Daliana Rojas and her North Arlington teammates have been thinking about the chance to play at Red Bull Arena for months, and in some cases, fulfilling a lifelong dream. But within this once in a lifetime opportunity came the realization that to make the most of it, they had to defeat one of its biggest rivals in Lyndhurst.
Rojas’ play in net and a second half goal by Lia Cruz ensured that the Vikings fully maximized this incredible experience as they defeated Lyndhurst, 1-0, at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
“This was a really important game to us,” said Rojas, a junior. “We got lucky to have this opportunity, it was amazing to play here. Since we were little we were dreaming to play here and we won!
“We had this one opportunity and we made it great.”
Rojas admitted there were some nerves, especially early on, due to the experience of playing in the state’s biggest soccer venue. But as the game progressed, both teams felt more comfortable on the large field.
“There was definitely excitement, it was getting over the initial moment of it (that was important),” North Arlington head coach Mike Vivino said, noting that he could sense his team settling in midway through the first half. “I said to them that we have to strip it down to what it was, which was a conference game between two very good teams. At the end of the day, are we going to be undefeated in the conference or are we going to have one loss? That was kind of our approach right from the start when we knew we were going to play this game.”
Cruz ensured the Vikings would leave Harrison with more than just a fun experience when she struck a right-footed shot from just inside the 18 that skied over the keeper’s head and went just inside the far-left post in the 50th minute for what proved to be the only goal of the night.
Cruz never actually saw the shot go in since she was knocked down when she completed the shot, but knew it had a good chance of going in.
“It really did (feel good coming off my foot),” Cruz said. “I didn’t see it, but I tried my best (on the play) and followed through. I kept shooting and shooting until I got one.”
“She wants to be that target player, she wants to have the pressure on her,” Vivino said. “To be as good as she is, that’s what separates her from everybody else and that gives us the confidence knowing that even if something doesn’t go right, we have her that we can rely on at any moment.”
Rojas made the lead stand up, withstanding a host of shots from an aggressive Golden Bears attack.
Tuesday’s win, combined with its 4-1 victory over Secaucus two days later, puts North Arlington in the driver’s seat in the NJIC National Division race. The Vikings currently hold a one game advantage in the standings through the first four games of league play.
Both North Arlington and Lyndhurst were among the 24 teams selected for the 2022 Bergen County Girls’ Soccer Tournament last week. And this past weekend, they were both victorious in their preliminary round matchups.
Lexi Augustyniak scored two goals as 15th-seeded Lyndhurst defeated 18th-seeded Waldwick, 2-1, on Saturday, Sept. 24. Amanda Dasler assisted on both goals and Mackenzie Sibello made five saves for the Golden Bears (4-3-1). Up next is a matchup against second-seeded Ramapo, ranked No. 6 in the state by NJ.com, on Sunday, Oct. 2.
Meanwhile, 12th-seeded North Arlington (6-0) rolled to a 4-0 victory over 21st-seeded Tenafly on Saturday, Sept. 24. Laurynn Teixiera continued her breakout season with two goals and two assists, while Cruz added a goal with two assists. Arancha Antunues scored a goal and Daliana Rojas made seven saves in the shutout. The Vikings travel to play fifth-seeded Northern Highlands on Sunday, Oct. 2.
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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.)