Union soccer looks to season with 11 returning starters

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

UNION, NJ — When the circumstances arise where you have an entire field of players back as starters, you want to make sure that you hold nothing back.

Take nothing for granted.

Yes, a huge amount of experience is there. Now go make it work.
The Union High School boys soccer team is in that position this season. Head coach Lester Lembryk, now in his 16th season at the helm of the Farmers, disclosed that of the 18 players he named Monday night, Aug. 28, 11 of them are returning starters from last year’s squad that finished 11-7-1 overall and 4-5-1 for fourth place in the Union County Conference’s demanding Watchung Division.
Of those 11 returning starters, seven of them are seniors.

“We’re predominantly a senior team this year,” said Lembryk, who guided the 2018 team to a share of the Union County Tournament championship with Westfield High School and a final record of 16-0-4 just one year after the 2017 squad finished 0-16-2.

The only two seniors lost to graduation from last year’s squad were standouts Christian Cole and Justin Thomas. Cole produced five goals and one assist for 11 points, while Thomas netted two goals and assisted on six others for 10 points.

“The kids put time in summer leagues in Clifton and Rutgers-Newark,” Lembryk said. “At Rutgers-Newark, there were teams from Elizabeth and Harrison.”


Kayden Grave, senior
Damien Koziol, junior
Andres Avila, senior


David Sanchez, senior
Kevin Mendes, senior
Matt Tavares, senior
Gabe McGee, junior
Jonathan Genao, junior
Fabian Amaro, senior
Carlos Vera, senior


George Asanti, junior
Christopher Diaz, junior
Christian Palmer, senior
Tyler Manteiro, senior
Josias Mendez, senior


Matheus Lopes, sophomore
Rajuan D’Aguilar, junior
Paulo Ferreira, senior

“Even though we’re heavily experienced, we need to continue to work for each other, stay focused and work extremely hard,” Lembryk said. “If we do that, maybe we can surprise some teams.

“With players who have been here two, three and four years, we’re hoping that pays off.”

Union had its first scrimmage scheduled at home Tuesday morning, Aug. 29, vs. Clifton High School, which is Lembryk’s alma mater. Other scrimmages are scheduled against William L. Dickinson High School at home, at Wayne Valley High School and vs. Randolph High School at home.

Union scrimmages

• Tuesday, Aug. 29, Clifton High School
• Thursday, Aug. 31, at 4:30 p.m., William L. Dickinson High School
• Saturday, Sept. 2, at 11 a.m., at Wayne Valley High School.
• Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 4 p.m., Randolph High School

Back in goal as the starter for a third year is senior Kayden Grave.

“Kayden is a solid three-year starter for us and is good in the air,” Lembryk said. “He’s one of our leaders.”
Genao and McGee anchor the defense. Both are three-year starters.

“Both have tremendous vision,” Lembryk said.
Asanti and Diaz, also juniors, are key players in the midfield. Lembryk said, “Ferreira and Josias Mendez are go-to guys up front.”

Returning starters

G Kayden Grave
D David Sanchez
D Gabe McGee
D Jonathan Genao
D Carlos Vera
MF George Asanti
MF Christopher Diaz
MF Christian Palmer
MF Tyler Manteiro
MF Josias Mendez
F Paulo Ferreira

Union opens home on Thursday, Sept. 7, vs. UCC-crossover foe Rahway High School.

“We have the experience on the field,” Lembryk said. “Now we need to have everyone play their parts in the system.

“They need to take what we’re going over and utilize it and bring it together with everyone else.”

The Watchung Division for this year is defending champion Westfield High School, Elizabeth High School, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, Union High School, Summit High School and Governor Livingston High School. Governor Livingston, last year’s Mountain Division winner, moved up, while Cranford moved down.

“I feel that our conference is one of the toughest in the state,” Lembryk said.

The consistent play, year in and year out, from the likes of programs such as Westfield, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Elizabeth make it that difficult and so much more challenging to navigate.
Each division team plays the other only once in the regular season. Union has a 13-game regular season schedule that thins out in October, before county and sectional state tournament play commences later in the month.

“The season was pushed up and is a bit earlier this year,” Lembryk said. “Then there is a big gap in October. I like the fact that, by playing each team in our division only once, that eliminates the chance of playing some of those teams three times or even four, including county and states.”

2023 Union Farmers

• Thursday, Sept. 7, at 4 p.m., Rahway High School
• Saturday, Sept. 9, at 10 a.m., at Carteret High School
• Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 4 p.m., at Westfield High School
• Friday, Sept. 15, at 4:30 p.m., Union City High School
• Monday, Sept. 18, at 4 p.m., Millburn High School
• Thursday, Sept. 21, at 4 p.m., Elizabeth High School
• Saturday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m., at Bayonne High School
• Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 4 p.m., Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School
• Thursday, Sept. 28, at 4 p.m., at New Providence High School
• Saturday, Sept. 30, at 10 a.m., at Union Catholic High School
• Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 4 p.m., at Governor Livingston High School
• Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 4 p.m., Summit High School
• Thursday, Oct. 19, at 4:30 p.m., at J.P. Stevens High School

Photos Courtesy of Lester Lembryk