By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The North Arlington High School boys’ soccer team had a stellar 2012 season, winning 13 games and advancing to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I semifinals before falling to Brearley Regional.
As Jesse Dembowski embarks on his fourth season as the Vikings’ head coach, he wants the team to have much higher goals in mind.
“We’re hoping each year to raise the bar,” said Dembowski, whose team opened the 2013 season with a solid 4-2 win over a strong Hasbrouck Heights squad. “We’re not asking for the stars and the moon. We just want to keep moving up. Every year, I tell the kids my expectations and they know what I want. Their mindset is the same. They want to reach our goal.”
So this year, Dembowski is hoping the Vikings can compete for the state sectional championship.
“If they stay together and keep pretty calm, they can go a long way,” Dembowski said. “They ask a lot of each other. They’re a good group.”
Junior Joe Cappelluti has moved from the midfield to goalkeeper this season.
“It was a bit of an adjustment for him,” Dembowski said. “At first, he was nervous, because he hadn’t played goalie in a whole, but by the end of the game (against Hasbrouck Heights), he was being more vocal and calling for the ball. I think he can handle it.”
The sweeper is senior P.J. Sirotiak, who returns for his third season in the Vikings’ starting backline.
“He’s very athletic and fast,” Dembowski said. “He knows how to handle the ball.” The stopper role is being shared by junior Conrad Malinowski and senior Ryan McKenna.
“They’re splitting the time regularly,” Dembowski said. “It depends upon the style of the opponent.”
Junior Ed Lozado is a returning starter to the Vikings’ backline. He is joined by sophomore Moises Polanco.
“I think we can be pretty solid in the back,” Dembowski said.
The midfield is even stronger and might be one of the strongest units in the entire New Jersey Interscholastic Conference.
Leading the way is center midfielder Danny Cordeiro, who had 16 goals and 19 assists last season and started 2013 off with a bang, scoring two goals against Hasbrouck Heights.
“I probably have to expect the same from him this year,” Dembowski said. “The only bad thing is that as soon as he steps on the field, there are two or three guys shadowing him. But somehow, he still gets off his shot and he can shoot anywhere from 35 yards and in. He has a great shot and he makes things happen. He’s a playmaker first. He’s not greedy at all and knows the game well.”
Senior Derek Perez is another returning player in the midfield. Always known for his diminutive stature, Perez has bulked up over the offseason and actually grew a few inches.
“He gained a little height, but he has natural ability and has great height,” Dembowski said.
Junior Vinny Ribeiro transferred from Brazil to the United States and North Arlington last year during the season. He made an impact, scoring five goals, but should do more this year.
Junior Jose Ruiz is another returning midfielder. Ruiz scored a goal in the win over Hasbrouck Heights.
“He has a real good quick shot,” Dembowski said of Ruiz. “He can shoot the ball, then make it back to play defense.”
The other midfielders are the Bajaj brothers, who transferred to NA last year from their native Albania.
“We’re really a multicultural team,” Dembowski said. “We’re like the United Nations.”
Senior Bestor Bajaj (pronounced BAI-YAH) is more of an offensive minded player in the midfield, while brother Juxhin is a junior who concentrates on defense. However, Juxhin Bajaj was the one to score a goal in the season opener.
The forward line features junior Nick Awad, who played last season, as well as junior Cesar Marquiz, whose family left the district last year, but has since returned.
Junior Ryan Duffy is the team’s utility player, seeing time both at midfield and at forward.
“He runs indefinitely,” Dembowski said of Duffy. “I’ve never seen a kid with the energy that he has. It’s amazing. No one can believe how much he can run. That’s an asset.”
Another asset is that the Vikings will have the new FieldTurf facility in Riverside County Park to play on. That’s going to make a highly skilled player like Cordeiro even that much more efficient and dangerous.
And as for the season-opening win?
“It’s enormous,” Dembowski said. “We want to get in the county tournament this year. This is going to help. We never beat Hasbrouck Heights in my four years here. I told them that we had a chance to start off the season in the right way and we got a quality win to start the season. It’s going to mean a lot down the road.”
It means a lot now. The Vikings are poised for a great season ahead.