With six losses in its last seven games and an 8-12 overall record, this was not the regular season the North Arlington boys’ soccer team envisioned for itself, especially after winning its first three games of the year.
But as veteran head coach Kevin Barber reminded them, the rough schedule the Vikings endured would pay off come tournament time.
“There were no gimmies, we were really tested going into the states this year, but I knew it would help us out,” Barber said. “Now we’ve played those really good teams and we’re ready for what lies ahead with these really good Group 1 teams.”
North Arlington has certainly proved itself postseason ready, first with a 6-1 victory over West Caldwell Tech in the first round of the North 2, Group 1 tournament this past Thursday, followed by an 8-1 thumping of Wood-Ridge in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
The Vikings, seeded third, are now on to Wednesday’s semifinals where they’ll await the winner of the quarterfinal between second-seeded Ridgefield and seventh-seeded Glen Ridge.
“These past two games are the best stretch that we’ve had since that point where we were 3-0,” said Barber. “It’s a good time to get hot.”
North Arlington’s depth of playmakers and finishers have been on full display in these games, with Nicholas Stanzione posting two goals and three assists against Wood-Ridge after scoring twice in the win over West Caldwell Tech.
Vincent Richard has three goals with two assists over the two games and Mert Kutlutan has scored three goals, nearly matching his entire regular season total. Freshman David Alvarez, who hadn’t scored since the season opener, has been a sparkplug in the tournament, scoring the first goal in both playoff games.
Barber also cites the return of all-league defender Sean Manzo from a hamstring as a key factor in the Vikings resurgence as he provides “a calming influence as a defender and as a leader.”
Everything seems to be coming together at just the right time for North Arlington and as Barber has reminded them, if this run continues, no one will remember the earlier losses.
“This team, our focus was always on states,” Barber said. “Yeah, (doing well) in the regular season is good, but we get measured now by what happens at this part of the year.”
While North Arlington elected to play a day early, most of the state, including four Observer-area teams, were set to play their quarterfinals on Monday, Oct. 31, after The Observer went to print.
Kearny, despite finishing the regular season undefeated, is seeded third in a loaded North 1, Group 4 bracket. Facing a 14th-seeded Montclair team that was ranked in the statewide Top 20 for a large part of the year, the Kardinals emerged with a 3-0 victory as Nico Gomez and David Gavilanez each had a goal and an assist as part of a dominant first half.
The road doesn’t get any easier for Kearny as 11th-seeded Livingston, perennially one of the state’s top defensive squads, awaits in the quarterfinals. With a win, the Kardinals would likely be heading on the road from that point forward, with a potential semifinal showdown at West Orange looming after last year’s heart-stopping final between the two teams.
In North 2, Group 2, top-seeded Harrison hosts ninth-seeded Hackettstown after posting a 3-1 victory over Parsippany in the first round. Gabriel Reis and sophomores Joel Rueda and Yusuf Jaite each scored a goal in the win.
Also in North 2, Group 2, fourth-seeded Lyndhurst held off Madison, 2-1, as Tyler Wise added to his breakthrough season by scoring his 21st goal of the year and adding an assist. If the Golden Bears can advance past fifth-seeded Hanover Park, they will get a third chance at Harrison in a semifinal matchup in Hudson County.
Belleville got an overtime goal from Ivan Garcia to defeat Orange in the first round of the North 2, Group 3 tournament. The Bucs, seeded fourth, have a home date with a talented South Plainfield team in the quarterfinals.
West Orange’s playoff run started with a 1-0 victory over Bloomfield. Christopher House made 11 saves for the 15th-seeded Bengals in defeat. Neighboring rival Nutley also saw its season come to an end in the first round with an 8-0 loss to Cliffside Park in North 2, Group 3.
On the gridiron, North Arlington, the lone area team to qualify for the state playoffs, saw its historic season come to an end with a 50-16 loss at Brearley in the first round of the North Jersey, Group 1 playoffs. Stopping Brearley QB Matt Sims proved to be too difficult of a task for the Vikings as the senior ran for 204 yards and five touchdowns.
In defeat, Devin Rivas concluded his incredible two-year run at quarterback, completing 14-of-27 passes for 189 yards and a TD while also rushing for 68 yards. Kyle Villani caught seven passes for 98 yards, Ian Crudele had four catches for 71 yards and a TD and Anthony Baulo ran for a score.
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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.)