MANALAPAN - If there is one characteristic that stands out about the Manalapan boys soccer team to this point of the 2018 season, it that the Braves are not a team that starts fast. They lost their first two games of the season by a combined total of 12-2 and trailed in five of their eight games heading into Tuesday's Class A North match vs. Freehold Boro.

Through it all, however, Manalapan has also shown it won't be held down and on Tuesday against the Colonials, they even showed that they can also pull together a complete 80-minute performance.

Senior captains Mike Kuver and Justin Goldberg each scored in the first 12 minutes and fellow captain Gavin Lebright added an insurance goal in the second half to help Manalapan - the No. 10 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - coast to a 3-1 victory over Freehold Boro Tuesday.

Manalapan senior Justin Goldberg. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Manalapan senior Justin Goldberg. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We were hungry today," Lebright said. "I know I was energetic all day in school and I couldn't wait to play. I think we showed again that we belong with anybody in A North."

Manalapan has scored first in games this season and has even scored earlier that Kuver's sixth-minute goal on Tuesday, but the Braves have not managed a multi-goal lead like they did for nearly 70 minutes on Tuesday. Freehold Boro owned an 11-10 advantage in shots, but did not seriously test goalkeeper Luke Nelson outside of a pair of shots by senior Abel Herrera in the second half.

Nelson saved the first one and the second of those shots reached the far left corner of the goal in the 73rd minute to cut Manalapan's lead to 3-1, but it proved to be too little, too late for the Colonials.

Manalapan senior Mike Kuver. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Manalapan senior Mike Kuver. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Kuver has been Manalapan's standout finisher lately, scoring both goals in a 3-2 loss to Long Branch and the game-winner with 20 seconds left in Saturday's 1-0 win over Middletown North. He has done all that while playing with an ankle injury, according to Braves coach Kerry Eisman. His two goals against Long Branch came after he entered the game for the first time in the 55th minute and Tuesday's goal came early enough that he was able to rest for most of the second half.

The goal started with a through ball from Manalapan's other senior captain, Ryan Caruso, to Lebright, who touched it along to Kuver. The senior settled it and knocked a low shot past Freehold Boro keeper Brendan just inside the right post.

Manalapan tacked on a second goal in the 12th minute when Lebright flicked a throw-in over to Goldberg, who shielded a defender from the ball and ripped an six-yard shot into the left side netting.

LeBright added a goal of his own in the 64th minute after Caruso touched hime a through-ball from junior Lucas Moreira. Lebright timed his run perfectly and converted a one-on-one opportunity against Duffy.

With Tuesday's win, Manalapan climbed above a .500 winning percentage for the first time this season. The Braves entered with high expectations after winning all three of its preseason scrimmages but fell hard in lopsided losses to Southern (4-0) and Jackson Memorial (8-2) to open the season.

"We picked ourselves up after two big losses," Lebright said. "We just figured out how to play together and rebuilt the chemistry really quickly."

On top of the discouraging losses, the Braves lost senior midfield standout D'Angelo Reyes to a torn ACL early on in the Jackson Memorial game. After things got immediately worse against Jackson, they got better once the Braves banded together to beat Marlboro in overtime the next time out for their first win.

"Playing center-mid with him, that was a huge loss," Goldberg said of Reyes. "He's my buddy on and off the field. But we say it everyday: it's not just the people on the field who are playing. Everyone on the bench has to be ready at all times and they are showing that."

Since then, Manalapan has tied perennial Group IV contender Bridgewater-Raritan and defeated rival Freehold Township. Now, the Braves stand alone in second place in the Class A North division standings and can take over the top spot by beating first-place Christian Brothers Academy on Thursday.

"Our thing this year is we play 80 to 100 minutes since we always end up in overtime," Goldberg joked. "But it's good for the boys and we do whatever it takes. We got a good win today, everybody played hard and we're ready for CBA."


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