There are few, if any, more certain on the local sports scene than Kearny boys soccer staking its claim as one of the top teams in the state. And while it was no surprise to see that all the preseason polls have the Kardinals ranked near the top, that might have been the only guarantee heading into the year for Kearny.
With nine senior starters having graduated from last year’s NJSIAA Group 4 and Hudson County championship winning team, head coach Bill Galka couldn’t remember a time when there were this many spots to fill.
The result was a competitive preseason where every spot in the lineup was up for grabs before this past Friday’s opener against Ramsey, which Kearny won, 2-1.
“It was very competitive,” said Galka, now in his 17th season as head coach. “We knew it would be a lot of competition for (spots) and a lot of open spots. I made it clear that no one was going to be guaranteed to come back and have a starting spot, even if they were a starter or valuable minute guy last year. We made it clear that there’s no guarantees.”
The result is a roster short on experience, but stacked high in depth and talent. Galka will count on his five seniors with significant varsity experience — Michael Reis, Max Silva, Nico Gomez, Johan Baez and Alejandro Alvarado to lead the way.
All five have been named captains.
“Michael, Johan and Max are all three-year players,” Galka said. “They know what we want, they know how we play. They’ve been to all the fields and been in every situation. They along with Nico and Alejandro that we’re relying upon to lead the team to wherever we go this year.”
Reis is a returning starter at right back as is Silva, at right-center back. Senior Massimo Rondon, who came up from JV midway through last year, is now starting at left back. Junior Hans Zoller, who moved to Kearny from Ecuador, takes over as the left center back, a position previously filled by Alan Castillo, First Team, All-State selection a season ago. Jorge Lugo, a senior and junior Adrian DaSilva will also see time in the back.
In the central midfield, Baez and Gomez both shined in limited time last season. Baez finished with 12 goals and 13 assists and Gomez added 10 goals with five assists for what was a dominant Kardinals offense a year ago.
While both will once again be in attacking roles, the holding central midfield spot will be primarily handled by sophomore Andres Toledo, who was one of the breakout performers of the preseason.
“He’s done very well as a young guy,” Galka said. “Andres has come in as such a young guy and looked very, very comfortable in that central midfield position.”
Junior Tomas Lois is also a capable contributor as either a holding midfielder or extra defender. Mathias Custodio and Javier Pena Castillo will also see time in the midfield.
Freshman Benji Silva and sophomore Christopher Brooks are two others, with the versatility to see time as attacking midfielders or as forwards.
“I think we have a lot of guys that can contribute this year,” Galka said. “A lot of guys that might not be starting, but they can contribute in a lot of ways.”
Kearny also hopes to get back senior Christian Escandon later in the season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered during the Kardinals’ Group 4 semifinals win against Elizabeth in November. Escandon, who had 11 goals and 14 assists a year ago, would be one of the state’s top midfielders this fall.
Up top, Kearny will have to replace leading scorer and First Team, All-State selection Juan Rojas, but there is still plenty of offensive firepower in the group.
Junior Jacob Wolfart, who scored a goal in the Ramsey game on Friday, and sophomore Guilherme Xavier are primarily sharing the center forward spot. Alvarado, who will also see more time in the center, added 15 goals and six assists as a wide forward.
Senior Samuel Meers who moved to Kearny from Kentucky and promising sophomore Jeckson Rivera will log heavy minutes at forward, as will David Gavilanez and potentially, Benji Silva and Brooks.
Kearny began league play on Monday, Sept. 12 against Dickinson, then will host Dickinson on Wednesday. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the Kardinals travel to Morris County to a face a Roxbury team that handed them their only loss of last season. Kearny also welcomes perennial South Jersey power Delran on Oct. 1.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.