Boys Soccer – No. 11 Southern Hands No. 3 Toms River North First Loss of the Season
TOMS RIVER -- Nick Prosperi is a junior captain on the Southern Regional boys soccer team, in part, because whatever his team needs, he has delivered over the course of his first two-plus years: he has played center fullback, as well as in the midfield as a multi-faceted player for the Rams.
"He would do anything for the team," second-year Southern coach Rob Muñoz said. "That's why he is the captain."
On Tuesday at Toms River North -- the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16 -- Prosperi again showed off his array of skills and intangible impact. He even set an example for a younger teammate who also delivered on both offense and defense.
Prosperi had a hand in two goals, including the game-winner by sophomore teammate Brody Nacarlo in the 66th minute, and No. 11 Southern outdueled Toms River North, 3-2, in a back-and-forth battle.
"I think this group is prepared and after tonight, they really showed they are a very mature group," Muñoz said. "Even in their decision-making at the end, when we were up 3-2: do we go up, do we press or do we drop in? They are a good group to coach, very mature and very skilled. We're contenders, for sure."
Southern rallied from an early 1-0 deficit by answering Toms River North's opening goal by senior Anthony Ruggiero in just 1:10. After junior Kaan Zenger's equalizer, Southern took the lead on a goal by Prosperi in the 23rd minute, only for Toms River North to level the score in the 33rd on a Luke Montanile goal.
Heading into the second half, one second-half goal did not seem as though it would be enough for Southern to leave Toms River with a win considering the Mariners unleashed 11 shots in the first half -- at of which were on target. As it turned out, however, one was all the Rams would need.
In the 66th minute, junior Aidan Donnelly continued his relentless attack of Toms River North's back line by creating space along the end-line on the right side and hammering a low cross that made it to the back post.
Prosperi battled with a defender and won the ball, heading it down to the top of the six-yard box. Nacarlo pushed up from his outside fullback spot, positioned himself perfectly and volleyed home a close-range shot that Toms River North goalkeeper Mike Vivolo had little chance of stopping.
Junior goalkeeper Jake Schweigert made just one of his 11 saves in the final 14 minutes, with Southern holding Toms River North to one shot while attempting to equalize.
"We packed in," Muñoz said. "We dropped in with two defensive midfielders and went from a mid-block to a low-block for 15 minutes. No penetrating passes. Their two most dangerous players were (Christian) Caso and Kosta (Papanikolas) and every time they get the ball, it's danger. We did a good job preventing anything from developing in the central areas, and that was the game plan."
Southern and Toms River North are three seasons removed from a memorable series of matches during a race for the Shore Conference Class A South championship and modified NJSIAA sectional championship during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Neither team has any seniors who played as a freshmen on those teams, but both return key pieces from 2022 and are rekindling a rivalry that produced a 1-1-1 season series, division co-champions and two golden-goal finishes in 2020.
Tuesday could very well be the only time the 2022 versions of Southern and Toms River North meet and if that is the case, both teams made it a memorable match. The Mariners jumped on top in the seventh minute with a goal by Ruggiero, with the senior pouncing on a rebound after an initial shot by fellow senior Kosta Papanikolas that Schweigert saved, but could not keep within his reach.
Just 1:10 ran off the clock before Southern equalized. Toms River North failed to clear the ball out of the 18-yard box, Zenger got a sitter from 10 yards away and buried it to tie the game, 1-1.
Southern catapulted into the lead in the 23rd, when junior Matt Hoosack served up a perfect corner kick to the far right post, where Prosperi crashed to the edge of the six-yard box and headed the ball off the right post and in. Prosperi's goal marked the first time this season that Toms River North trailed.
Toms River North evened the score before halftime, with a corner kick by Turkan Curak making its way through the defense and to the foot of Montanile, who ripped a 12-yard strike into the upper left of the goal.
One minute prior to Toms River North's equalizer, Schweigert made his best save of the day to deny a clean strike by James Homyak from inside the 18-yard box.
"Going into this game, he should have four clean sheets," Muñoz said of his goalkeeper. "I really believe he is going to be the best goalkeeper in the Shore Conference this season. He has phenomenal hands and he still has a lot to learn. He is a great shot-stopper and he is just starting to see the game the way he needs to."
On his goal in the first 10 minutes of the match, Ruggiero managed to lose the Southern back line for the easy finish, but the Rams cleaned up their defense in the second half and with the game on the line, it was Southern's Nacarlo who alluded the defense to make the biggest play of the match.
"Nacarlo had a great preseason in our showcases during the summer," Muñoz said. "He just really stood out. Naturally, he is a midfielder, but we put him out there and we give him the freedom to get into the attack. We didn't see a lot of that today, because their wingers kept us busy, but typically, he gets involved."
In a deep Class A South division, Southern still has work to do in order to win its first outright division championship since 1989 and second piece of a division championship in the last four seasons. The Rams have a draw at home vs. Toms River South and still have a road showdown vs. currently-undefeated Central Regional on tap, as well as games vs. Toms River East, Jackson Memorial, and Jackson Liberty. Toms River North also has not yet played Central.