The North Arlington boys soccer team could have let the disappointment of not being selected to the Bergen County Tournament and have this fall become a lost season.
Instead, the Vikings have turned frustration into motivation and are now playing their best soccer of the season.
Starting with its Bergen County Cup opener at Ridgefield on Oct. 1, North Arlington has reeled off four consecutive victories. Among them are Bergen County Cup wins at Ridgefield, Mahwah and New Milford that have put the Vikings over .500 for the first time all year at 6-5.
“At the time of the seeding our record reflected that maybe we shouldn’t be invited to the Bergen County Tournament,” said first-year head coach Pedro Martinez. “We take things one game at a time. We were invited to the Bergen Cup and we welcomed that opportunity to show what we could do.
“I think we try to spin everything in a positive way and the boys are reacting in that manner. We got invited to a tournament and that’s a positive. We’re going to play in that tournament and play the best that we can in it.”
Injuries did play a role in some of those struggles with Martinez estimating the Vikings have been without two or more projected starters in roughly 75-percent of their games so far.
One place that has been affected by injuries is at goalie where senior and two-year starter Joseph DaSilva went down a couple of weeks ago. In his place, Jalal Qizilbash and Jakob Gwidczc have picked up the slack. Qizilbash, a junior, was victorious against Mahwah and New Milford in the Bergen Cup, while Gwidcz, a freshman was in net for the win over Ridgefield.
“I think Jalal is stepping up at the right moment and he’s been really solid in goal for us,” Martinez said. “I think it’s great when you have goalkeepers who are not only competing, but helping each other get better every day.”
Junior Aidan Maleski was initially set to be at midfield, but has become a very valuable presence at center back playing next to sophomore Nick Keoghan with Justin Calderon on the right side and Justin Bunnell on the left side.
Bunnell, a junior, has become a factor in the attack as he had two goals and two assists during the current winning streak.
“He’s very athletic, he hustles, has a great work ethic,” said Martinez. “We want our fullbacks to get into the attack when possible and Justin’s been doing that. He’s done well getting into the attack.”
Junior Josh Perez has also seen time in the back and Hugo Rojas has also bolstered the defense with his play at holding midfield.
David Alvarez and Nicholas Stanzione are the attacking midfielders with Stanzione, a junior, scoring eight goals.
Senior Declan Hughes has three goals and two assists on the right wing and on the left wing has been Vincent Richard.
Richard, a senior, has been perhaps the biggest reason for the Vikings recent hot streak as he has recorded at least one point in each of North Arlington’s last six games, posting six goals and three assists in that span.
“Vincent’s been huge for us. He’s involved in almost all of our goals, especially this past week. He’s just involved in so many ways,” Martinez said. “We put him on the wings, we put him up top sometimes. He’s just always working so hard and he finds himself in a lot of opportunities that are created and he creates his own opportunities as well.
Richard, who had nine goals and five assists for the year, and Stanzione see extensive time up top as does Hughes and junior Kaua Almeida.
Freshman Julien Santos has found himself in a more prominent role on the midfield due to injuries as had junior Alex Rodriguez. Martinez is hopeful the midfield will be further bolstered by the return of Claudio Soto, who has been hampered by injuries all season.
This upcoming week is the most anticipated of the North Arlington season as the Vikings square off with Harrison on Friday night at Red Bull Arena at 7 p.m. The Harrison and North Arlington girls will play at 5 p.m. in the first game of the double-header.
“Everyone’s excited for Friday at Red Bull Arena, but we can’t look too far ahead,” Martinez said. “We just try to make sure as a coaching staff to prepare the players, have them mentally locked in for each game and not let them get ahead of themselves.”
In Hudson County, the Kearny boys began its county title defense with a 1-0 victory over a dangerous Union City in the quarterfinals. Denilson Salinas scored on a free kick in the 48th minute, which proved to be the difference for a Kardinals squad that entered with a rare two-game losing streak. One night earlier, Harrison punched its ticket to the semifinals with a 3-1 victory over Dickinson as Yusufu Jaite continued his breakout season with two goals and an assist.
The semifinals are this coming Saturday with the fourth-seeded Blue Tide traveling to top-seeded St. Peter’s Prep and the Kardinals, seeded second, hosting third-seeded Memorial of West New York. Also on Saturday, the Kearny girls will travel to North Bergen for a semifinal matchup in the Hudson County Girls Soccer Tournament.
Preliminary round action in the Essex County Boys Soccer Tournament was set for Monday, Oct. 9 after The Observer’s print deadline. Belleville, seeded 12th, hosted 20th-seeded Technology and Nutley, the 17th seed traveled to 16th-seeded West Essex. Bloomfield, the eighth seed, received one of the eight byes into Wednesday’s first round and will host the Glen Ridge-Orange winner.
The preliminary round of the Essex County Girls Soccer Tournament kicks off on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Bloomfield was awarded the 14th seed and will be home to 19th-seeded Payne Tec;, Nutley, the 15th seed, hosts Newark Tech; and 17th-seeded Belleville plays at 16th-seeded Caldwell. The winners advance to the first round on Thursday.
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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.)