Longtime Uniondale boys’ soccer coach Cohen Nelson believes a season-opening 2-1 loss at Port Washington could serve as a learning experience for a talented Knights’ team looking to make a deep run in the Nassau Class AAA playoffs after failing to qualify for the postseason last fall.
“The kids put the work in throughout the summer and we won the summer league,” Nelson said. “Preseason prep is always vital and usually the recipe for success. If the offseason is any indication, I’m confident we can go far.
“We opened with a tough loss that I think can galvanize us,” he added.
Uniondale, 5-6-3 in 2022 after reaching the county title game the previous campaign, lost all three of its multi-goal scorers as well as rock-solid goalkeeper Melvin Canales, but Nelson is counting on a more balanced attack and chemistry all over the field to make noise in the 15-team conference.
The Knights responded in a big way after dropping the opener with a convincing 4-1 victory over defending county champion Plainview Sept. 9. Newcomer Adan Gomez, a junior, followed up his outstanding summer league production (8 goals) with a pair of goals. Senior Joseph Lopez added a goal and an assist, and junior Junior Valle also found the back of the net.
Lopez is coming off an All-County season and what he lacks in size he makes up for with tremendous skill and knowledge of the game, Nelson said of the midfielder. “He’s a dynamic talent with great vision and a strong foot,” the coach noted. “He’s taking most of our free kicks. He’s a complete player with high soccer intellect.”
Valle and senior Fernando Rios are also center-midfielders, with Valle serving as another offensive playmaker and Rios a defensive standout. Valle, who battled an injury for a portion of last season, worked hard in the weight room this summer and scored Uniondale’s first goal of 2023 in the loss to Port Washington.
Rios is a captain and brings all the intangibles, Nelson said. “He’s our heart and soul,” the coach said. “He does all the dirty work and is cool and composed. He’s a physical presence in the midfield.”
Seniors Christopher Maldonado and Kevin Villacis are the starting outside midfielders being counted on to provide steady two-way play.
In the back, Nelson described junior captain Carlos Godoy as “an absolute rock.” Godoy is quick, aggressive and plays with a high motor. Seniors Jacob Melendez and Jason Padilla are the starting fullbacks. The trio is working in front of a goalkeeping trio of juniors Rois Rios and Chris Canas, and sophomore Hugo Alessandro. The latter blanked Valley Stream Central Sept. 12.
Gomez has All-County potential at striker, Nelson explained. “He’s lightning quick with a lethal first touch,” he said. “He was what we were lacking last season.” Sophomore forward Raymond Zavala is a speedy forward with a tremendous work ethic. Zavala had both goals at Valley Stream Central “They’re chemistry is building,” Nelson said.
After coming within a goal of reaching last year’s playoffs, the Knights are “extremely hungry,” to get back to previous form.
“We can’t worry about scores and what other teams are doing,” Nelson said.