By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Kearny High School boys’ soccer team enjoyed a highly successful season in 2013, winning 15 games and advancing to the Hudson County Tournament semifinals and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinals, defeating Roxbury and Clifton before losing to Bergen Tech.
But that wasn’t good enough for a typical Kearny boys’ soccer season.
“Especially since we came up empty and didn’t win anything,” said veteran head coach Bill Galka. “We have a bunch of kids back who remember what that felt like. They don’t want to have another year like that.”
Galka said that he is counting on a veteran team to lead the way in 2014.
“You’re always looking for the returning players to be leaders,” Galka said. “They want to avenge what happened last year and go after championships and challenge for them.”
The Kardinals began practice in earnest last week to prepare for the season opener Sept. 5.
“Every year, we have returning players and that’s good,” Galka said. “But you have to remind yourself that you haven’t played a game in nine months. So we’re still forming training habits and getting chemistry. That’s what you do in the preseason. You can teach good ideas of the game, but we have to find the right positions for the players again and who is going to be taking those spots.”
Galka has had to endure yet another obstacle before the Kardinals have even begun training. Three of his projected players have decided to sign on to local soccer academies, forgoing their year with the Kardinals. One of those players made the decision only minutes before the team’s first workout. That’s not easy to overcome.
“We face that every year,” Galka said. “They were some good players.”
One of the key players returning is one of the top soccer players in the state in senior goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira.
Ferreira was injured at the end of last season and it was evident how much it hurt the Kards not having him in goal.
“We’re lucky enough to have a top keeper,” Galka said.
“And he’s this team’s leader. He’s the guy. He’s the one leading everyone in fitness drills. He’s the first one on the field. He’s a natural leader. I don’t think we’ve had a great leader like this since (former Observer Male Athlete of the Year) Hughie MacDonald (in 2002). That’s how important Seba is.”
The Kardinals do have some veterans returning along the back line to help Ferreira protect the net.
Senior Andrew Quintos returns to his position at center back and is joined along the back line by senior Michael Almeida and junior Cort Montanino. Sophomore Adrian Velazquez, who saw considerable action last year as a freshman, also returns.
Junior Damien Kolodiej is another solid defender who will see considerable action, along with seniors Daniel Villalta and Christopher Smith.
“We have some good returning kids back there,” Galka said. “Our defense should be the strength of the team.”
Junior Marcelo Matta is one of the top returning players in the midfield. Matta had a handful of goals last year and should see that number increase due to the graduation of other top scorers.
“He’s a good distributor,” Galka said. “I’m looking for him to be more of a leader, both on and off the field.”
Senior Danny Vicente returns to the Kardinal lineup. Vicente was a solid player as a freshman and sophomore, then went off to play with a soccer academy last year, only to return now for his senior campaign.
Junior Christian Sieira is another midfielder to watch, along with Calvin Carbajol, as well as the aforementioned Smith.
Senior Alexi Velazquez is a force to be reckoned with at forward. Velazquez scored 10 goals last year before becoming injured toward the end of last season.
“We’re looking for him to have a great senior year,” Galka said.
Senior Arturo Sanchez is another Kardinal forward with a strong leg and a knack for the net.
So it shapes up to be a solid season for the Kardinals in the weeks prior to the season opener.
“We definitely think we have promise,” Galka said. “At least, from what I see so far. We’re good to go and we’re looking forward to our scrimmages and then the start of the season.”
There’s another reason to be excited. It looks as if the Kardinals will get the chance to face neighboring rival Harrison at Red Bull Arena the last weekend in September. The finishing touches are being made to a soccer doubleheader (boys and girls) at the local soccer palace, featuring the neighboring rivals.
The two schools met in a doubleheader in 2012 and it was a day to remember.
“It’s just about definite,” Galka said. “We’re excited about that.”
As well as excited about starting a new season. It should be a great one for the Kardinals, one that definitely has championship aspirations – like it always should have.