Emerson High School boys’ soccer coach Angelo Avella has been around the Hudson County soccer scene for nearly three decades, so he knows what it takes to make a champion.
"Even the young kids we have coming in know that we’ve built a little winning tradition," said Avella, whose team went 17-5 a year ago and captured the HCIAA Coviello Division championship. "Even though we lost six players from last year’s team, we expect to be in the top layer again in the league. We should be in the hunt, if we stay strong and stay away from injuries. But in the league, you never know. It’s never easy."
Still, Avella has found the necessary formula to capture four league titles in the last six years. With some of the talented performers that the Bulldogs have returning, chances are that they will be right in the mix again for another league crown this fall.
Leading the returnees is senior forward Mauricio Castillo, the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year last year. Castillo scored 21 goals and added 13 assists to lead the Bulldogs to the county title last fall.
Can Castillo duplicate the impressive performance that enabled him to earn Second Team All-State honors?
"As a matter of fact, I expect even a little more from him this year," Avella said. "He understands his role and helps with the defense when he has to, but he’s a scorer and a playmaker. He has good stamina to be able to go back and forth, but he can score."
The Bulldogs have another capable scorer in their forward line in sophomore Mauricio Garay, who had nine goals and 10 assists last year as a freshman.
"I prefer to have two solid scorers in the front line and we have that with the two Mauricios," Avella said.
Avella is also excited about the promise of freshman midfielder Francisco Carrade, who becomes the first freshman to begin the season as a starter with the Bulldogs since Avella’s son Fino in the early 90s.
"He has the talent, plus we needed some help there," Avella said. "It’s very rare that I start a freshman right away. I hate to put a 14-year-old kid against the older players, but he’s that talented and deserves to be there."
Last year’s standout goalkeeper, junior Carlos Juarez, may also find a new home.
"I think I may move Carlos up to the midfield, because he can handle it," Avella said. "We have another senior, Aldo Martinez, who can move in and play the goal."
The Bulldogs’ defensive line is solid, led by senior Carlos Toro, who was a mainstay there a year ago.
Senior Jeffrey Coral returns to his position as the Bulldogs’ stopper, with junior Gabriel Lagos as the sweeper.
Senior Melvin Murillo and junior Eduardo Fernandez will share the final defender slot.
If Avella does have a concern, it’s in his midfield.
"It’s a totally new midfield," Avella said. "We had to start from scratch."
The Bulldogs were counting on Lucas Castillo, Mauricio’s brother, to return to the midfield, but he has surpassed the age eligibility requirement.
"It is a concern," Avella said. "It’s not where we’re supposed to be. We have the people up front who can score, but someone has to be able to give them the ball. We’ve spend entire practices working on the midfield."
For now, Juarez will be a force at midfield, along with junior Herman Velarde, who saw a little time there a year ago, and junior Daniel Mezzina, who was a forward on the Bulldogs’ junior varsity team last year.
But having one of the state’s premier players can make up for the inexperience in the midfield. Castillo is one of the true players to watch and should be the most dominant performer in the HCIAA this season.
"Hopefully, we’ll do okay," said Avella, whose team opened play last Friday against cross-town rival Union Hill as part of the North Hudson Soccer Festival with North Bergen and Memorial. "The more experience we get in the midfield, then we’ll have a typical Emerson team."
Which means a squad that will once again contend for HCIAA and state honors come November. – Jim Hague