by Andrew Garda
The No. 2 seed Montclair High School boys soccer team has now won its first two games in the Essex County Tournament, first with a 4-0 win over No. 15 Belleville on Thursday, Oct. 19, and the second a 3-0 win over No. 10 seed Glen Ridge on Saturday.
The difficulty level got amped up a bit on Wednesday, when they were scheduled to take on No. 3 Millburn in the semifinals after press time.
Meanwhile, Montclair Kimberley Academy’s No. 5 seed boys team fell to No. 4 seed West Orange 3-0 during their Saturday match.
If MHS was able to advance Wednesday night, they would play for their first county title since 2013 this Saturday night, 5 p.m., at Caldwell High School.
For the Mounties, the coming challenge is a welcome one and they looked to extend their shutout streak to eight in a row after blanking Glen Ridge on Saturday.
“When we talk about defense, it’s really 11 guys,” head coach Toure Weaver said after Saturday’s victory. “The back four — actually the back five including [goalkeeper Rowan] O’Brien, are doing awesome, but when we play defense, it’s team defense. It starts from the guy up top, and the two wide guys getting back and getting in the right places at the right time. You have to start from there to have a good team defense. So everybody is buying in and we want those shutouts to keep coming to us.”
At this point, Weaver corrected himself. “Or us going and getting them, because they don’t just come. We gotta go get them.”
In order for the Mounties to keep getting shutouts and, more critically, winning, they need everyone to continue to step up, not just the top names.
They need players like Evan O’Brien, goalkeeper Rowan O’Brien’s younger brother, who was responsible for the first two goals by the Mounties on Saturday, the first coming less than two minutes into the opening half and the second a nice header coming in the 27th minute of the same half.
“He stepped on probably mid-season when [Gordon Glenn] went down and he just fit right in there,” Weaver said of O’Brien. “He’s a really tough, gritty defender who is in the right places and executes really well. And as you can see inside the 18s on both sides, defensively and attacking, he’ll put his nose where it doesn’t belong and he’ll take care of business.”
As has been the case all season, this is just another example of how deep the Mounties bench is.
Chris Masur would score on a long penalty kick in the second half, and Weaver then would put in a lot of substitutes both to rest his starters but also to get the aforementioned bench depth some valuable experience.
“That’s how you build a program,” Weaver said of the large-scale substitutions during the second half of both the Mounties tournament wins. “Because we’re bringing up some sophomores who play [junior varsity] and they’re getting minutes. That’s super critical for next year, having those guys get experience in big moments, and seeing what they can do. Which gives them some confidence while [also] giving me ideas for next year. You’re always looking towards the future and you want to get those guys minutes.”
Cougars stumble early, come up short in ECT
WEST ORANGE—The MKA Cougars struggled in the first half against West Orange, something they were never able to recover from, according to head coach Rob Leather.
“We conceded an early goal,” he said after the game. “Didn’t play well in the first half and put ourselves in a hole against a solid team.”
Leather said the second goal forced MKA to fight a big uphill battle to stay in — not to mention win — the game and advance in the tournament.
The Cougars still have the Prep and State tournaments, so despite the setback, Leather needs them to pick themselves up and move forward.
“As disappointed as I was with the way we played today,” Leather said, “we have Newark Academy on Friday, so basically a week to prepare for that game. Then, obviously the State Tournament draw will come out. [The Prep Tournament] is our realistic goal in terms of winning a tournament. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves.”
One thing Leather tried to convey to his team is the finality of every loss from here on out.
“For the seniors, they’re two games away from their high school career being over. So they have to make sure they refocus,” he said.
Despite the loss to West Orange, Leather feels his team has more than enough talent to go deep into both the Prep and State tournaments.
Looking over the season, one in which Leather’s biggest goal was competing game in and game out, he said, “We wanted to be competitive in conference which I thought we were. So that piece was achieved.”
Leather added, though, that Saturday didn’t show his team at its best.
“I said to the guys before the game, to beat a team as solid as West Orange we needed to all be at our best and we just weren’t. So that’s disappointing. We got knocked out in the same round last year and I feel like we were more set to take one step further, but West Orange were better than us.”