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The revised schedule for 2020 has pitted divisional opponents against one another in back-to-back games, which has created a different dynamic to this season. Jackson Memorial, for instance, had to open its season by playing division front-runner Southern on back-to-back days and while missing key players due to injury.

In short, when teams play each other is even more critical this season and the first week-and-a-half of the season has further established some favorites, set back some other contenders and revealed some potential sleepers.

1. Freehold Township (4-0, 4-0) Last Week: 1

The No. 1 team from the preseason holds its spot thanks to a 4-0 start, but the Patriots did not make it abundantly clear that they should remain No. 1. The 4-0 start came against two teams (Middletown North and Manalapan) that were picked to finish in the bottom half of the division (albeit a very strong division), are a combined 0-7 to start the season and with three of the games going down to the wire. The next two weeks give Freehold Township ample opportunity to cement their case for No. 1, with a home-and-home vs. CBA this week and two vs. Long Branch the following week.

Southern senior J.P. Prosperi. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

2. Southern (4-0, 4-0) Last Week: 2

Like Freehold Township, Southern had to rally late to win two games in its 4-0 start, but Southern’s close calls came against a Jackson Memorial side that has won three straight A South titles and entered the season ranked No. 8. The Rams followed two comeback wins over the Jaguars with two convincing ones over Brick Memorial, keeping them on a mid-November collision course with the No. 3 team in the Shore for Class A South supremacy.

3. Toms River North (4-0, 4-0) Last Week: 3

Southern stays in the No. 2 spot but Toms River North delivered more impressive results over the season’s first week-and-a-half. The Mariners handled a solid Toms River East squad in each of their first two games, then outscored Jackson Memorial, 4-1, over 160 minutes, with the only Jaguars goal coming with two minutes left in Tuesday’s 2-1 Toms River North victory in Jackson. If the Mariners can nail down two more wins this week against rival Toms River South, they should be poised to make it to the final week of the regular season in position to challenge Southern for the top spot in A South.

4. Christian Brothers Academy (1-0, 0-0) Last Week: 4

After missing the first week-plus of the season while the campus was shut down due to multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases among the student body, CBA returned to the practice field on Friday, then made its season debut Saturday by beating a quality Rumson-Fair Haven side, 3-0. The Colts look strong in the back again and junior Marco Mastriani had a productive debut to go along with returnees Shane Borenius and Brett Sieg. The Colts will be tested right out of the gate with two games vs. Freehold Township during the week and a Saturday match against a battle-tested Middletown North squad.

5. Long Branch (2-0, 2-0) Last Week: 5

CBA’s two-week closure left the Green Wave without an opponent during the first few days of the season but when they finally did get out on the field, they were ready. Long Branch beat Middletown South twice this past week and after dropping two games to Long Branch, the Eagles went out and beat Marlboro in overtime. Lucas Da Costa scored a goal in each game, including the lone goal in Monday’s 1-0 season-opening win.

6. Colts Neck (3-0, 3-0) Last Week: 6

In its three games to this point, Colts Neck has done nothing to jeopardize its No. 6 spot and even made a reasonable case to move up given how dominant those performances were. The Cougars handled Neptune, 4-0, to open the season, then hammered St. John Vianney with eight goals in two shutout wins, giving Colts Neck a 12-0 goal differential through three matches. This week, Colts Neck will take on a Red Bank squad looking for its first win.

7. Wall (4-0, 4-0) Last Week: 7

Wall and Colts Neck figure to battle it out for the top spot in B North this season and so far, neither has blinked. The Crimson Knights took care of Red Bank in their first two games, then held off Neptune this past week. Perhaps most encouraging – at least to this point – is Wall has conceded only one goal despite playing with a new back four and goalkeeper. Freehold Boro could present more of a threat to the net this week than Wall’s first two opponents did but it is still too early to distinguish the teams in the even B North field from one another beyond Colts Neck and Wall.

8. Holmdel (3-0, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

Holmdel’s unbeaten streak lives to see the third week of the 2020 season after the Hornets swept a talented Monmouth Regional side, then edged Middletown North on Saturday to extend their unbeaten streak to 57 games dating back to October of 2017. The two teams Holmdel has defeated are a combined 0-7, but Monmouth’s other losses are to unbeaten Ocean and Middletown North’s came against No. 1 Freehold Township. Next up for Holmdel is Rumson-Fair Haven, which should pose a serious obstacle to continuing the streak.

9. Ocean (4-0, 4-0) Last Week: Not ranked

It appears last year’s run to the Central Jersey Group III championship game set the tone for the start of 2020, particularly to the junior class that has been so instrumental to this year’s 4-0 start. The Spartans opened with two wins against another junior-heavy team in Monmouth – one in overtime and one with three unanswered goals to open the game – then took care of a young Shore Regional side. Ocean has a bye within the A Central schedule this week but the Spartans will get in a match at Bound Brook on Wednesday as they prepare for a showdown with Holmdel on Oct. 19.

10. Manasquan (3-0-1, 3-0-1) Last Week: Not ranked

St. John Vianney gave Manasquan a challenging pair of games to open the season, even earning a draw in game two. The Warriors responded with two wins over Freehold Boro – a team that spent last year in Class A North – and will take on a young Matawan squad this coming week. Manasquan also has some youth on the field, but it has been senior Simon Cardenas who has sparked the Warriors’ fast start, with returning starter Mike Cafiero also turning in a two-goal game in one of the wins over Freehold Boro.

 

Dropped Out

Jackson Memorial (0-4, 0-4) Last Week: 8 – On top of starting the season without leading scorer Drew Walenty (injured shoulder), Jackson Memorial had to face Southern and Toms River North out of the gate. First place in the division is off the table, but the Jaguars can still set themselves up for a potential postseason.

Marlboro (1-2-1, 1-2-1) Last Week: 9 – Since opening with a 4-0 win over Middletown South, Marlboro has scored just once in three games – two of which went to overtime.

Monmouth (0-4, 0-4) Last Week: 10 – Of Monmouth’s four losses, one was in overtime to Ocean and two were by one-goal margins to Holmdel with the Hornets scoring a goal on a penalty kick in each. The Falcons face a potential season-defining pair of games with Raritan this week.

 

Top 10 Watchlist

Howell (3-0-1, 3-0-1) – Howell did not win an A North game last year and has responded with three wins and a draw in its first four games, including a win over preseason No. 9 Marlboro.

Rumson-Fair Haven (2-1, 2-0) – A shaky start doomed the Bulldogs on Saturday vs. CBA and Rumson’s two wins are over Shore and Red Bank Catholic, so there is not enough to bump the Bulldogs into the Top 10 just yet. A result this week vs. Holmdel would likely change that.

Brick (2-2, 2-2) – The Green Dragons have been two different teams so far and the good version of Brick has been impressive. They traded 5-1 decisions with Toms River South and after blowing a 3-1 lead in a loss to Toms River East, the Dragons came back with a 4-1 win over the Raiders.

Middletown South (1-3, 1-3) – The Eagles are working in some new starters so bouncing back from three straight losses to Marlboro and Long Branch (twice) with an overtime win over Marlboro is a positive sign.

Toms River South (3-1, 3-1) – After coming out flat in a 5-1 loss to Brick in the season-opener, Toms River South has outscored three opponents (Brick once and Central twice) by a combined 14-1 margin.