by Andrew Garda
The Montclair Kimberley Academy boys soccer team scored early against Glen Ridge, but while they nearly added to their goal total numerous times, they couldn’t find the back of the net, and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
“I think we had enough chances to win, but you have to take them, obviously,” head coach Rob Leather said after the game on Monday. “If one of those [chances] goes in, we go to 2-0, you’ll feel fairly comfortable in the game. But the longer you leave a good solid team like that in the game, you give them motivation, you give them energy and enthusiasm to continue.”
And Glen Ridge did hang around, pressuring the Cougars with quick darts into the MKA end, with keeper Andrew Garafolo keeping the ball out of the net as long as he could.
Unfortunately, the Ridgers were able to sneak a ball in at the 11th minute in the second half to tie the game.
“They put us under pressure, put a lot of balls in the box and they got a goal from it,” Leather said.
The Cougars kept getting chances but were unable to finish. Their kicks went high or wide, hit the crossbar or were stopped by Glen Ridge’s goaltender, never seeming to find the net and extend the lead.
“We’ve been finishing those this season but today was just one of those days where it wouldn’t go [in the net],” Leather said.
Leather and the Cougars (5-3-1) entered the 2017 season aiming to give the bigger schools in the division a run for their money and so far, they have achieved that.
Two of their three losses were to Seton Hall Prep and Millburn — two of the top programs in the state, and their loss to West Orange was by just one goal.
“All the games are competitive,” Leather said.
Still, he’s not satisfied and neither is his team.
”We’ve obviously done enough to win the other games. But we’re still finding our way to a certain degree. All our games are close, even the teams in the lower [part of the] division, we’re not beating them up by any stretch.”
Leather said that those teams should be ones the Cougars are dominating. As the Cougars learned on Monday, if you leave a team hope, it can come back on you. Leather wants his team to finish off other teams, to dominate them for a full 30 minutes and leave no doubt who was in charge.
The Cougars are still learning, though, and Leather is still making adjustments.
“We still have three freshmen who are playing a lot. Sometimes four. And that’s still a learning curve for them. And we do have five seniors who play a lot and a couple of juniors who play a lot, so we are old enough, but at the same time we’re still finding our way.”
Monday’s game featured one of Leather’s adjustments as he moved defender Ahmed Abukwaik to midfielder.
“We wanted to see if he could be a little bit more creative, see how that looked. And I think he’s going to be a help going forward.”
But, as Leather points out, if Abukwaik isn’t on the back line, other players have to make up for it.
“We’re holding our own. So far so good,” Leather said of the season so far. “We’re right in the middle of that top division, which I think is a positive thing for us against a lot of big schools.”
The Cougars aren’t happy with just proving they can compete with the bigger schools. They want to prove they can win and deserve to be among the best in the state.
“We have high expectations and the kids have high expectations,” Leather said. “So, that’s where we think we should be.”