As the head coach of one of the smallest schools in Bergen County, Mike Vivino knows that winning the Bergen County Tournament will never be a realistic goal for North Arlington. But in a tournament that annually features some of the best programs in the country, it does serve as an opportunity to provide a midseason report on where the Vikings girls’ soccer team is heading toward in the second half of the season, including the upcoming state playoffs.
“Being a smaller school, I use it as kind of a measuring stick. Are we able to compete with those schools? If we’re able to sneak out a win or two or three that’s great,” Vivino said. “My sights are not ever really on winning a tournament, it’s about the process and if we do all of those little things correctly, usually it turns into good results at the end.”
So while North Arlington suffered its first loss of the season, a 4-0 defeat in the second round to Northern Highlands on Oct. 2, Vivino got the evidence he needed that the Vikings have the ability to compete with anyone it may face the rest of the way.
North Arlington followed up the loss with an overtime win at Saddle River Day and a tie against Bloomfield, putting its record at 9-1-1 through the first month of the season. Currently, North Arlington is third in power points in the North 2, Group 1 standings.
“What better test than a Northern Highlands, a Ramapo, a Ramsey? Schools like that, that not only are sometimes not just the best in the state, but sometimes the best in the country. That’s the measuring stick that we put ourselves up against,” Vivino said. “(The loss) was proof that even with the bad result, we still found ways to be successful against a team like Northern Highlands.”
A big reason for that success rests between the posts where junior Daliana Rojas has continued to build upon last season’s breakout. Rojas has posted five shutouts and allowed only 12 goals this season.
“She’s been on this rise since the county game against Lyndhurst last year. She just has this confidence and what I love most about it is that she’s taking ownership of the back line and ownership of the overall structure of our defense,” Vivino said. “She’s confident in her own abilities, she’s constantly asking questions in order to improve her game, especially technically. She finds ways to make big saves and keep us in big games.”
Rojas’ play and leadership has been especially important with a backline that is one of the youngest Vivino has had as coach.
Freshman Skyler Crudele has been a significant contributor at outside back right from the start, as has junior Ashley Miranda while sophomore Abby Lopes has come on in recent days to earn a bigger role. In the center of the Vikings’ five-player back have been junior Sophia Veloso and seniors Brenna Sullivan and Nicole Garcia.
The reliance on youth continues in the middlefield with sophomore Maddie Goncalves as the holding midfielder and freshman Lyndsay Gilbert as the floating center midfielder. Sophomore Brielle Serodio and freshman Sophia Poremba are also seeing significant action in the midfield as reserves.
At attacking midfielder is senior Arancha Antunes.
Going into the season, Antunes and junior forward Lia Cruz were expected to be one of NJIC’s top 1-2 offensive combinations. Instead, the dynamic duo on offense has turned into a “Big 3” thanks to a breakout season from junior forward Laurynn Teixeira.
Teixeira has nearly doubled her offensive output from a season ago with 15 goals and seven assists. Cruz, who had the lone goal in the Vikings’win over Lyndhurst at Red Bull Arena, also has 15 goals with seven assists on the year. Antunes has nine goals and 13 assists.
“All three are very different styles. They’re all very good technically, their touch with the ball is very good,” Vivino said. “I think Lia has more of a lethal striker, she’s just trying to find her way through those little gaps. Lauren has the ability to play high up, she also has the ability to drop off a little bit and take shots from a distance. Arancha is just an overall playmaker. If you give her a little bit of room, she’ll either torch you with a pass, or beat you on the dribble or find a way to get the shot off. They all have their own little ways of distinguishing themselves.”
North Arlington looks to keep its success going on Wednesday, Oct. 12, when it hosts Rutherford. The Vikings, who currently hold a 1½ game lead in the NJIC Meadowlands standings, could take a stranglehold on the division race with a win over the Bulldogs, currently in second.
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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.)