Any high school boys soccer team taking on the Glen Rock squad faces a number of problems, both offensively and defensively.
Take the Panthers’ defense, for instance.
“The defense has done a great job of limiting the scoring opportunities of our opponents,” head coach Paul Cusack said on Tuesday, the day after tornado warnings caused a game cancellation. “With the exception of the Garfield game, which we lost, 3-0, we haven’t allowed more than one goal in any game. Our defense has shut down some very good forwards in our league [the NJIC Colonial Division].”
A look at the Glen Rock offense shows why opponents can’t game plan too effectively against the Panthers.
“We have five different players with two goals,” said Cusack, who is in his 14th year as coach. “An opponent can’t just plan to take one of our players out of a game. We have a number of people who can score.”
That Garfield game stood as the only loss of the season as Cusack spoke. The team was 5-1-1 and poised to take on Emerson Thursday at home in the first round of the Bergen County tournament. A victory would vault the Panthers into a second-round game with Bergen Catholic on Sunday.
“Garfield is always a very good team,” the coach explained. “It’s always a tough game, and we’ve pretty much split wins and losses with them over the years.”
Glen Rock‘s biggest win thus far was over Hawthorne, which stood at 8-1 and had moved into the Passaic County Tournament’s quarterfinal round. Along the way, it was the Panthers who handed both Hawthorne and Pompton Lakes their first losses of the season.
“We’re a combination of older players with experience from last year and a good core of young kids who are first-year varsity guys,” Cusack said. “They’ve really meshed as a team, and they work very well together.”
Three classes are represented on the starting defense. Returning starter Tim Hahn is the senior goalkeeper, sophomore Alex Hay the sweeper, senior co-captain Christian Vila the stopper and senior Jake Pellegrino and junior Brendan Geen the outside backs.
Of Hahn, the coach said, “Tim is averaging under one goal-against a game and already has two shutouts. He’s really commanding the box and is aggressive on corner kicks and gets out on shots and distributes the ball well. He even has an assist on a long punt that [forward] Dan Hahn ran onto.”
Important to note is that Vila is the only returning starter besides the goalie on the defense. Other than Pellegrino, who came off the bench for extensive play last year, that is the extent of the overall experience on the unit.
“As a whole, they’ve limited the number of shots taken by the opposition,” Cusack praised. “And they communicate well on who to mark and on the exchanging of players to mark.”
Cusack depends on five midfielders on his offense. The starters are junior Matt Zakowski and three seniors — co-captain Jake McMahon, Anthony D’Onofrio and Matt DeBonis. Junior Garrett Rosen also sees plenty of playing time there as well.
The team generally runs the ball through D’Onofrio and McMahon in the center of the field and tries to get the ball out to the flanks. It has been a highly successful mode of operation for a while now.
The forwards are senior Dan Hahn — no relation to the goalie — and sophomore Eamon Morley.
They are direct opposites, the coach noted. “We play the ball to Dan at the top; he’s a very dynamic player. Eamon is a very physical player. He can muscle people off the ball, and he’s great at crashing the goal.”
The current season is a far cry from last year’s frustration. The Panthers finished 5-12, but were conceivably better than that record, considering that eight of those losses were by just one goal. Rebuilding on the fly has been based on both the support of those who returned from last year and those who have adjusted so quickly to their promotion to the varsity.
“Our entire senior class has done a great job of fostering the environment of ‘team’ for us,” Cusack said. “That has been very important.”
Barring tornadoes, the reassembled Panthers should continue to prosper as an admirable example of team unity and togetherness.
Ron Fox can be re