Following one of the quickest turnarounds in Union County history last year the Union boys’ soccer team did not expect to go unbeaten once again in 2019.
However, the Farmers almost made it unscathed right up until the Union County Tournament seeding meeting.
Union is presently 5-1, with its next game scheduled for Thursday at home against Union County Conference-Mountain Division foe Oratory Prep of Summit.
The 54th annual UCT will be seeded Wednesday at Oratory so Union’s body of work to determine its seeding is already complete.
Union was 4-0 last Tuesday when it fell at Mountain Division rival Linden 4-3 in double overtime for its first loss after a stretch of 23 games where the Farmers did not suffer one.
Union went 16-0-4 last year after struggling through an 0-16-3 campaign in 2017.
“Not that I want to lose, but losing a match can help teach us how much we still have to continue to work hard to be considered with the best,” said Union head coach Lester Lembryk, at the helm of the Farmers since 2008.
Union came back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead before Linden tied the game on a penalty kick goal about five minutes from the end of regulation time.
The host Tigers then won the game with a sudden-death goal in double overtime.
“Linden can always give anyone a game I feel,” Lembryk said.
Union captured the Mountain Division title outright last year in its first year in the division. The Farmers will most likely be expected to go back up to the Watchung Division for next season after this two-year run in the Mountain Division is complete.
Union is also presently 5-1 in the Mountain Division standings. The seven teams in the Mountain Division this year include Union, New Providence, Johnson, Dayton, Linden, Gov. Livingston and Oratory.
Union has gone through division play completely the first time around so far and will play the other six teams in the division once more. Union will get its second shot at Linden at home on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.
Overall records of the teams in the Watchung Division as of Sept. 24 include: Elizabeth (6-0-2), Summit (5-2-1), Scotch Plains (4-2-2), Westfield (2-2-2), Cranford (2-5-1) and Plainfield (1-3-1). Cranford managed to tie Westfield.
The last two UCT championship games ended in ties and resulted in co-champions. Last year Westfield and Union battled to a 1-1 draw and two years ago Westfield and Elizabeth concluded their match with the same 1-1 score.
After two sudden-death overtime periods UCT championship games are not decided by a penalty kick shootout.
Westfield, coached by former Union High School standout goalkeeper Eric Shaw, captured its first outright UCT crown in 2016 since 2010 by beating arch rival and five-time defending champion Scotch Plains 2-1 in that year’s title contest.
Union gained a share of the title last year for the first time. Union won the crown outright in 1967, 1978, 1990 (led by sophomore Shaw in goal) and 1999.
Edison Tech defeated Westfield 2-1 in the first UCT championship game in 1966.
Although Union lost several key players to graduation, including striker Andre Vieira, goalkeeper Manny Melendez and midfielder Matt Rocha, the Farmers do have eight returning starters back. They include senior Justin Novoa, junior Joel Genao, junior Nick Correia, junior Josh Brito, junior Michael Simoes, junior Kodie Sarkodie, junior Kerin St. Clair and senior Nicolas Sanchez.
Vieira, Melendez and Rocha helped Union win the Mountain Division last year at 10-0-1 in addition to going 2-0-2 vs. Watchung Division opponents. Vieira led Union in goals with 28, the most of any player Lembryk has coached at Union.
Vieira was a four-year varsity letter-winner and three-year starter. Vieira, Melendez and Rocha were all named First Team All-Union County by the Union County coaches.
‘It was just an incredible season and I couldn’t be prouder of the boys,” Lembryk said.
Vieira is off to a good start in college at Caldwell University. He was just named the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Rookie of the Week. Vieira netted one goal in Saturday’s game against Goldey-Beeacom College. The 6-0, 160-pound freshman forward has two goals so far in his first four collegiate games played.
Picking up the slack offensively so far for the Farmers, who have scored 16 goals in their first six matches, is junior midfielder Michael Tavares with five goals.
“He’s definitely been a big contributor,” Lembryk said. “Justin Novoa is also having a strong season for us so far.”
Union only gave up three goals in its 4-0 start.
“The boys are doing well, working hard and building some good chemistry,” Lembryk said. “I think we have a balanced attack.
“We’re a much more balanced program. Our goal is to day by day get better.”
Lembryk said that contributions are coming from all areas so far.
At center back on defense is sophomore Bryan Estima, a Union kid who played at St. Benedict’s last year and transferred back to Union.
Performing quite well in goal so far is junior Zach Samila. He has complete-game shutouts against Oratory Prep, Dayton and Gov. Livingston.
“Zach shows confidence, communicates well with the backs and has good reactions,” Lembryk said. Samila was with the junior varsity last year.
Another first-year player is senior forward Samuel Destine.
As for the UCT, Lembryk is hoping to get the fourth seed, which is what the Farmers were seeded as last year.
“I expect that Scotch Plains, Elizabeth and Westfield, in some order, will get the top three seeds,” Lembryk said. “We’re hoping to get that fourth spot. We got it over Summit last year. I could see that happening again.
“Ultimately you have to play. The only difference is home or away. It’s always good to be home.”
UNION FARMERS ROSTER:
1-Zach Samila, junior
3-Bryan Estima, sophomore
5-Lucas Duque, junior
6-Justin Novoa, senior
8-Kevin Couto, senior
9-Samuel Destine, senior
10-Michael Tavares, junior
12-Lucas Diaz, junior
14-Michael Simoes, junior
15-Joel Genao, junior
16-Nick Correia, junior
17-Josh Brito, junior
19-Nicolas Sanchez, senior
20-Kerin St. Clair, junior
21-Kodie Sarkodie, junior
Sept. 3 (H) Union 5, New Providence 1
Sept. 10 (A) Union 1, Oratory Prep 0
Sept. 12 (H) Union 2, Dayton 0
Sept. 14 (H) Union 4, Johnson 2
Sept. 17 (A) Linden 4, Union 3 (2 OT)
Sept. 19 (A) Union 1, Gov. Livingston 0
Sept. 26 Oratory Prep, 4 p.m.
Sept. 28 Elizabeth, 11 a.m.
Oct. 2 Westfield, 4 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Dayton, 4 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Johnson, 4 p.m.
Oct. 12 Carteret, 10 a.m.
Oct. 15 Linden, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m.
Oct. 22 at New Providence, 4 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Columbia, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Lester Lembryk,
Assistant: Marcos Barreiro
Goals for: 16
Goals against: 7
Mountain Division opponents:
New Providence, Oratory Prep,
Gov. Livingston, Dayton
UCT BOYS’ SOCCER
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SCORES
1966: Edison Tech 2, Westfield 1
1967: Union 2, Westfield 1
1968: Edison Tech 1, Pingry 0
1969: Scotch Plains 2, Johnson 1
1970: Pingry 0, Scotch Plains 0 – co-champs
1971: Gov. Livingston 1, Pingry 0
1972: Gov. Livingston 1, Johnson 0
1973: Gov. Livingston 1, Edison Tech 0
1974: Pingry 1, Westfield 0
1975: Pingry 1, Johnson 0
1976: Summit 1, Pingry 1 – co-champs
1977: Pingry 2, Scotch Plains 0
1978: Union 2, Linden 0
1979: Gov. Livingston 3, Westfield 2
1980: Summit 2, Westfield 2 – co-champs
1981: Westfield 3, Summit 1
1982: Westfield 8, Scotch Plains 0
1983: Pingry 2, Westfield 1
1984: Westfield 4, New Providence 1
1985: Westfield 3, Scotch Plains 2
1986: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0
1987: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
1988: Westfield 2, Scotch Plains 1
1989: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0 (shootout)
1990: Union 3, Elizabeth 0
1991: Westfield 1, Cranford 0
1992: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
1993: Westfield 2, Scotch Plains 1
1994: Gov. Livingston 2, Westfield 1
1995: Johnson 2, Union 1
1996: Westfield 1, Rahway 0
1997: Scotch Plains 3, Elizabeth 0
1998: Scotch Plains 2, Cranford 0
1999: Union 2, Scotch Plains 0
2000: Scotch Plains 2, Johnson 0
2001: Scotch Plains 1, Johnson 0
2002: Scotch Plains 1, Cranford 0
2003: Linden 1, Scotch Plains 0
2004: Scotch Plains 1, Union 0
2005: Elizabeth 4, Scotch Plains 3
2006: Scotch Plains 4, Union 2
2007: Scotch Plains 4, Elizabeth 0
2008: Elizabeth 1, Summit 0
2009: Cranford 1, Westfield 0
2010: Westfield 2, Scotch Plains 1 (OT)
2011: Scotch Plains 1, Union 0
2012: Scotch Plains 5, Gov. Livingston 2
2013: Scotch Plains 4, Elizabeth 2
2014: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
2015: Scotch Plains 1, Elizabeth 0 (OT)
2016: Westfield 2 Scotch Plains 1
2017: Westfield 1, Elizabeth 1 – co-champs
2018: Westfield 1, Union 1 – co-champs
Scotch Plains 19 (1 shared)
Westfield 13 (3 shared)
Pingry 6 (2 shared)
Gov. Livingston 5
Union 5 (1 shared)
Edison Tech 2
Elizabeth 2 (1 shared)
Summit 2 (both shared)
Scotch Plains 29
Elizabeth 11 (includes Edison Tech 3)
Gov. Livingston 6