By Ed Kensik
For the Montclair Local
The Montclair Kimberley boys soccer team last Friday found itself in a situation similar to one they were in twice before, earlier this season.
A couple weeks ago, the Cougars fell behind 1-0 at Verona, only to storm back and defeat the Hillbillies, 5-1, on Oct. 7.
And talk about déjà vu: MKA again came out slow against Caldwell on Friday and found themselves down 1-0, as late as halftime.
Again, this time on their own field, the Cougars would score five unanswered goals en route to a 5-1 victory in a Super Essex Conference American Division match.
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“I told them to be patient and don’t panic,” MKA head coach Robert Leather said he told the team at halftime. “We needed to have better connections and needed to finish.”
Caldwell’s lone goal, like Verona’s, came in the early stages of the match. “We were down early enough that we had enough time to recover,” Leather said.
Senior Zach Wheeler led the way offensively as he added to his scoring total this year with a pair of goals. He was taken down twice in the penalty area, resulting in two Cougars penalty-kick goals.
Unlike the Verona game, where MKA was up at halftime 2-1, the Cougars were down at the half to Caldwell, 1-0, but the team’s attitude was upbeat. “Yes, of course, we have a real strong team this year,” Wheeler said about their confidence of a comeback. “We kept fighting and battling. We have a lot of attackers on the team.
“All of the seniors have been going to school together for four, five or more years together. I think of the team as a family… We’re treating every game like it could be our last game. I think we need to win every individual battle.”
MKA has rebounded nicely since its season-opening loss to Montclair, 3-1, on Oct. 1, winning three of the following four matches.
Against Caldwell, MKA finally got on the board a little less than eight minutes into the second half when the Cougars capitalized on a Caldwell error.
Caldwell goalie Ethan Bishop picked up a backwards pass from a defender, is illegal as he cannot pick it up. On the following free kick, Wheeler smashed it past Bishop to notch the game at one.
After that the floodgates opened up.
Four minutes later, Wheeler was knocked down in the penalty box, triggering another penalty kick. Sophomore Omar Martinez slapped the kick, which turned out to be the game-winner, past Bishop for a 2-1 lead with 28 minutes remaining in the match.
After taking that lead, the Cougars kept up the pressure. Senior Spencer Goldberg smashed a shot at Bishop, and the Caldwell keeper could not control the ball, which slipped through his fingers and into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead.
And on the second penalty-kick goal of the game, junior Zach Seeve slipped the shot by Bishop for a 4-1 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Wheeler collected his second goal with 6 minutes left after roping a shot from 35 yards out that went into the upper right corner of the net for a 5-1 lead.
MKA continued with their tough schedule this week, first with a game at county powerhouse Seton Hall Prep on Tuesday, Oct. 20 and after two overtimes, left with a tie against the second ranked team in the state,a huge accomplishment. Next up will be Livingston this Friday, a team that tied Montclair 1-1 on Oct. 14. Leather said after the win against Caldwell that the Cougars are looking forward to the contest against Seton Hall Prep after losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Pirates in last year’s Essex County Tournament semifinal.