by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

Both rain and yellow cards fell on Fortunato Field Tuesday afternoon, as the Montclair High School boys soccer team took on Montclair Kimberley Academy. In a physical, rowdy game from both sides, it was a penalty that determined the outcome, as Mounties forward Jalen Anderson scored on a penalty kick with 11 minutes left in the first half.

The goal would be the difference in a 1-0 victory for MHS, despite another penalty — a red card issued to the Mounties that kept them shorthanded for the final 10 minutes of the game. That red card was the sixth card issued during the match.

“Both teams knew [what they were in for],” said MHS head coach Toure Weaver after the win. “This game is always a battle. No matter where teams are at — even when I was playing here it was like that. It’s a derby.”

Despite a disappointing end, MKA head coach Rob Leather was pleased with the effort from his team.

“We pressed them to the end,” he said. “They obviously got a late red card, so that changed the flow of the game a little bit. But to come to Montclair and give them a really difficult game ... speaks volumes for us. I think you saw their reaction at the end — it was like they’d won a big game. I think it was a very even game, decided by a penalty call. And I thought it was a penalty but I also thought we had a penalty and it was one of those days where one goes for you, one doesn’t. Both keepers made two or three good saves. I can’t fault our effort.”

If anyone thought the Cougars would be overmatched heading into Tuesday’s game, they certainly left disabused of that notion. The Cougars’ goal has been to be competitive within a tough American division, and they’ve more than done that. They’ve proven they can hang with the best and that’s an indication the Cougars could be primed for a run or two in the upcoming tournaments.

MKA keeper Andrew Garofalo makes a save during his team's game against the MHS Mounties. While Garofalo would make eight saves, his team eventually lost 1-0.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
MKA keeper Andrew Garofalo makes a save during his team's game against the MHS Mounties. While Garofalo would make eight saves, his team eventually lost 1-0.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
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“We have three tournaments coming up and Montclair is considered to probably be the second best team in the county,” Leather said. “Based on today I think that gives us an indication we’re not a million miles away [from the top teams]. Obviously, for the state tournament and prep tournament, there’s a lot of good teams in there, but I feel like we’re right in that mix. We just have to keep playing with intensity.”

On Tuesday, though, the intensity kept them close but didn’t steal them the win.

“Today I felt like we just needed a little bit of luck, the ball needed to bounce a little differently at the end there, but we’re injury free, and I think we’re in a good place heading into tournament time this year.”

On the other side of the field, Weaver was pleased with his team’s overall effort, but felt they still had to play more controlled. He made sure his team knew.

“That’s exactly what I talked to them about. First, [they] battled and got through it. That shows determination, [and] focus. That was really good,” Weaver said he told them in his postgame speech. “But we can’t be so undisciplined that we’re getting two yellow cards and putting ourselves into a situation where that’s happening. Because you’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting everybody. So, the discipline part, we’ve got to be much better about.”

One area where things are running close to perfect is in the Mounties’ net. Both Rowan O’Brien and MKA netminder Andrew Garofalo made some spectacular saves throughout the day, and more than once bailed their defenses out. Leather and Weaver both had praise for their goaltenders, and know that it helps their team to know they can count on the last guy between the other team and the net to come up big.

MHS' Declan O'Sullivan and MKA's Spencer Goldberg battle for the ball during a physical game between the Mounties and Cougars Tuesday, October 9. MHS would go on to win, 1-0.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
MHS' Declan O'Sullivan and MKA's Spencer Goldberg battle for the ball during a physical game between the Mounties and Cougars Tuesday, October 9. MHS would go on to win, 1-0.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
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Both teams now have to simultaneously prepare for important regular-season games that will impact their seedings for the state tournament — on Wednesday MKA took on Verona while the Mounties faced off against a tough Glen Ridge team — and get ready for the start of the county tournament.

“All these games are tough, so a lot of it is maintaining intensity, maintaining focus, motivation,” Leather said. “High school season is tough because you play so many games. It’s difficult to get up for every game. But it’s about peaking and making sure we don’t dip.”

While Leather was talking about his own team, he could easily have been speaking about the Mounties.

Both teams have undeniable talent, but neither is flawless. They will face some incredibly tough competition in the tournaments and while some of the teams they have faced before — either one or both could come across Seton Hall Prep again, for example — that familiarity won’t make the matches any easier.

If they can smooth out the rough edges of their play, keep that intensity Leather was talking about while improving discipline and consistency, these teams could both go far in tournament play this year.

Both have another week to wait and see who they face in the opening round of the Essex County Tournament, as neither team has to play in any preliminary games. Montclair was awarded the 2-seed, and will face either 15-seed Belleville or the winner of the game between 18-seed Irvington and 27-seed Shabazz in the first official round on October 19.

Meanwhile, the Cougars were given the 5-seed and will see either 12-seed Verona or the winner of the 21-seed Technology game against 24-seed North Star, also on October 19.