The Belleville boys soccer team was on the receiving end of a significant wakeup call when it lost to Barringer, 4-1, just four days into the season.
“That rattled them and got them going. I think the team unity just went into full force after that,” head coach Gary Polewka said. “Everyone was like, ‘We have to come together and get this done, especially since we’re senior heavy.’ They’re all about making this season something (special).”
The message that early defeat rang loud and clear to a veteran Buccaneers squad and since then Belleville hasn’t just played up to its potential, but has the look of a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly in tournament play.
Belleville heads into this week on a five-game winning streak, the last four all by shutout.
The highlight, back-to-back 2-0 victories over neighboring rivals Nutley and Bloomfield.
The Sept. 26 win over Bloomfield was the Bucs’ first win over the Bengals since 2014.
“We know Nutley always plays us tough. It’s always a tight game because it’s a rivalry game. But really what made me feel like this team was doing well against Mike (Aiello)’s team in Bloomfield. He always put a good squad together and we played really well,” Polewka said. “We possessed the ball well, we were passing and linking up together. Once we got past Bloomfield I knew these kids could hang with some tough competition.”
Polewka changed his defensive alignment from a flat four to a diamond formation this year. At the heart of the unit’s success is the play of senior captain Gerber Coreas at sweeper.
While the impact of Coreas cannot be measured statistically the way a top striker or midfielder can be, the three-year starter has proven invaluable to the Bucs
“He’s been playing out of his mind the whole season,” Polewka said. “He’s been improving every game and against Bloomfield he was just an anchor back there, cleaning up everything and sweeping it out.
“His head’s on swivel so he knows where the danger is and where his outlets are before he even gets the ball. Very few times does he get in trouble and when in doubt, kick it out. He’s been able to get the attack started from the back all season.”
Junior Joshua Nodong serves as the stopper and seniors Leonardo Salome and Justin Vicuna are at left and right back respectively. Nicolas Rios is expected to provide added depth as he returns from an early injury.
Adding to the success has been the play of goalkeeper Logan Kutlu.
Kutlu, who shared the starting spot with fellow senior Jason Penaloza a year ago, has emerged the top guy between the pipes this fall with 36 saves and five shutouts in six games.
“His lateral movement is insane, he cuts down the angles, and comes out when he needs to,” Polewka said. “He’s vocal with the defense and always communicating with Gerber at the sweeper position. He’s just extremely confident.”
Sophomore Jorge Carrion starts as the central defending midfielder, but has also provided an offensive punch with three goals. Two more sophomores start on the wings with Wilberto Solorzano (2 goals, 3 assists) on the left side and Charlie Chabla (1 goal, 3 assists on the right side). Senior Ivan Garcia is the center attacking midfielder and already has four goals and five assists on the young season. Favio Moreno is another player getting key minutes in the midfield as well as freshman Rafael Alves de Carvalho.
Senior John Paul Crespo is back and striker and currently has a team-best six goals along with a very promising freshman in Sebastian Sierra, who has three goals and an assist.
Seniors Jonathan Villa, Julian Meyer and Henry Rivera have also been key contributors up top.
Belleville looks to continue its winning ways on Tuesday, Oct. 4 against Technology before facing its greatest challenge of the season on Thursday, Oct. 6, when it travels to play a West Orange team ranked No. 6 in the state by NJ.com in its last game before the Essex County Tournament is seeded.B
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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.)