Erik Dymora made nine saves and also scored the rare keeper's goal during Clifton's 6-3 win at Kearny on Tuesday.
KEARNY – Over the past two years, Clifton has been, unquestionably, the best boys soccer team in New Jersey. With a history rich in tradition, the Mustangs have achieved every milestone that a program possibly could over that span.
However, there was one place that, for decades, has been a thorn in their side. Of all of the opponents they have had in the program's history, Kearny is the only team whom they have not beaten on the road. The opportunity to rectify that came on Tuesday afternoon. It did not take long for Clifton to find its rhythm and show why they are still the team to beat in New Jersey.
A team that has talent all over the field put it all together in the first half. Clifton had five different players, including goalie Erik Dymora, find the back of the net in the first half to grab a four-goal lead by halftime and cruise to a 6-3 triumph over Kearny on Election Day at Kearny High School.
Clifton set the tone right from the opening whistle by methodically playing out of the back, attacking gaps in the midfield, and using every inch of the field to its advantage in the attacking third. All of which were on display for the Mustangs' first goal. They won a ball in the defensive third and quickly darted down the pitch until Danny Toban's slick no-look pass between two defenders played Juan Carlo Vizcaino into space as the Mustangs jumped out in front less than seven minutes in.
They tacked onto their lead minutes later. Do-everything senior Amer Lukovic high-pointed a long free kick into the box and headed it back towards the goalmouth where it trickled over the goal line for a 2-0 lead.
Juan Rojas scored Kearny's first goal.
“When you're number one in the state there's a target on our backs, but that only makes us work harder,” said Lukovic. “We play simple, play through the gaps and attack the other team's defense in a number of different ways.”
The Mustangs finally faced some adversity when North Jersey's leading scorer, Kearny's Juan Rojas, slipped one past Clifton's standout keeper Erik Dymora in the 27th minute to trim the lead to 2-1. It ended a streak of over 800 consecutive scoreless minutes and was the first goal the Mustangs have allowed in over a month.
There was no doubt the Mustangs would respond, just a matter of how long it would take. Turns out it took less than 30 seconds. On a free kick from just inside midfield, Dymora came all the way up to take the restart. He lofted a drifting ball towards the top of the box and Lukovic and Kearny goaltender Matthew Brun both went up for the ball. It cleared both players before skipping off the turf and into the net to give Clifton its two-goal advantage back.
That settled the Clifton players down and they put the game away with a late flurry to end the half. Lukovic gave a through ball for Mariano Esposito that beat the Kardinals' offside trap. Esposito raced all the way in from midfield and scored. Then, with 3:32 to play in the half, senior Joey Velasquez got into the act by drilling a shot from close range under the crossbar with Clifton in complete control by halftime. Not only did the Mustangs notch their first win at Kearny in school history, but it was the first time in the storied history of Kearny soccer that the Kardinals allowed five goals in a half.
Amer Lukovic and Clifton improved to a perfect 10-0 on the season.
“We played with a lot of confidence and found ways to break down (Kearny's) defense without necessarily being direct about it,” said Clifton head coach Stan Lembryk. “The way we played in that first half was just magic. We want to test our program and to do as well as we did today is really something else. We wanted to set the tone in this game, put it away then get ready for the rest of the week because we have two really important games ahead of us.”
Dymora (nine saves) pulled off a rarity when his long free kick early in the second half led to a goal by Danny Toban. In another milestone, he became the first goalie in school history to notch a goal and an assist in the game for Clifton (10-0).
Rojas notched his 14th and 15th goals of the year for Kearny (7-2). Rojas' second goal and one by Joao Capobianco came in the game's waning minutes with Dymora and most of Clifton's starting lineup on the sidelines.
Clifton's vaunted win streak is now up to 33 games but two more tests await over the next week. The Mustangs will face undefeated Ramsey then take on 10-1 Bergen Catholic. That does not bother the Mustangs, who go into each match like it could be their last.
“The only way you can win games is by treating every 50/50 ball like it's the most important one of the game and taking every game like it's the biggest one of the season,” added Lukovic. “There are some tough teams coming up and Kearny is always a rivalry game. We have a lot of experience in big games and that helps in games like this. Even when they scored in the first half we kept our heads up and kept playing our game. Once we get momentum we just start going off and we're pretty tough to stop once we get going.”