It would be easy for Kearny boys soccer coach Bill Galka to lament all of the losses to graduation from a season ago and the holes they create within the Kardinals lineup.
But Galka understands that each year requires some degree of rebuilding in order for Kearny to maintain its status as one of the top programs in the state and this season is no exception.
“It’s somewhat of an inexperienced group. Every year is a bit of a rebuild to some degree. You have some good seniors leaving and we certainly lost some strong seniors that were with us for a few years,” said Galka. “We expect our young, inexperienced players to adapt pretty quickly.”
While Kearny may lack in experience, it certainly doesn’t lack in talent as it enters the season ranked No. 9 in the NJ.com Preseason Top 20.
A big reason for that ranking is returning center back Hans Zoller. The senior, an All-State, Third Team selection last season, should be one of the state’s top defenders, while also potentially being more involved offensively as well.
“He’s very talented.He comes back as one of the top center backs in the state,” Galka said. “He’s not only just a good defender, we like him to go forward when the time is right. He picks the right time to move forward and he’s great at breaking up plays up and then continuing to go forward,”
The other center back spot is a little more up in the air at the moment with Cristian Castro, Tomas Lois, Hamza Ejjaki and Matheus Mullins all vying for time.
Kearny boasts a similar quantity of options at the outside backs as well. Headlining the group is sophomore Benji Silva.
Silva is a returning starter who had four goals and three assists last year, but is much more than that as he brings a level of skill and versatility that is rare for a player of his age.
“Benji’s a guy that can play anywhere. Benji, we’ll play anywhere except goalie,” Galka said. “You’ll see him up top, you’ll see him in the back and there’s a possibility you’ll see him in the midfield also.
“It’s very rare. I don’t know of a player that plays as well in different positions while that young.”
Chris Brooks is another player with experience on the backline and will be in the mix on the outside alongside Felipe Ferreira, Augusto Vieira and Felipe Souza.
The depth on the backline combined with returning senior goalkeeper Alex Cruz should allow the Kardinals defense to remain a strength.
Backing up Cruz, an All-HCIAL selection last season, are Pedro Perez and Lucas Valera.
Offensively the graduation of All-State, First Team striker Alejandro Alvarado who is now at NJIT.. Replacing Alvarado’s 24 goals will be done with the work of several, than one person.
A big part of the scoring void will be counted on by junior Jeckson Rivera, who posted seven goals and three assists in limited action last season. Another key attacker will be Adryel Ferreira, a left-footed striker, who moved from Brazil.
Senior Jacob Wolfart and junior Guilherme Xavier are back after playing part-time roles at top last season and are vying for time as well as Luccas Pessoa and Renan Pereira.
The offense should be further bolstered by the addition of Denilson Salinas at the midfield. Salinas, a senior who moved to Kearny from Peru last fall, and has the tools to be one of the state’s best midfielders.
“So far, he’s looked excellent in the summer and preseason,” Galka said. “Excellent ball control, reads the game well and has good vision.”
Junior Aaron Ocana is another talented newcomer who can attack from the midfield. Junior Andres Toldeo is a returning starter as a holding midfield. Pedro Diaz and Gerard Bocanegra will also vie for time in the midfield.
Kearny, which has a 33-game unbeaten streak against Hudson County competition, began the season on Monday, Sept. 11 against Hudson Catholic before traveling to perennial county contender St. Peter’s Prep on Wednesday.
Three straight home games follow, starting with Roxbury on Saturday and then Union City on Monday, Sept. 18 in a rematch of last year’s county final.
“The games come quick,” said Galka. “We always tell them that there’s no easy games and guys are going to always be gunning for you because it’s Kearny. It’s never easy for us, but we don’t expect it to be.”
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.)