Undefeated Lyndhurst boys’ soccer remains solid

The Lyndhurst High School boys’ soccer team is rolling along these days. The Golden Bears are proud owners of an undefeated record, posting a 6-0-1 record at the midway point of the season, coming off a great 2-1 win over Garfield last Friday. The game was a battle of the unbeaten squads, so the Golden Bears knocked the Boilermakers from the ranks of the unblemished.

It’s the best record that a Lyndhurst boys’ soccer team has posted since the Golden Bears won three straight championships in the old and now defunct Bergen County Scholastic League-National championships in 1997 through 1999.

Needless to say, the Golden Bears’ incredible success thus far has shocked a lot of people, including the architect of that achievement.

“Yes, I’m definitely surprised,” said Lyndhurst boys’ soccer head coach Denis Jelcic. “I’m surprised because we’re in such a good league (the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Division 1, formed for this season due to the shortened schedule and geographical limitations because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic). I don’t think we’re the best team in our league.”

But for now, the Golden Bears hold a full two-game lead on closest competitor Rutherford in the NJIC Division 1 standings. It means that prospects are looking pretty good as the shortened season makes the turn for the home stretch.

Jelcic loves the way the Golden Bears are performing, as they prepare to face Secaucus (Monday) and Rutherford (Wednesday) at home and travel to take on perennial state power Harrison in the Land of the Blue Tide Friday afternoon with the league title more than likely hanging in the balance.

“Because the league is so competitive, I don’t think we set higher goals than winning each game at a time,” Jelcic said. “Every day, we play with fire. We play with confidence. The maturity level, we’re still working on it.”

The Golden Bears have to realize that if they wanted to contend for the new-fangled NJIC Division 1 championship, then a showdown with Harrison – or even two contests – has to be in the cards if there are legitimate aspirations for winning a state sectional championship this year.

“As long as you’re right down the road from Harrison, then they’re the ones who teach you how to play,” Jelcic said. “Kearny, North Arlington, Rutherford, even Wood-Ridge too. The teams in this area are legit. The competition is awesome.”

Jelcic thinks that the Golden Bears have taken on the mentality of a New York Yankee Hall of Famer, the renowned super closer Mariano Rivera.

“They have the mentality of a champion,” Jelcic said. “They have stability and composure. They know how to finish a team off. We close out teams and we finish. We were down to North Arlington and came back to win. We were down to Rutherford and came back to win. The confidence is building. It’s that close, where if we made one mistake, it could devastate us. The whole division is competitive. With each game, it doesn’t get any easier.”

A pair of seniors has been sharing time in goal for the Golden Bears.

Senior Andrew Fernandez was in goal for the win over Garfield Friday, collecting 12 saves. Fellow senior Jake McCann has been getting playing time in goal, but he can also move to striker when called upon.

“He’s more of a traditional goalie,” Jelcic said of his Fernandez. “I’m comfortable using either one or both. They’re both great kids. There’s no competition between them and it makes it a lot easier to coach.”

Senior Thomas Zurkowski is the team’s center fullback, but he became a major scoring threat Friday when he scored both goals in the big victory over Garfield. Zurkowski had six goals and eight assists last year.

Zurkowski can also move up and play center midfield when called upon, proving his immense utility.

Sophomore Tommy Rogan can also do the same things, playing defender and midfield.

Junior Luis Yolianes is another versatile defender.

“Luis knows where to cover and where to be,” Jelcic said. “They all work well together and know where to be.”

Senior Dylan Sousa is another defender, as is promising freshman Tyler Wise.

Jelcic said that he spoke with Wise a lot during the summer months, informing Wise that he had a chance to start with the varsity right away.

“He’s been so smart and tactical,” Jelcic said of Wise. “I have no worries with him. I knew he was able to work with us and be ready to play right away. The other players said that he deserved a shot to play varsity. We gave him the shot and he’s justified getting that shot. He made it easy for us to keep him.”

Sophomore Ali Celik is at center midfield. Celik scored the goal to tie North Arlington and scored the game-winning goal against Rutherford.

Senior Eustace Mutsoli returns at center midfield, where he had three goals and two assists last season.

“He’s a scoring threat,” Jelcic said. “He’s smart and sees the field well. He distributes the ball well to his teammates.”
His younger brother, Enrique, is a forward who scored 22 goals last year and has three goals and three assists this season.

“He’s a pure goal scorer and he could be the best one we’ve had here (at Lyndhurst) in a long while,” Jelcic said of Enrique.

Senior Jurij Kanjuk is a key performer in the midfield, playing on either the right side or the left side. Kanjuk is currently the team’s leading scorer with five goals. He knocked home seven scores a year ago.

Juniors Matt Martins and Seif Meky are very versatile as well.

“They can interchange and actually play anywhere in the field,” Jelcic said.

Senior Juan Proano and sophomore Aidan McCann, the younger brother of goalie Jake, are also getting time with the forward line.

Other key reserves are sophomore midfielder Nick Arvanitakis, junior defender Matt Rudd and senior defender Michael Tortorello.

The Golden Bears look to remain undefeated and strong moving forward, shooting for the first possible state sectional title since 1999. Prince might have wanted to party like it was 1999, but the Golden Bears just want to keep playing.

“It’s the last time we won,” Jelcic said. “But our goal right now is just to get better every day. I tell them every day that they are getting better. If they work their tails off the way they have been, we have a good shot.”

Sure looks that way.




Lyndhurst senior defender Dylan Sousa is a major contributor to the Golden Bears’ defense. Photo by Jim Hague


Lyndhurst senior Thomas Zurkowski scored both of the Golden Bears’ goals in a 2-1 win over Garfield in a battle of two previously undefeated teams. 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.”