By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Nutley High School boys’ soccer team is off to a 1-2-2 start after five games. In the eyes of some coaches, the record might be alarming.
But that’s not the case with Nutley veteran head coach Marcellino Marra. The affable Marra, who is in his seventh season in charge of the Maroon Raiders, isn’t overly concerned with the losses. In fact, Marra believes that the Maroon Raiders have played pretty well.
“We lost to Belleville in a close game (3-2 final) and lost to a good Newark Academy team in double overtime,” Marra said. “We tied Caldwell and Science Park (both by 1-1 scores) and we beat East Orange. The matches in the SEC (Super Essex Conference) are very tough, because everyone is so equal. We had our chances. We just didn’t get the breaks.”
Marra knows that this might be considered a rebuilding year, but he doesn’t like using that word.
“We lost 16 seniors from last year,” Marra said. “That’s a lot to lose in one year. We don’t believe in rebuilding. We believe in reloading. That’s what we’re doing this year. We’re getting our players ready to play whoever we have on the schedule.”
The Maroon Raiders have only three starters back from the 12-4-5 team that won the Super Essex Conference Liberty Division championship last year.
The Raiders lost to Morristown in the second round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs last year.
“We discussed that,” Marra said. “That loss left a bad taste in our mouths, especially the returning players. But we’re working hard to have a good team and have even better teammates. Every single game, these kids are working together so hard. I told them that it’s not where you start, it’s where you end. I see these kids playing with pride.”
Marra realizes that he’s fielding an extremely young team.
“We’re young and inexperienced,” Marra said. “Even the seniors we have don’t have much varsity experience. But they’re stepping up and doing a good job. It was a little bit of a concern coming into the season. I know their ability and they’re keeping us in games so far.”
One of those seniors with limited varsity experience is goalkeeper Joseph Nichols, who was the net minder on the junior varsity squad last year. But Nichols has been a major force thus far.
“I’m really proud with what he’s been doing in goal,” Marra said. “He’s becoming a leader on the field. He’s more vocal and that’s what we needed back there.”
The sweeper is junior Yoshio Ishikawa.
“He’s just a fantastic player,” Marra said. “He’s been on the varsity since he’s been a freshman, but this year, he’s getting his chance to play and he’s been amazing to watch. He’s developed into a fine player and I’m so proud of him.”
The stopper is sophomore Will Montgomery.
“Billy didn’t start at the beginning of this season, but he’s moved his way up and has done a nice job,” Marra said. “He’s learning every single day.”
The other defenders are senior Santino Gabriele and junior Tommy Melillo.
Leading the midfield is senior Nick Feraco, who is basically like a fifth defender on the field.
“He’s one of the most talented defenders in the league,” Marra said. “He can play anywhere. He brings the midfielders together with the defenders, but he can score as well.”
Feraco already has two goals this season.
The Maroon Raiders’ main offensive threat is senior center midfielder Nate Peraino.
“He is a very talented midfielder who plays with incredible pace,” Marra said. “He never quits. He’s constantly going.”
Peraino also has two goals thus far.
Another talented midfielder is senior Damani Walker, who has been doing a great job setting other Maroon Raider players to get in good scoring position.
Junior Haddy Abdelhady is another key contributor in the midfield.
The forwards are senior Jose Calderon, who has scored two goals this season, and senior Tommy Pollitt, who is a newcomer to the program this season. The Maroon Raiders have a team that will only get better as the season moves on, but there’s no time to waste in the highly competitive SEC.
“I think the SEC has such a level playing field, so anything can happen,” Marra said. “The schedule definitely gets a little easier for us now. But the opposition is always good.”
It’s up to the Maroon Raiders now to play up to the level of the rest of the always competitive Super Essex Conference, a challenge that Marra feels his team can achieve.