The Montclair Kimberley boys soccer team may have lost one of their top players to graduation for this fall, but the Cougars might be in a better position to succeed in the 2023 soccer season.

Montclair Kimberley returns nine starters this season which could help replace the graduation of Omar Martinez, who is playing for Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and is considered one of the top soccer players to come from the school.

“It is a huge amount for us,” said MKA head coach Robert Leather about the number of starters coming back. “That gives us a lot of confidence. Our strengths are all over the field.”

Montclair Kimberley junior Joey Nigro (10) is one of the top returning players for the Cougars. MKA travels to Caldwell Sept. 7 to open the 2023 season. The Cougars also host Montclair in the annual rivalry game on Sept. 18 at MKA at 4 p.m. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

And for the Cougars head coach, he believes his squad, which finished with a 12-8-1 record despite several injuries, is much more balanced across the field.

Last season, Montclair Kimberley took home the Super Essex Conference Liberty Division title and the Cougars are looking for a repeat.

In addition, Leather believes they can give the powerhouses of Essex County like Montclair, Seton Hall Prep and West Orange a run for their money in the county tournament.

In 2022, the toughest pills to swallow were the two losses, both 3-0 verdicts to Gill St. Bernard’s in the Prep B and Non-Public B North title contests.

For the 2023 season the Prep B tournament will be combined with the Prep A tournament so it will be even tougher for MKA to get to the final against Prep A powerhouses St. Benedict’s and Pennington.

“The state tournament is one where we look forward to renewing our rivalry with Gill, whom we have the utmost respect for,” said Leather.

The top players back this season include juniors, Lucas Furlonge and Joey Nigro, who were both named to the All-Super Essex Conference Liberty Division first team.

Leather and the Cougars can put Furlonge anywhere on the field from fullback to center back to midfield where he plays in the MLS Next, a development league for youth soccer.

“He is powerful and explosive,” Leather said of the junior. “He has continued to mature physically, and he is a force to be reckoned with. In addition, his understanding of the game has come on leaps and bounds. I am very excited to see what he can do.”

In Nigro, Montclair Kimberley has a scorer that filled in admirably while Martinez was injured in the second half of the 2022 season. Nigro accumulated nine goals and six assists last season.

“Joey really stepped up in the face of Omar’s injury last season,” said Leather. “I want him to continue as our playmaker, our creative force and someone who adds goals and assists on a regular basis. He has worked really hard on his overall strength and that will complement his undoubted talent.” 

In the back and in goal, Montclair Kimberley will have two keepers who will be seeing time in senior goalie Alex Provost and sophomore Jan Heijna. Provost was named to the All-SEC Liberty Division second team while saving 74 shots in 11 games. And while the other goalie last season, Andrew Avalos is playing for MKA football, Leather has a newcomer in Heijna who spent time as a freshman playing in the MLS NEXT.

Montclair Kimberley goalkeeper Alex Provost (center) will be one of the top returning players for the Cougars who not only are looking to repeat as Super Essex Conference Liberty Division champs, but also bring home some hardware in the state tournament. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

“I will use both goalkeepers as I see fit and they will push each other in the very way goalkeepers do at the club level,” said Leather. “It really is a very good situation for us.”

Another player who was named to the All-SEC Liberty Division team was junior Mike Rallatos. He was named to the honorable mention list despite breaking his foot during the 2022 season.

Montclair senior Mikey Rallatos (22) is looking to rebound this season after missing extensive time last season with an injury. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

“He was just getting into a groove last year and he broke his foot,” said Leather. “I want to put more responsibility on him this year. He has developed his positional flexibility and I see him in a more central role this year, where he is dictating the play. The sky is the limit for Mikey and he will make the most of it no doubt.”

For this season Leather sees big things from sophomore Nick Carrascosa who missed most of his freshman season with a knee injury.

“He has worked himself back to health and he is a really exciting attacking player,” added the MKA head coach. “His technical ability, coupled with his explosion will ensure he is a key weapon going forward.”

Along with Nigro, a freshman, CJ Dike, might be somebody that makes up for the loss of Martinez. “CJ is a goal scorer and a superb athlete,” said Leather. “CJ will step straight in and give us valuable minutes as a number nine.” 

For the Cougars they have a tough stretch in the early part of the schedule with Montclair (Sept. 18), at Livingston (Sept. 20) and hosting West Orange (Sept. 26) that could give an inkling to how well this version of MKA might be in 2023.

Montclair Kimberley boys soccer schedule

(Matches at 4 p.m. unless noted)

Sept. 7 at Caldwell

Sept. 9 at Peddie, 3 p.m.

Sept. 12 Glen Ridge

Sept. 14 Verona

Sept. 18 Montclair

Sept. 20 at Livingston

Sept. 22 at Cedar Grove

Sept. 26 West Orange

Sept. 28 at Bloomfield

Sept. 30 Irvington, TBA

Oct. 3 at Newark Academy

Oct. 5 at Seton Hall Prep

Oct. 9 Essex County Tournament, TBD

Oct. 11 Essex County Tournament, TBD

Oct. 13 Essex County Tournament, TBD

Oct. 17 at Nutley, 6:30 p.m.

Edward Kensick writes sports, news and features for Montclair Local.

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