Pardon Denis Jelcic if he’s still in somewhat of a state of shock that his Lyndhurst High School boys’ soccer team is still undefeated at 4-0 and earned a victory over neighboring rival and perennial state power Harrison, the first time the Golden Bears knocked off the powerful Blue Tide since 1979, a streak that stretched an amazing 41 games over that span.
“I knew we would be solid,” Jelcic said. “But I didn’t think we’d be where we are. I expected us to be competitive, so this has been a pleasant surprise. The kids love playing and love being together. It’s just fun to watch.”
The Golden Bears have defeated Butler by a 5-2 margin, perennial foe New Milford by a 2-0 score, knocked off rival Secaucus, 5-3 and the big 2-0 win over Harrison last week.
For a team that won 12 games a year ago, the Golden Bears are off to a flying start.
“This is the most skilled team, position by position, that I’ve had since I’ve been the head coach,” Jelcic said. “I would also say that this is the deepest team as well. I really had good vibes about this team in the preseason. It’s a close-knit team. It’s the closest team I’ve had as well. We have seniors who didn’t play last year fighting for playing time this year. That says a lot. We never had subs who came off the bench and contributed. But this year, I legitimately have subs for everyone in every position.”
Jelcic said that he’s kept 22 kids on the varsity roster.
“And they’re all going to play,” Jelcic said. “I kept three goalkeepers and they’re going to play as well. The biggest thing is the way they communicate off the field. It’s constant soccer. They talk about soccer. I’m almost sick of them talking about soccer. But I think that’s going to translate into victories down the road. In October and maybe November, that will be huge. I hope I’m still coaching soccer when hockey season starts.”
Jelcic is also the head coach of the Lyndhurst/Paramus/Hackensack ice hockey co-operative squad.
“I think this team is going to be around for a while,” Jelcic said.
Sure looks that way.
Leading the goalkeepers is senior Tyler Liuzzi, who spent a lot of time in the Golden Bears’ net the last two seasons.
“He’s big and strong and moves pretty well,” Jelcic said of Liuzzi. “He used to be a little timid in goal, but not anymore. He’s confident in there and knows how to be involved with his teammates. He’s a totally different goalie than what he was. He’s just more active now. He’s on top of the ball. The backs can play the ball back to him with ease and he can handle it.”
Liuzzi was outstanding in securing the clean sheet against Harrison, registering 11 saves. He also made five saves in the shutout win over New Milford.
The other two netminders are juniors Jake McCann and Andrew Fernandez.
“Jake is smaller and more athletic,” Jelcic said. “Andrew is bigger and more physical. But we’re really deep at goalkeeper.”
The Golden Bears’ defensive alignment, going “4-across,” has been downright stellar over the first four games.
“They all play so well together,” Jelcic said. “It makes my job so much easier. They’ve been all over the place. It’s really been impressive.”
The two center backs are junior Tom Zurkowski and sophomore Luis Yolianes.
“We moved Tommy back from center midfield and he’s been outstanding,” Jelcic said. “He’s the smartest defender in the NJIC (the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference). He’s been playing lights out.”
Zurkowski had a goal and an assists in the win over Secaucus.
The other defenders are senior Shawn Santi, a four-year varsity contributor, and two players who were midfielders to start the year, but have been moved back to secure the back line. Senior Steven Cano, who has had two assists thus far, and sophomore Enrique Mutsoli have played splendidly in their new positions.
The midfield features junior Eustace Mutsoli, Enrique’s older brother, as well as sophomore Matthew Martin and freshmen Tommy Rogan and Ali Celik.
The Mutsoli brothers are skilled ball handlers who can do their share of damage.
“Eustace makes plays,” Jelcic said. “Enrique can become a scorer. He’s tall and lanky.”
The team’s striker is R.J. Alvarez, a senior, who was the team’s leading goal scorer last year.
“I expect him to score a bunch this year,” Jelcic said.
Senior Dylan Sousa has been injured, but he’s working his way into game shape and should return to action soon at either defender or in the midfield.
Needless to say, it appears as if Jelcic’s sixth season as head coach could very well be his best.
“I’m a little guarded now,” Jelcic said. “Beating Harrison was big, but now we’re the hunted. Teams will be coming after us. NJIC rival Dwight-Englewood will be a major test this week. Bergen Charter (Tuesday) and Leonia (Thursday, both at the Lyndhurst Recreation Facility) should be solid competitors.
“I think we’re developing a different culture here,” Jelcic said. “We needed to have some fun.”
Defeating a team for the first time in 20 years tends to be fun.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”