The North Arlington boys soccer team saw its season come to an end on Saturday night with a heart-breaking 2-1 loss to Brearley in the North 2, Group 1 final at Rip Collins Field.
But while such disappointment was certainly understandable, it doesn’t diminish a tournament run that seemed unlikely just five weeks earlier after the Vikings started the season 2-5 and were not selected for the Bergen County Tournament.
Once the calendar turned to October, North Arlington looked like a completely different team, going 11-3, a run which included its first trip to a sectional final since 2015.
“They’ve grown in so many ways,” first year head coach Pedro Martinez said. “Their mentality, the way they approach training, the way they approach games, how they take care of their bodies (all changed).
“As a coaching staff we pride ourselves on having high expectations and high standards. Everyone bought in, the players bought in and every day was filled with purpose.”
It was a buy-in that nearly produced a sectional championship. In the 60th minute Nicholas Stanzione headed in a Vincent Richard throw-in to give North Arlington a 1-0 lead. For Stanzione, a junior, it was his 10th goal in four state tournament games.
The lead proved to be short-lived. Just two minutes later, Rashon Thorne evened the score on a diving header off a Brearley corner kick.
In the 70th minute, Thomas Pugliese found an open spot in front of the back post, allowing him to head in David Lopes’ free kick for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Down 2-1, North Arlington sent several shots towards the net in the final minute, but they were all turned away by a Brearley defense, which had packed into the middle.
“We went down 2-1 and nothing changed. They stayed composed and we went on the attack and we played till the very last whistle,” said Martinez. “It speaks to the mentality of the boys. They have strong minds and heart and grit. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
North Arlington’s late-season turnaround, which Martinez said began with a double-overtime loss against Harrison on Sept. 29, allowed the Vikings to claim the top seed in North 2, Group 1. After a first round blowout over BelovED Charter of Jersey City, North Arlington rallied to defeat Verona 3-2 in the quarterfinals on Oct. 28. This past Wednesday’s semifinal was arguably the Vikings’ best performance of the year, a 5-0 win over a Weehawken team that beat them on opening day.
“We always want to perform well no matter what part of the season it is, but especially in the state tournament,” Martinez said. “These guys knew what it takes to play in the state tournament, what it takes to go on a deep run. They showed up and they played each game with their hearts. We got as far as we could.”
Less than 36 hours after seeing his team’s season end, Martinez wasn’t yet ready to shift his attention towards next year, but it’s hard not to look at how many sophomores and juniors started this fall and think about what could come next year for the Vikings.
“I don’t like to look forward to next year yet, but we have eight or nine returning starters for next year including goalkeeper, most of our defense, our midfield and our leading goal scorer is coming back,” said Martinez. “I think we’re in a good position and the mentality that’s going to go into the offseason and motivate the players for that, I think we’re setting ourselves up for something special as long as we keep that championship mentality.”
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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.)