For generations, the phrase “wait ‘til next year,” was applied to the Brooklyn Dodgers by their fans when despite being one of baseball’s best teams, it was never able to get over that hump and win a world series.
North Arlington head boys soccer coach Kevin Barber has heard a similar refrain each year at the team’s annual end of season dinner. Barber is pretty sure he speaks for everyone with the program when he says everyone is fed up with hearing that next year will be the year.
“Every year we have an end of the year dinner that our parents throw for the kids and the seniors get up and they talk. And for the past nine years, the seniors always look to the younger guys and say ‘next year is your year, you should be bringing home a state title,’” said Barber, who is in his second year as head coach after previously serving as the JV coach. “I think everybody’s sick and tired of hearing that next year is our year. These boys are ready to be that team that gets over the finish line and brings home the state trophy that has eluded us for the last 20 years”
With several key players back from last season’s 18-3 squad, Barber and the Vikings have every reason to believe that “next year” has arrived in North Arlington.
Perhaps the biggest cause for such optimism is an attacking group that is overwhelming in both depth and aggressiveness in the upper third as the Vikings return five of their top six scorers. Their offensive prowess was on display in Friday’s season-opening 8-1 victory over Hasbrouck Heights.
“It’s unbelievable the way these guys can work together for a common goal of putting the ball in the back of the net,” Barber said. “These kids in the final third just know what to do and what needs to get done in order to put our team ahead.”
Both starting forwards are back in juniors Vincent Richard (12 goals, 3 assists in 2021) and Declan Hughes (11 goals, 6 assists). They have different styles up top, but as the numbers show, they are quite successful at it.
“They’re two very different players. Declan is more of a hard-nosed, going to score dirty goals in dirty areas. He’s a coach’s son and can do anything. Vinny is more of a good left and a good right and he can score from any distance and any angle.”
Nicholas Stanzione could also see time up top, but will primarily be a starter on the wing for North Arlington. The sophomore scored six goals in limited time last year and is poised for a breakout season, which began with two goals and two assists in Friday’s opener.
“He’s a bulldog. He’s not very big, but he’s got a ton of fight in him,” Barber said about Stanzione. “He’s going to be a problem on the wing, in front, or wherever else he’ll be.”
Sophomore Hugo Rojas, who started on defense last year, moves up to start at the other wing. In the middle, senior returning starter, Danny Janosek (11 goals, 11 assists last year) is joined by senior Mert Kutlutan, who despite a reserve role last season, still had seven goals and nine assists.
The holding center midfielder is Tomas Custadio, who has started since the middle of his sophomore season and is a steady presence, especially on 50-50 balls. Junior Adam Cheikhali can also man the spot while also seeing time on the back line.
Sophomore Josh Perez, who scored two goals on Friday will also see plenty of action in the midfield, as will junior Anthony Ovando, a transfer from Cliffside Park, and Alex Rodriguez.
Senior center back Sean Manzo, a four-year varsity player, anchors the defense with sophomores Felipe Cavalho and Justin Bunnell on the outside. Senior Marco Ponce, who had a big preseason, will see a lot of time in the back as will junior Peter Nadolny.
Senior Patrick Lind, who had five shutouts, while sharing the goalkeeper spot last year, is the starter in net this fall with junior Joseph DaSilva.
North Arlington will be tested this season after moving to the NJIC’s National Division, which includes Harrison, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, Secaucus and Weehawken. The Vikings also go to Jersey City on Saturday, Sept. 17 to play at St. Peter’s Prep, who is routinely ranked among the state’s top 20 teams.
While such a schedule might not result in 18 wins again, the goal is much bigger than that this year. The Vikings believe that the tougher regular season slate will prove beneficial in the state tournament and will help ensure their goal of making ‘next year’ into reality this year.
“We need to challenge ourselves because if we go 18-3 and then lose in the second round again, who cares?” Barber said. “Playing a more difficult schedule is going to prepare us better for that run in the states that we know we can make. I know last year being a No. 1 seed in states and losing in the second round at home left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)