LONG BRANCH RIDES THE WAVE TO SUCCESS
By Eric Braun
LONG BRANCH – After a rocky start to the 2019 soccer season, the Long Branch boys soccer team has found their perfect wave to ride and are making the most of their opportunities. After starting the season with three straight losses, the Green Wave started to find their chemistry together, and after their win over perennial power Christian Brothers Academy, they bought into each other and the process.
Coach Adrian Castro, who is now in his eighth season at the helm of the Green Wave, has compiled a record of 84-63-11 over that time, but this is the season that he and the program are on the cusp of championship caliber futbol.
“When I first started as the head coach we were in Group 2, and we made the sectional final. As the years passed we were Group 3 and as of three years ago, Group 4. It’s been a big adjustment,” said Castro of the direction of the program.
Long Branch knew they had something special building and had to work through early injuries and kept working together. Moving from a talented B North division several years ago, the Green Wave stepped into an even tougher A North schedule and also picked up impressive out-of-conference games in Jackson Memorial, Southern and Elizabeth. To get their season finally on track, they went on a stretch of beating year-in-and-year-out state title contenders Christian Brothers Academy (1-0), Manalapan (3-1), Ocean (6-2) and Howell (4-0).
“Beating Programs like CBA and Freehold Township in the same year isn’t easy, but these kids did it,” added Castro. “We competed and started finding ways to win as they came together as a group and started playing well together. They understand this game is a game of inches.”
As the season went on, Long Branch started to find their identity and put in a great-late season run in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA tournaments. In the SCT, they knocked off Lacey, 2-0, but then fell in a tightly contested overtime game against Colts Neck, 1-0.
After wrapping up their regular season with wins over Marlboro (3-1) and Shore Regional (5-0), the team awaited their NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV tournament fate – the 13th seed. To most double-digit seeds, you would have low expectations and just happy to get into the tournament after and up and down season, but for this group of players and coaches they knew their season record was no indication of what they could accomplish together in the states.
Long Branch headed into the tournament led by four seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and one freshman. The seniors included captain Patrick O’Dwyer (21 goals, 3 assists), captain Jason Munoz, Eryck Lazo (6 goals), right midfielder Herbert Ruiz, and goalkeeper Rodolfo Giron who got injured early in the year. Juniors included Augusto Bontempo, defender Brian Completo, defender Victor Pessoa, goalkeeper Tyler Abbot (6 shutouts), Jason Laviola and Kobe Brown. The sophomores are Brian Yocute and Cesare Rojas Jimenez, joined by freshman Jeremy Hernandez.
“We started the year slow but we were working through injuries and trying to find where guys were the best fit in our system. They are embracing the underdog label. These kids just love the game of soccer and always come to practice with a smile on their face and ready to work,” Castro added. “These kids put a lot of hard work in over the summer and hopefully we can continue this run. If not I am proud of how they have grown throughout the season and faced adversity.”
Their hard work and determination paid off as the Green Wave advanced to the Central Jersey Group IV final against second-seeded Hunterdon Central. To get there, they won three one-goal games.
In the opening round, Long Branch was looking to avenge an early season 3-1 loss to Freehold Township, who entered the tournament as the fourth seed. It was O’Dwyer who played the hero in this one as he buried home the game winner just minutes into the second overtime for the 2-1 win. Next up was another tough draw in fifth-seeded Princeton, in which Ruiz got the lone goal of the game in the first half, as the Green Wave emerged with a 1-0 win to advance to the semifinal against Marlboro.
These two teams knew each other well as they just faced off against one another two weeks prior with the Green Wave earning the 3-1 win. This time around the top-seeded Mustangs were on a mission themselves and jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first half and were controlling the tempo of play. No strangers to overcoming adversity, Long Branch pulled together and slowly started to take over the second half and with just under20 minutes left to play, Completo evened the match at 1-1. Just minutes later Long Branch would show everyone why they are a force to be reckoned with, as Laviola found the back of the net off a rebound to give Long Branch the 2-1 win. The Green Wave rode the perfect wave out of Marlboro and into their first state title match since 2012.
In the final against Hunterdon Central, Long Branch’s magical run came to an end with a 2-0 loss. The staff, parents and administration at Long Branch could not be prouder of the run and way this team played through adversity all season.
The Long Branch team is in great shape for the future and puts other teams on notice that “a wave that closes all at once is impossible to ride.”