The Montclair Kimberley boys soccer team moved a step down from the Super Essex Conference American Division, the top division in the county, to the Liberty Division for the upcoming season.

Despite the drop, Cougars head coach Robert Leather is confident the team will have an even better year than in 2021, when it won the Prep B Tournament title.

The MKA coach is pointing to a 13-win season as well as an SEC division championship and a state title. In 2021, the Cougars finished with a 12-6-1 record.

"We feel this will demonstrate a realistic improvement from last season," Leather said. "We proved in the Prep tournament last year that we can beat Gill [St. Bernard’s] in close games, and the fact we dropped to the Liberty I feel gives us a realistic chance to win the conference."

Montclair Kimberley, instead of facing the likes of Seton Hall Prep and Montclair in the American Division, will have to beat out teams such as Glen Ridge, Verona and Caldwell, where  it will open the season on Sept. 8 at 6 p.m.

MKA will still take on Montclair; that matchup comes early in the season, on Sept. 12 at Woodman Field, at 4 p.m.

Montclair Kimberley head coach Robert Leather leading practice this week as the Cougars boys soccer team gets ready for the 2022 season. MKA’s first match is Thursday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. at Caldwell. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair Kimberley head coach Robert Leather leading practice this week as the Cougars boys soccer team gets ready for the 2022 season. MKA’s first match is Thursday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. at Caldwell. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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For the Cougars to be successful this season Leather knows his team will need to come to play in the big games.

"The keys are really delivering in big moments," he said. "We will always be organized and competitive, but it is relishing the big moment that sees you win big games."

The coach points to the 3-2 victory over Gill St. Bernard’s in the Prep B title game as “relishing the big moment” while not doing that when the team fell in the Non Public B North semifinals in penalty kicks at Newark Academy despite 27 shots on goal.

In terms of the Essex County Tournament, Leather believes MKA can play the spoiler against the likes of the favorites, Seton Hall Prep, Livingston, West Orange and Montclair.

The optimism for the 2022 season comes because Montclair Kimberley has more than a half-dozen starters back this fall, compared to very few starters who returned last fall.

The first name that comes to mind for Leather is senior forward Omar Martinez, who had 10 goals and seven assists last season.

"We have high expectations of Omar, but he has proven since he was a freshman that he is one of the best players in the county," the coach said. "This is his team now, and the sky's the limit for what he can do. He is so explosive, has great balance and can shoot off both feet. He will get a lot of attention this season, but he is primed to deal with it."

The Cougars will need to find additional offense with the graduation of their other top scorers, Koome Murungi and Zach Seeve, who combined for 20 goals. 

"I am excited to see who else finds the back of the net, but I think it will be a collective effort," Leather said.

Montclair Kimberley works out before a recent practice at home as the Cougars boys soccer team gets ready for the 2022 season. MKA opens its season on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. at Caldwell. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair Kimberley works out before a recent practice at home as the Cougars boys soccer team gets ready for the 2022 season. MKA opens its season on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. at Caldwell. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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Two up-and-coming players, midfielder Joey Nigro and forward Lucas Furlonge, both sophomores, might be that scoring source. They combined for five goals last season.

"Joey is a creative midfield player who we are very excited about," the coach said, adding he believes sophomores take a big leap in play. "Lucas is a very direct attacking player whose athleticism could be a real weapon for us." 

Along with Martinez, Nigro and Furlonge in the middle and forward, the Cougars have returning senior midfielder Jack Roselund. 

On the other side of the field, MKA has an experienced group back, starting with senior defensive midfielder Julian Coviello. There is also a trio of fullbacks returning this fall, seniors Nick Baum and Dash Weintrub and junior Sebi Gonzalez. Junior defender Hunter Valentine is also back.

Along with an experienced defense, Leather and MKA have the benefit of a quality pair in goal, junior Andrew Avalos and sophomore Alex Provost, who was in nets for a club team, CSA Bergen MLS, as a freshman. Avalos had 53 saves last season.

"I am blessed with two excellent goalkeepers," the coach said. "Both will provide high-end goalkeeper play."

Montclair Kimberley Boys Soccer Schedule
(Dates and times subject to change)

Sept. 8 at Caldwell, 6 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Montclair, 4 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Glen Ridge, 4 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Verona, TBA
Sept. 20 Livingston, 4 p.m.
Sept. 22 Cedar Grove, 4 p.m.
Sept. 24 at West Orange, TBA
Sept. 28 Bloomfield, 4 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Irvington, 4 p.m.
Oct. 3 at North Hunterdon, 4 p.m.
Oct. 6 Prep B Tournament, TBA
Oct. 8 Seton Hall Prep, 11 a.m.
Oct. 11 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Oct. 13 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Oct. 15 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Oct. 17 Newark Academy, 4 p.m.
Oct. 19 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Oct. 20 Prep B semi-finals, TBA
Oct. 22 Essex County Tournament final, TBA
Oct. 24 Columbia, 6:45 p.m.
Oct. 28 Prep B final, TBA