CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham boys soccer team won seven of its first eight games last year before injuries began to pile up in a season that ended 9-8 with a loss in the first round of the state tournament.
But Chatham coach Mark Maka has a strong returning cast from 2018 and a deep bench that he believes will carry the Cougars through any rough patches in 2019.
"We have more depth this year than we've ever had," Maka said. "We have strength and athleticism in the older guys and younger guys who are more technical. We're just trying to find the right balance."
One of the younger players expected to boost the offense is sophomore Brazilian Gabe Toledo, who scored 18 goals as a member of the freshman team last year.
"He can break down the opposing team's defense with his individual effort," Maka said of Toledo. "What he can do individually is unique. (Nick) Kaisand is a dangerous piece as well."
Toledo joins a group up front that includes juniors Miles Robertson, Marcel Kripzak and Nick Jones and seniors Nick Kaisand and Danny Witthuser, and sophomore Brian Babovic.
"(Robertson) obviously gives us something technically," Maka said. "He's very good on the ball. The goals will come. We're much more technical in that final third than we have been in the past."
The Cougars' real strength may be in its midfield, where accomplished seniors Marlon Kripzak, Jameson Shi and Nick Suter are all returning to the starting lineup. Junior midfielder Luke Haley adds energy to that midfield group that includes junior Colin Tracey.
Chatham's defensive line features seniors Ian Kagan and Patrick Conte, along with returning starters in juniors Remi Ufheil and Cole Bixby. The Cougars have two senior goalies in Aidan Babovic and Peter Han.
Chatham opens at home Wednesday, Sept. 4 with a 4 p.m. game vs. Madison.