is of a certain character,” he said. “For you to play good soccer you have to have a strong character. Not explosive or impulsive, but overall have the character to play soccer.”

And he adds that the latest match between Yecuatla (of Veracruz, Mexico) and Durango is a classic match-up.

Durango falls short this year.

The semi-finals other match-up is the Sycamore Rovers versus Toluca.

A woman named Juana on the sidelines with her children cheers for Deportiva Toluca. With her husband on the field, this is a family affair.

She’s anxious for the outcome.

Deportiva Toluca wins in a penalty kick shoot-out — and heads to the finals to face team Yecuatla.

Heart-pounding endings like this are why players and fans love this game. And they are proud to have a place to showcase their roots in their community.

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A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.