Head Coach Emad Abu-Hakemah could have easily been dismayed by seeing his Lyndhurst boys’ soccer team start the season with a 1-2 record.
But rather than be dismayed by those two losses — a 2-1 defeat at Saddle Brook and 1-0 at Harrison — the results have Abu-Hakemah more steadfast in the belief that wins and success are coming soon for the Golden Bears.
The two games that we lost, I think we played really well, but unfortunately the score (wasn’t in our favor),” he said. “After Thursday night (in Harrison), I told them this team isn’t going to lose too many games. I think that game will be the turning point of our season.”
Lyndhurst returns six starters from last year’s 14-6 team including, perhaps, the area’s most versatile player in Lucas Baroni. The senior is one of the better goalkeepers in Bergen County, but is also a fine offensive talent as well. The result? Baroni will see time both in net and up top at forward.
“Lucas wanted to play the field,” Abu-Hakemah said. “He’s an outstanding goalkeeper, but he’s an athlete. He’s a true athlete and he’s a good finisher.”
When Baroni is playing at forward, like he did when he scored the lone goal against Saddle Brook, goalkeeping responsibilities fall upon experienced sophomore Matthew Makar, who also started against Wood-Ridge.
Senior Thomas Rogan is a returning starter at center back, where he’ll be joined by classmate Nick Arvanitakis. Nicke Kaden returns at right back and sophomore Bartu Akar takes over at left back.
Promising sophomore Cristian Porras, a transfer from Union City will also see time as a defender as well as versatile sophomore Andrew Carrion.
Abu-Hakemah is unafraid to play multiple formations, thanks to his depth and versatility in the midfield. Lyndhurst brings back both of their holding center midfielders from last season in Jonas Amaral, a senior captain, and sophomore Isaac Camilo.
Ali Celik, who had 14 goals and 14 assists last year is also back in the midfield. Sophomore Cyprian Niedbal has enjoyed a fast start to the year, scoring two goals. Carrion will also see extensive time in the midfield as well as first-year senior Robbie Valladolid.
On paper, the Golden Bears have a massive hole to fill up top following the graduation of star striker Enrique Mutsoli, who had 39 goals and 14 assists last year and is now at NJIT. That said, Abu-Hakemah believes he has another top-level forward in junior Tyler Wise, who missed all but one game last year due to injury.
Now healthy, Wise already has two goals and two assists, but Abu-Hakemah believes the junior has yet to fully hit his stride, which is a scary thought for opposing foes.
“He’s a well-rounded player. He’s creative, he’s fast and physical. He can finish from almost any spot on the field. He’s really talented with the ball,” Abu-Hakemah said. “It’s a matter of time before he starts finding his comfort zone and starts nailing a couple of goals.”
Baroni will also see time up top, along with Jorge Pelaez and Robert Dasler Jr., a very promising freshman and the son of assistant coach Rob Dasler, who is capable of filling in at various positions on the field.
The schedule doesn’t really get easier for Lyndhurst with division contests against Secaucus on Monday followed by a Wednesday trip to North Arlington. But even with a strong division, which also includes Harrison, Rutherford and Weehawken, Abu-Hakemah can look back 12 months, when it encountered a similar slow start before hitting its stride.
“Last year we had a very similar situation where we started off slowly, then we started winning games,” he said. “We’re going to see some good results moving forward.”
Learn more about the writer ...
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.)