Lyndhurst boys’ soccer turns to Abu Hakmeh to lead the way

When Denis Jelcic decided to step away from his coaching duties at Lyndhurst High School to concentrate on his family in Croatia, the athletic program needed a new head boys’ soccer coach to keep the Golden Bears moving in the right direction.

So they turned to a familiar face in the local soccer scene.

Emad Abu Hakmeh, a Lyndhurst resident who was once the head coach at neighboring North Arlington before stepping down in 2010, has made a comeback to take over the Golden Bears. It was truly a stroke of incredible luck.

“When I left coaching North Arlington High School, I went to coaching rec (recreation) with my daughters,” Abu Hakmeh said. “But we just sent our youngest (of five children) off to college. When the position opened, my kids all kind of teamed up on me to apply. I guess all things just came together at the right time. I couldn’t say ‘No.’”

Abu Hakmeh already knew most of the players, considering he coached them on the recreation travel level.

“I coached these kids when they were younger,” Abu Hakmeh said. “This team is very competitive. It’s a quality group of players. And I have a very good coaching staff.”

Abu Hakmeh will be assisted by Jorge Amaral and Robert Dasler, with former Golden Bear standout Jason Thorne heading the junior varsity squad.

As for the Golden Bears, junior Lucas Baroni is the goalkeeper, but freshman Matthew Makar will get some playing time in net.

“He’s shown some promise as a freshman,” Abu Hakmeh said.

The Golden Bears have a lot of experience in the back line, which will feature five standouts.

Senior Luis Yolinas has been a starter for the Golden Bears for the last three seasons. He’s a rock solid defender.

Junior Nick Aranvitakis is another returning starter along the backline.

“Those two are the center backs,” Abu Hakmeh said.

Senior Matthew Martins is a team captain and another team leader.

“He could also play in the center,” Abu Hakmeh said. “They’re all interchangeable.”

Sophomore Tyler Wise is an outside back with a ton of talent and promise.

“He’s a complete player,” Abu Hakmeh said. “He’s like our wild card. He can play anywhere.”

The other back position will be shared by senior Matthew Rudd and freshmen Andrew Carrion and Bartu Akar.

“Matthew could play the midfield,” Abu Hakmeh said. “The freshmen have good skills.”

In the midfield, the Golden Bears have three junior center midfielders with a lot of experience and talent.

Ali Celik has a powerful leg and a great sense of seeing the entire field. Jonas Amaral is the son of assistant coach Jorge and has played on all different levels around northern New Jersey. Thomas Rogan rounds out the talented trio. Celik and Rogan have been varsity players for three seasons.

“It’s not a bad group to have,” Abu Hakmeh said.

On the front line, senior Enrique Atsoli has returned after missing all of last season with an injury. Atsoli will be one of the top scorers in the NJIC this season.

Senior Seif Meky and freshman Isaac Camilo will see a lot of time, as will senior Koral DeLeon.

Juniors Nicholas Caden and Aidan McCann give depth on the front line. Freshman Ciprian Niedbal is another player with immense potential.

The Golden Bears are scheduled to open their season Sept. 9 against Dwight Englewood.

All in all, Abu Hakmeh’s return to varsity soccer after sitting out the last 11 years should be successful, like he never missed a beat.

“I think the most important thing is that the kids are so well behaved,” Abu Hakmeh said. “They work hard and they’re very coachable. They listen and learn and that’s a great sign. That’s half the battle.”

Abu Hakmeh is ready for his comeback.

“I have been familiar with the program and familiar with the kids,” Abu Hakmeh said. “I know the expectations that I have in them and I know the expectations that they have of me.”

And the expectations that everyone has? Basically a winning program as always in Lyndhurst.

Learn more about the writer ...

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.”