by Andrew Garda

Tournament time is here for the four soccer teams at Montclair High School and the Montclair Kimberley Academy, as the Essex County Tournaments get underway this week.

Preliminary rounds of the tournament got underway last Thursday, but the race to a county title will move quickly: Round of 16 matches will be completed by today, with quarterfinals to follow Friday and Saturday, the semifinals next Wednesday, Oct. 25, and the championship matches next weekend at Caldwell High School.


Seven straight wins to close the regular season vaulted the Montclair High boys (9-1-1) to the No. 2 seed in the ECT, earning them a bye from the preliminary round and it seems as if the Mounties ended up with a pretty nice draw overall. Their first-round game is scheduled for today, Thursday, Oct. 19, at home against 15th-seeded Belleville. If they advance, they would host a quarterfinal game on Saturday at Fortunato Field.

The semifinals, potentially against rival and third-seeded Millburn, will be played Wednesday night at Belleville High.

All season long, coach Toure Weaver has preached improvement to his squad, promising onlookers that they had yet to see the best these Mounties have to offer.

A key factor to any success will be goalkeeper Rowan O’Brien, who has been a rock in goal for MHS, saving better than 90 percent of shots faced. The Mounties defense has also been very sharp, giving up only 56 shots in 11 matches.

Offensively, the team is incredibly balanced, with a remarkable 17 players accounting for Montclair’s 28 goals. Phillip Cubeddu leads the team with four goals on the year, with Reece Bordick right behind him with three. Multiple players on the team can and will score, which makes them a dangerous draw for any team in the tournament.

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The winningest program in Essex County Tournament history with 16 championships, including a run of five straight from 2011 to 2015, coach Eric Weintraub’s young team has landed in as good a situation as it could have hoped for in the Essex County Tournament. The Mounties (10-3) are the No. 2 seed and will have a bye all the way until Saturday’s quarterfinal rounds. They’ve only met two of their four potential opponents — 7th-seeded Columbia, who they beat last week, 5-0, and No. 10 Mount St. Dominic, who they beat earlier this month, 2-1.

No. 15 Verona and No. 18 East Side are the other potential opponents.

Much of the attention will be on seniors like Nora Giordano, Rebecca Van Siclen (team-high 8 goals) and Kirdon Jones, but the key to winning the ECT will come down to how the young players on the team handle the spotlight.

So far this season, they’ve stepped up.

Players like Claire Manning  (4 goals) and Sydney Masur (4 goals, 3 assists) are among the youngsters who have been battle tested throughout the season and along with juniors like Jillian O’Toole and sophomores like Hanan Abdellatif, will be the difference between winning and losing.

Like the other coaches, Weintraub doesn’t feel his team has fired on all cylinders yet.

Starting this Saturday, they’ll have to show what they are capable of.

Mounties forward Phillip Cubeddu battles with Cougars midfielder Ahmed Abukwaik during MHS' 1-0 win over MKA on October 9. Both players will be key to a run in the Essex County Tournament.
Mounties forward Phillip Cubeddu battles with Cougars midfielder Ahmed Abukwaik during MHS' 1-0 win over MKA on October 9. Both players will be key to a run in the Essex County Tournament.


MKA head coach Rob Leather has said repeatedly this season that his team was looking to prove they belong in the ultra-tough SEC-American Division.

Close losses to Montclair, Seton Hall Prep and Millburn are still losses, but Leather has maintained that as long as his team is competitive, they’re doing what they should be.

So they’ve been competitive. Now it’s time to take their game to the next level.

MKA (6-5-3) landed the No. 5 seed in the tournament, and opened up with their Round of 16 game against 12th-seeded Verona yesterday after press time. The two teams met in a regular-season game just over a week ago, when MKA had to come back from a two-goal deficit to force double overtime. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, and the Cougars will look to avoid getting into trouble early this time out.

They’ll be depending on excellent play from their keeper, Andrew Garofalo, who has made 85 saves this season and more than once kept the Cougars in games. Dylan Ladda (11 goals) is the Cougars’ top scorer, and captains Ahmad Abukwaik (team-leading 5 assists) and Nico Espinosa-Dice will be helping keep the opposition away from the net, and while Abukwaik has been playing a lot more midfield he’s still a key piece on defense.

They’ll need both players and more, because if they get past Verona, No. 4 West Orange and No. 1 Seton Hall are lurking.

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The fifth-seeded MKA girls (10-4-1) cleared their first hurdle on Monday, defeating No. 20 Orange, 5-0, in the first preliminary round, led by a pair of goals from Olivia Gottlieb, but the hard work is just getting started.

Their next opponent, Newark Academy, is a team they’ve already beaten once this year and while coach Christie Welsh won’t take anything for granted, it shouldn’t pose too much of a threat.

Four-seed Glen Ridge will be a tougher task, even though the Cougars beat them on Oct. 6 by a score of 2-1.

Without a doubt, the Cougars will need senior Kerri McGuire to continue to find the back of the net with her shots. McGuire leads the team with 13 goals, and you only need to watch the team for a few minutes to know how critical she is as a vocal leader on the field as well.

And if McGuire is scoring, there’s a good chance fellow senior Dani Golden is feeding her the ball. Golden leads the team with five assists, and is a huge part of the Cougars’ offensive attack.

Defensively, Lily Pryor and Alexis Riley will be a major factor in keeping anyone from getting a clean shot at keeper Arianna Jobst.

The young Cougars team has quietly put together an impressive record and should surprise some people in the ECT.