by Ed Kensik
for the Montclair Local
Montclair Kimberley senior Zach Wheeler has not been happy about the recent scoring drought that his team went through.
But Wheeler and the rest of the Cougars strikers have started to pick up the pace.
MKA came from behind and defeated a scrappy and physical Nutley team, 3-1, on Friday at home in a Super Essex Conference American Division battle. The victory improved the Cougars’ record to 6-3-1.
Wheeler was not happy after the team recently went scoreless against Seton Hall Prep and Livingston, in a scoreless tie with the Pirates and a 1-0 loss to the Lancers.
“I was pretty annoyed by [the Livingston game] and am still annoyed by that,” Wheeler said after the win over Nutley. “Even though we were shut out for 180 minutes [versus Seton Hall and Livingston], we had plenty of chances in those games.”
But before the three-goal output against Nutley, MKA registered a 3-2 win over Bloomfield at home on Oct. 27. “The last two games we have scored six goals, and we’re getting better at creating chances,” Wheeler said. “When we get in the 18-yard box, we have to put the ball on the net.”
While offense was on Wheeler’s mind, MKA head coach Robert Leather gave credit to the other side of the field, especially in the second half, when the Cougars shut out Nutley. “I thought defensively we played very well in the second half,” Leather said. “They had very few set pieces.”
Coming into the game against Nutley, Leather knew what his team was looking to accomplish, and they pretty much did that.
“We can’t let our opponents get into the game,” Leather said, referring to wins over Bloomfield and Belleville (2-1, Oct. 21). “We were controlling the Bloomfield and Belleville games recently and let our opponents back into the game by switching off and dropping our intensity.”
Cougars senior Will Horn, who goes between defense and midfield, has been on fire recently, with three goals in two games (two against Bloomfield).
Horn got the scoring started on Friday as he took a header from a Wheeler corner kick past Nutley goalkeeper Sebastian Lembo to tie the game at one with 13:34 remaining in the first half, a few minutes after Nutley took the lead.
“I thought we had a real good buildup and Zach had a great corner,” Horn said about his goal. “We were really pumped up after being down 1-0.”
It was physicality and speed that gave Montclair Kimberley the advantage in the second half, in particular Wheeler’s. The Raiders could not handle it and, in a key play, Wheeler was taken down in the penalty area with 29:52 left.
Sophomore Omar Martinez smacked the penalty kick left of Lembo for the game-winner and a 2-1 lead.
While Nutley held the ball more as they looked for the equalizer, they could not put pressure on the MKA defense and keeper Rollins Heath.
And then Wheeler helped put the match out of reach.
With the clock ticking down, the senior striker screamed a shot from 35 yards out that went by Lembo and gave the Cougars a 3-1 lead.
Before the victory over Nutley, Montclair Kimberley registered a 3-2 win over Bloomfield on Oct. 27 at home. Horn had a pair of goals, while Wheeler chipped in two assists. Horn notched the game-winner with an assist from Martinez.
Leather believes that his team learned something from their 1-0 loss at Livingston on Oct. 23. “We have to concentrate better, be more aware of our opponents’ strengths,” he said. “We gave away too many set pieces against Livingston, and that ultimately hurt us. We have to avoid doing things that give our opponents an advantage.”
And despite finishing in a scoreless tie with one of the top teams in the county, Seton Hall Prep, on Oct. 20, overall Leather was pretty happy with that outcome. “We competed,” he said. “We also had a game plan that worked. We knew their main danger was Lucas Ross, and we also knew we could press their midfield man to man. We felt comfortable competing with SHP if we forced them to play long. Defensively we were as organized as I can remember.”
Sandwiched between the tie with Seton Hall Prep and the loss to Livingston, MKA defeated Belleville, 2-1. Martinez and junior Zach Seeve scored a goal each in the victory.