Graduation, injuries forcing Kearny girls’ soccer to regroup
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It was one thing for the Kearny High School girls’ soccer team to endure big losses to graduation. Every high school team loses a considerable amount of players when Pomp and Circumstance is played at commencement exercises every June.
But the Kardinals also suffered their fair share of losses due to off-season injuries as well, making preparation for the 2013 season that much more difficult.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Kearny girls’ soccer head coach Vin Almeida said. “It’s been a major rebuild. It’s been an opportunity for others to take advantage of the situation.”
The Kardinals lost three key players to injury.
First, Chelsea DaSilva suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in June, putting her out of action for the season.
Then, Kathleen Dos Reis suffered an ankle injury that will keep Dos Reis on the sidelines until the end of the month.
Finally, there was the crushing blow. Defender Amanda Eustice went down with a knee injury playing in a scrimmage game in August.
“She was playing so well,” Almeida said. “We went down to Maryland to play some good teams. We were playing Good Counsel, one of the top teams in the country and Amanda went down. But she popped right up and ran off the field. So we didn’t think she was hurt that bad.”
The result was a torn ACL as well, with surgery and the whole nine yards. Eustice, unfortunately, is also out for the entire season.
However, Almeida is not crying the blues. He truly believes the Kards will be in the hunt once again for county (to defend their four straight Hudson County tournament championship titles) and state honors.
“We do have some good talent,” said Almeida, who will be assisted this year by former standout players Matt Sleece (Villanova) and the program’s all-time leading goal scorer Stefanee Pace (Rutgers). “Hopefully, we can just get some wins and build from there.”
The Kardinals have started the 2013 season with a 3-1 record, defeating Bayonne, Memorial and Ferris, while falling short, 1-0, to Union.
The Kardinals have been utilizing two goalkeepers in sophomore Laura Vilar and junior Amanda DeSousa.
“Both are pushing each other,” Almeida said.
Almeida is sticking to the sweeper/stopper defensive formation.
“I prefer to play the conventional way,” said Almeida, recognizing that a lot of coaches are utilizing the four-across formation.
The Kardinals have been using three players at sweeper, namely junior Salma Bouzidi and a pair of talented freshmen in Isabel Fernandez and Sydney Pace, the younger sister of former Kearny standouts Stefanee and Samantha.
“She’s more of a midfielder,” Almeida said of the youngest Pace sister.
Almeida has faith in all three playing sweeper.
“They’ve all seen time back there and have done well,” Almeida said.
The stopper is junior Dana Green.
There are four girls battling for time at defender, namely juniors Eliza Rodrigues and Lacey Burton and sophomores Alexis Castaneda and Ryelle Seda.
Of the 10 girls Almeida listed at goalkeeper and defender, only Bouzidi has decent experience. The rest are virtual newcomers.
“It’s still early in the season and they’re still working to build a relationship with each other,” Almeida said. “They are coming along. Within a week or two, we should have the machine running.”
It means that the Kardinal midfielders and forwards have to try to carry the load for the rest of the team.
Leading the way is senior midfielder and captain Nicole Kelly, a three-year starter for the Kards.
“She has to be the one to step it up and guide us,” Almeida said of Kelly. “She has to be the one to get us going.”
Kelly had four goals and 12 assists last year. Those numbers should increase this season.
Junior Taylor Munro is also a returning player in the Kardinal midfield.
Dos Reis, who scored eight goals last year, will be a force in the midfield when she returns from injury.
Junior Giselle Blanca is another key contributor in the midfield.
The Kards are deep at the forward position, led by sophomore Barbara Paiva, who scored 20 goals last year and already has four this season.
“I absolutely expect big things from Barbara this season,” Almeida said.
Senior Melissa Pineda, who missed all of last season with an ACL, returns, as does sophomore Amber Crispin, a solid contributor up front last year.
Lily Durning, a freshman and the younger sister of standout goalkeeper Haley, is another strong player on the Kardinal front line.
“With those four kids, it’s definitely the strength of our team,” Almeida said.
So do the Kardinals have what it takes to play for championships in late October and November?
“I think so,” Almeida said. “That’s always the goal. We put them in a tough situation in preseason in Maryland and they responded well. They got to play some of the best teams in the entire nation. So that was a positive thing. I think we’re going to be alright. We’re looking to try to peak by the middle of October. That gives this team a little time to get together. But I think we’ll be fine.”
The rebuilding process never seems to faze Almeida and the Kardinals, but this year might be a different story. The Kardinals are a team in transition, but the winning will continue.