Belleville boys’ soccer: Finding goals hard to come by

Simply put: If a soccer team can’t put the ball in the opponents’ net, then more often than not, the losses will begin to mount.

Thus the main reason why the Belleville High School boys’ soccer team is going through a tough go these days, evidenced by the Buccaneers’ dismal 1-5-1 record.

The Bucs only have a tie against Technology of Newark and a win against Cedar Grove to show for their efforts – and even in those two contests, the Bucs managed to score just a single goal.

“We can’t score at will,” veteran Belleville head coach Gary Polewka said. “We don’t have a true striker.”

Polewka attributes the lack of goals to the lack of games that the Buccaneers usually play during the summer months that were lost due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic that shut down all activities worldwide.

“We usually have about 20 games played during the summer,” Polewka said. “We didn’t have the opportunity to play together over the summer, games that would have normally got the kinks out. We’re just falling a goal short here and there.”

Incredibly, even when the Bucs find the nets, like they did when they scored three times last Saturday against neighboring rival Bloomfield, the Bengals managed to get one more in net in a 4-3 win.

Polewka said that the reduced schedule brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – knocked down to 13 matches – still means that Belleville faces all the tougher teams in the Super Essex Conference.

“We’re still playing the tough teams,” Polewka said. “We’re facing the top teams in the (SEC Liberty) Division like Livingston, Verona and MKA (Montclair Kimberley). We always like to think we are capable of competing at that level, but we’re just a little short this year.”

Polewka said that he has been relying upon a young roster filled with seven sophomores and asking the youngsters to hold their own against older squads. Needless to say, it’s not easy.

“We’re just not blessed with having that one true goal scorer,” Polewka said. “We’re also small in size to go along with the inexperience up top.”

Needless to say, it is not the recipe to success in one of the toughest divisions top to bottom in the entire state.

The Bucs have been utilizing two goalkeepers, namely junior Pedro Barba-Rojas and sophomore Jason Penaloza. Barba-Rojas transferred to Belleville from Garfield last year, but wasn’t able to play at all for the Bucs. Penaloza is still learning the ropes.

The Bucs utilize the “four-across” defensive formation. Senior Johan Capellan has been a starter on the back line for three years now and is a mainstay at center back. Senior Bruno Lopes has moved back and forth from midfield to defender this season. Senior Christian Cumbe is a returning starter on the backline from last season. Junior Brendon Diaz and sophomore Gerber Coreas are others that Polewka can use as a defender.

Senior Fernando Fajardo is the team’s center midfielder.

“He’s been part of the program for the last four years,” Polewka said. “He’s probably our best player. He creates plays in the middle of the field. He has great vision and knows what to do with the ball.”

Senior Santiago Murillo-Londono relocated with his family to Belleville from Seattle and has made his mark with the Buccaneers.

“I wish I had him for four years,” Polewka said. “He’s a real gritty player and has good skill with both of his feet. He never gives up.”

Senior Luis Juca-Cadena, junior Jonathan Ruiz and sophomores Leonardo Salomone and Ivan Garcia round out the midfield.

“I look forward to seeing Ivan develop over the next couple of years,” Polewka said.

Senior forward Jonathan Sanchez scored a goal and had two assists against Bloomfield Saturday. Junior Matheo Aragon-Acosta is a left-footed attacker that causes problems for defenders. Sophomore Jonathan Villa is an underdeveloped talent.

“He’s raw,” Polewka said. “He hasn’t been playing the game long. But he’s big and strong and very determined to improve his skills.”

As the season draws to a close, Polewka is hoping that the Bucs can shake up the nets over the next two weeks.

“We are hoping to rattle off a few wins,” Polewka said. “I think the COVID set us back as a team. We’re nowhere we’re used to be.”

Not for a team that won 12 games last season. But if you don’t score, then the results will be like the ones the Buccaneers have endured this fall.




The Belleville High School soccer team, headed by veteran head coach Gary Polewka (left) has been counting on the play of goalkeepers Pedro Barba-Rojas (center) and Jason Penaloza (right). Photo by Jim Hague





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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.”