WEST ORANGE, NJ — Ask West Orange boys soccer coach Doug Nevins about the prospects for this year's team, and Nevins is optimistic.
Get Nevins talking about how good the Mountaineers could be a year from now, and the coach can hardly control his enthusiasm.
"Our top 15 or 16 kids are very good, and only four of them are seniors," said Nevins. "We could be really good this year and ridiculously good next year."
The Mountaineers have talent at both ends of the pitch, too. Senior center-back Yasin Aly has been a three-year starter who was All-Conference and All-County last year. Junior forward Kalleo Mendes was the Mountaineers' leading scorer last year with 12 goals and 12 assists. Mendes, one of the state's more dominant players at his position, named All-Conference, All-County, All-Section and All-State by the SCANJ.
"(Kalleo is) very strong, fast, physical and skilled," said Nevins
Joining Aly in the back are juniors Connor Hinfey and Justin Reid. The midfield will be patrolled by juniors Julien Carraha and Dario Carraha. Julien was a key reserve last year who played a lot.
"He will be much more important this year," said Nevins. "[Dario] was very effective and dangerous last year in a season where he didn't play much due to injury. If healthy, he is one of the best playmakers in the state."
Up front, sophomore forward Ari Rosu scored a school-record 40 goals last year on the freshman team before getting the varsity call-up at the end of the season. He scored four goals in limited games with the varsity and "has looked great all summer," according to Nevins. Senior forward Aleks Cardoza was the third-leading scorer on the team last year.
"Most people in Essex County know Yasin and Kalleo," said Nevins, whose coaching record is 307-94-37. "We played in a summer league in Livingston where we went 6-0 and outscored the other teams, 36-6. Ari did well and was our second-leading scorer. Aleks was also very good. They could both have 10-15 goal seasons."
Newcomers to watch include Mason Bashkoff, a freshman who has played his way into the varsity rotation with an impressive summer; sophomore defender Jeremy Green; sophomore forward Tyrese Folkes; junior MF Louie Mignone; senior forward Lloyd Guyton; senior MF Oscar Vasquez; and junior defender Bryce Hannah.
"Based on what I saw in the summer, between the summer league and games against our alumni, this team could be really good this year," Nevins said. "We have some young guys who are very talented, athletic, skilled, etc. If they gel as a team, we could be playing for county and sectional championships this year.
"We have experience in the back in Yasin, Connor and Justin. We have skill, athleticism and strength in the midfield in Julien, Dario, Kalleo and Louie with very good seniors providing depth. Up top, we have two very dangerous forwards and can easily move Kalleo up there when needed. If we stay healthy and the kids figure out varsity soccer in the SEC American division quickly, this could be a championship season."
West Orange opens its season at Glen Ridge on Wednesday, Sept. 4. The first home game is Friday, Sept. 6 against Montclair-Kimberley Academy.