NEWARK, N.J. -- The Jersey Express open the new PDL season on Wednesday night against Reading United A.C. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. at NJIT Stadium in Newark, but even with plenty of moving parts within the roster and open competition throughout the lineup, head coach Jeff Matteo is optimistic that his team will be ready for another big campaign.
“We're very excited to get going, obviously starting with a really good Reading team is a big test,” said Matteo. “We got a lot of players in and out. We have 36 guys in training every day and everyone is showing up and giving effort.”
Many of these faces are newcomers to the Express, but well-accustomed to high-level college or professional soccer. In addition, the Express welcome back a core of players from last season, who will once again be counted upon for big roles this summer.
Headlining that group is centerback Nicholas Viaggio.
“Viaggio's going to be a key factor in the back. I'm going to rely on him to lead the group,” Matteo said. “He's very good, like a coach on the field. He's very organized, he makes good decisions, he keeps the group together and doesn't give up much in the back.”
Two other returnees in the back are Clint Caso and Christopher Lebo. One new addition to the group is Christiano Fayemi, a left back from Haiti, who should provide a boost to the offense.
“He's an attacking player left back, which we hope to use to get our offense working from the back,” Matteo said. “We'll have two center-mids that kind of hold the midfield, which hopefully will allow us to get guys forward and then our three guys up in the box will be attacking a bunch.”
Lamin Janneh could also be a factor either as a centerback or as a defensive midfielder. Christopher Karcz, who was tied for the team lead in goals with six a season ago, will also be factor in the midfield. They'll be joined Conor Fitzpatrick, Noah Sadaoui, Walter Hines, as well as Fabio DeSousa, a 16-year-old with exciting potential.
“Fabio's a very special player,” Matteo said. “He's got a good brain and I think he's going to learn a lot this year, especially playing with men instead of players his own age. I think it will be a great experience for him.”
Up top will be Joseph Ovenseri, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound forward, who scored three goals a season ago and has the potential be a dominant presence in the box. Ovenseri's unique skill set could also allow Matteo to experiment with new formations, to take advantage of Ovenseri, as well a handful of speedsters the Express will have coming off the wings.
“We have a lot of players that are wingers so it might be Joe with three guys behind him in like 4-2-3-1 instead of a 4-4-2 so hopefully we'll have three guys in the box instead of just two,” Matteo said. “It all depends on the personnel and who makes the final cut.”
Among those wingers are JP Correa, Thiago Bastos, Sadaouri, Hines and Ansger Otto.
The goalkeeper is set to be Nick Trakany, who is a seasoned-veteran.
In addition to this core, the Jersey Express will get added reinforcements over the course of the season in the form of a group of players who will be arriving from college in the days and weeks to come.
Following the club's season-opener on Wednesday night, the Express will be home to face the Northern Virginia Royals on Saturday night at 7 p.m. before embarking on a two-game road trip.