Mercer County
Amateur Master Soccer League

In The News - A Look Back at 2012

Penalty kicks decide Mercer Men's Soccer semifinals

By Joe Zedalis/For The Star-Ledger

Photo OPEN Soccer Playoff players compete for ballWEST WINDSOR — Biancoverdi won with offense and Varsity Pizza with dominating goalkeeping last night in the Mercer County Over-18 Men’s Soccer League semifinals at Mercer County Park. Biancoverdi scored a 2-0 victory over TCNJ, and Varsity Pizza won in penalty kicks, 3-1, over Burlington FC. Biancoveri and Varsity Pizza will play for the summer-league title 8 p.m. Monday at Mercer County Park. Burlington FC and TCNJ will play at the same time for third place.

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Photo Varsity Pizza vs Burlington in Soccer Semi-final

Biancoverdi, which finished in fourth place during the regular season, got goals from Jon Bembry and Garrett Vena and dispatched TCNJ, which scored the biggest upset of the playoffs when it toppled Steinert Alumni, last year’s tournament champion.

“We’re on a bit of a hot streak now,’’ said Bembry, from Lawrence, who is headed to St. John’s University in a couple of weeks. “We won three of four games at a tournament in Rhode Island over the weekend and now two in a row here.

“It’s always fun to go as far as you can go,’’ Bembry added.

Bembry scored the first Biancoverdi goal, 18:07 into the first half, with Brian Lentine, assisting.

“It was just a hustle play,’’ Bembry said. “I outran the defender, chopped the ball around the keeper and then knocked it in.’’

Vena was in the right place at the right time on Biancoverdi’s second goal, putting in a rebound nine minutes into the second half.

“Lee Rabin fired a rocket that their goalie saved and I tucked it in the corner,’’ said Vena, who has a walk-on tryout at the University of Connecticut.

“We’re just out having fun, and we are happy to be in the final.’’

George Kusserow recorded the shutout for Biancoverdi.

In the other semifinal, Varsity Pizza goalie Dan Peragallo, who played at New Brunswick High School and William Paterson University, made two saves during penalty kicks after 90 minutes of chippy, chirpy soccer. The game finished with the two teams playing 10-on-10.

Burlington’s Derek Shinn and Varisty Pizza’s Steve Hawkey each converted their penalty attempts, however, Peragallo rejected the second Burlington attempt by Ivan Earretto with a diving save to his left. He later stopped a shot by Burlington’s Dave UdiJohn going left. Burlington also missed the net on another kick.

Varsity Pizza got its second goal of the shootout on a right-footed blast by Oliver Murphy and an insurance tally from Ethan Decker.

Varsity Pizza finished second in the regular-season standings and Burlington FC third.

Newcastle paces Over-30 league

By Joe Zedalis/For The Star-Ledger

Photo of Mercer County Men's Soccer League Championship Game on June 24, 2012.WEST WINDSOR — The 35-year-old financial analyst from Sicklerville scored three goals, the 32-year-old data analyst from Cherry Hill scored another and the team captain, a busy air conditioning salesman from Bensalem, got the championship game ball. Josh Boucher, a forward with bursts of speed befitting a 20-year-old, scored the hat trick and Kevin Jones found the net with a 35-yard rocket and Newcastle completed its ascension to the top of the Mercer County Men’s Over-30 Soccer League with a 4-1 victory over Nini Builders FC at West Windsor-Plainsboro South High yesterday.

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Photo Nini FC Soccer Player Kicking the Ball

Newcastle, a team comprised mainly of players from South Jersey and Bucks County, finished in the middle of the pack when it debuted the Mercer County league three years ago. Nini was the league bridesmaid for the fourth time in five seasons.

“We all have to go to work every Monday morning, but when we get between the lines it’s business as usual,’’ said Boucher, whose rapid bursts were decisive in the game.

“Each year we’ve been in this league we’ve gotten better and better and this is the ultimate culmination.’’

Newcastle, which came to Mercer County after a league in Yardley folded, took players from the different teams in the defunct Yardley league.

“It took a season or two for us to come together, but most of us played against each other in high school and other leagues,’’ said Joe Kirby, the Newcastle captain. “More than anything, we are here to have fun.’’

Newcastle, which defeated Miele in the semifinals, was completely outplayed in the first half. Nini’s sharp passing dominated the pitch.

Newcastle was outshot, 9-1, in the first 40 minutes. Nini defeated the West Windsor-Plainsboro Wasps in the semifinals.

“At halftime we talked about it and we knew we had to come up with a quick strike,’’ Jones said. “We noticed the Nini keeper was coming out away from the goal.’’

Three minutes in to the first half, a mistake on a goal kick, gave Newcastle its first real scoring opportunity. Dave Burden set up Boucher for the game’s first goal.

Then, 5:54 into the second half, Newcastle made Nini pay when its goalie left the box.

Jones alertly flighted the ball over the Nini keeper with a right-footed shot from 35 yards out into the upper left corner of the cage for a 2-0 lead.

“Matt Stuckley, who wins most of our head balls, sent me a pass,’’ Jones said. “I picked my head up and the saw the goalie was out of the net.’’

Boucher made it 3-0 with his second goal, beating a pair of Nini defenders before slipping a shot past the keeper and into the net.

“Speed has always been one of my biggest attributes,’’ Boucher said. “But the passes I was getting today made it very easy.’’

Nini got on the scoreboard at the halfway mark of the second half on a Jerry Grecsek goal, but Boucher put things out of reach and completed his hat trick when he scored on a breakaway with two minutes left.

“Bouch has been struggling, but he really picked things up today,’’ Jones said.

For more information on all the leagues offered by Mercer County Men's Soccer, visit mercermensoccer.net.

Soccer night draws tough competitors

By Joe Zedalis/For The Star-Ledger

Graphic of Soccer BallWEST WINDSOR — Whether they wear wingtips all day, recently graduated from high school or are trying to maintain their skills before they return to college campuses, the players in the Mercer County Men’s Over-18 Soccer League all have something to prove two nights a week.

For guys like Mark Morales, 26, an insurance analyst in Princeton, it’s a chance to prove they can still play the game they grew up with just as well as the young guys.

For players like Matt Lynch, 18, of Burlington, it’s a a forum to work on the deficiencies that were exposed as a first-year college player.

For guys like Lee Raben and A.J. Carnevale of West Windsor and Jonathan Bembry of Lawrence, it’s the opportunity to experience college-level speed and skill before fall camps begin.

The league’s eight-week regular season began last night and will continue through July 9 every Monday and Wednesday at Mercer County Park.

"There is something about this game that takes away the pain ... and creates a little, too," said Lynch, who played soccer at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

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For some players, the aching muscles and skinned knees are pleasant reminders of days gone by. For others, it’s a preview of things to come.

“If you hold the ball too long in this league, you’ll get crushed,’’ said Bembery, who hopes to make the team at St. John’s University in the fall.

“I thought maybe there’d be a few older guys, but most of these guys are college-level players,’’ said Raben, who is headed for Moravian College.

“I was surprised because I didn’t think it was as intense as it really is,’’ added Carnevale, who will play at Fairleigh Dickinson in the fall.

The eight-team league plays games at 7 and 8:30 p.m. on soccer fields one and two at Mercer County Park.

The goal of the league is to uphold the long and storied tradition of Mercer County soccer.

“It’s a chance to play good competition on nice fields in a well-officiated league,’’ said Kevin Murphy the owner of Varsity Pizza in Lawrence and the team’s coach.

“It’s a user-friendly league because players can work during the day and still play in the evenings.’’

Murphy, who had a six-year professional career and once played in the league, said the skill level is good.

“There aren’t practice sessions, so the games give players a chance to work on things they might not be able to work on during their college or high school seasons,’’ Murphy said.

"Things they improve here may well help them when they go back to school.'' Many of the teams in the league are loaded with local players.

The defending league champions, Steinert Alumni, are comprised of former Spartans, with a player or two from other parts of the county.

Varsity Pizza is basically made up of players with Pennington and Hopewell ties, and the Biancoverdi squad features players from West Windsor.

"If you play any sport, you have a competitive spirit whether it's pinball or soccer,'' said Varsity Pizza's Derek Reilly, 18, a Pennington School graduate. "You don't want to lose.''

"When the whistle blows, the play is serious,'' Murphy added.

“It’s a fun league,’’ said Morales of Steinert Alumni. “Some guys play to get a little exercise. But we won the league last year and took that seriously. I will tell you this, there is some talent in this league.’’

For more information about the league and for a week-by-week schedule visit mercermensoccer.net.