It will go down as one of the greatest seasons in the history of Memorial High School soccer, if not the best ever. What began with hopes and aspirations of glory ended with a county championship, the first in the school in 16 years.
The last time Memorial won a soccer championship, back in 1990, current head coach Alberto De Los Reyes was an injured player with the Tigers.
“I suffered a knee injury in the middle of that year and missed the rest of the season,” De Los Reyes said. “Sixteen years is a long time to wait to get a county championship. I remember every goal of that season. I have some great memories of that year.”
So the Tigers took the field last Sunday with a chance to create a little history. They rolled through the regular season schedule in the HCIAA Coviello Division without a scratch, without a blemish. Thirteen games, thirteen victories.
Now, they were standing on the threshold of completing the perfect local season, facing North Bergen, a team it already had defeated twice, in the championship game on North Bergen’s home field no less.
And with the title on the line, the Tigers did the unthinkable. They allowed an early goal to the upstart Bruins, who carried that lead into halftime.
Here was the chance to eliminate 16 years of lost Novembers and the Tigers were behind at the half.
“I brought it to their attention that they had been down before and that they were able to come back,” De Los Reyes said. “They were able to score on us, but if they just focused on the game, the goals will come. I knew that eventually it would happen. I knew that they had worked so hard to get to this point, that it would have been so hard for it to end there. So I told them that it was upon them to get it done, that they could decide their own fate.”
Added De Los Reyes, “I didn’t want them to go down like that and I told them that. I told them that they had a chance to get something that they could cherish for years to come.”
Just like the championship that the coach holds dear to his heart nearly two decades later.
“They worked so hard for three years,” De Los Reyes said. “It would have been so wrong for them not to have a chance to win a championship. We have 10 seniors that needed to get this chance.”
So just four minutes into the second half, senior forward Innocent Buule scored the game-tying goal, off a great feed from co-offensive juggernaut Adrian M. Lagos.
A few minutes later, Buule gave a nice feed to Josue Hernandez for the go-ahead goal and the Tigers had their long-awaited title, taking home a 2-1 victory and securing the top honors in the HCIAA Coviello Division.
“Chances like that only come around every so often,” De Los Reyes said. “They had to make it their chance and they did. I hope that it helped to motivate them.”
Two days after securing the HCIAA crown, the Tigers had to move on in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV tournament, facing the state’s No. 4 team in Kearny, a team that had handed the Tigers a defeat just 10 days prior.
The results were exactly the same this time as they were nearly two weeks earlier. Kearny moved on with a 2-0 victory, ending Memorial’s season to remember at 18-3-1.
“I have no complaints,” De Los Reyes said. “We had a wonderful year. I’m very proud of every single one of them, the way they turned this program around. I’m happy with the way the year turned out. Kearny played a great game against us, a physical game, a tough game. But they were more experienced than us in this situation. We were able to bring out the best in them. It happens.”
Make no mistake about it, the coach was pleased with bringing another soccer title back to West New York. He was pleased that kids like Lagos (32 goals) and Buule (25 goals) gave the Tigers perhaps the most potent scoring 1-2 punch in the HCIAA in recent memory.
“They’re both seniors and they will be missed,” De Los Santos said.
There are other seniors who will be missed, like standout sweeper Esteban Capozucchi, who had a strong leg and was great off set pieces.
“We lose 10 good kids to graduation,” De Los Reyes said.
But the future also looks bright. The Tigers will return 12 next season, including standout goalkeeper John Londono and midfielder Luigi Juarez.
The Tigers’ defense also comes back in tact, with stopper Martin Corranza and defenders Edwin Amaya and Carlos Unigara returning. It’s just going to be hard to replace 57 goals that came from Lagos and Buule.
“These kids won the championship,” De Los Reyes said. “The seed has been planted. Now we have to hope it can continue to grow and grow. These kids got the chance to shine and did so well. I expect this team to do their best to be competitive again next year. I expect that we now have a legitimate program.”
v Sure looks that way. There will be a new banner in the Memorial gymnasium very shortly that will prove it.