Looking back, Moorestown boys soccer head coach Michael Randall admits it was a struggle early in the season for the Quakers to find a cohesive identity.
Coming off an 11-1-3 record during a 2020-’21 season in which Moorestown captured a NJSIAA Group III South West D Sectional Championship title, the team was poised to enter 2021 with a strong core of returning players ready to defend their recent championship.
But much like several other top teams in the region, exceptional players left their high- school teams in summer to join Real Jersey FC, a member club of MLS Next and one of 10 Philadelphia Union Youth Development Academy affiliates.
The departures of Nate Bunting; Charlie Strigel; and Cade McGrath, the Quakers’ leading scorer in 2020, opened up larger holes than anticipated.
“For this team specifically, it was extremely difficult to find an identity right away, because we were looking at a different list of returning players last spring as opposed to what we had at the start of the season,” Randall said. “We were out three really exceptional players right off the bat, but I give these guys all the credit in the world for being able to come together as a team and have each other’s back right away.”
The departure of three top players from all over the field would force those who remained with Moorestown to step up, potentially more than originally expected or anticipated this season. But a player who has excelled in an elevated role this year is one that Randall and his staff had already picked to be a more important player before last season ended.
Senior Marc Parellada notched his first career hat trick for Moorestown in the team’s 4-0 win earlier this month over Timber Creek in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III Tournament. He tied fellow senior Rob Intenzo for the team lead in goals on the season, with eight.
Despite Parellada not having scored a varsity goal going into senior year, and Intenzo having netted just two the year prior, Randall saw potential for the pair to be a larger part of the game plan in 2021, regardless of outside circumstances.
“We had already targeted Rob to be a player to start up top this year … We were looking for that kid for next year and he was waiting in the wings as a junior kind of learning the position from those in front of him before he’d get his shot,” Randall said. “And then Marc is just a stud; he’s a quiet kid, but you wouldn’t know it from how hard he works on the field. He’s a beast.”
Despite being tied for the team lead in goals, Parellada said he came into the season simply looking to make a positive impact on the field while seeking his first career varsity goal, a goal he has, to say the least, already outdone.
“Having not scored at all last year, I made it a personal goal of mine this year to start scoring more because I felt like I needed to step up,” Parellada said. “We had midfielders in this program not too long ago that were scoring double digits in goals in a season, and having lost Cade (McGrath), I wanted to be one of the few players that had to step up this season.”
Following last year’s graduation of goalie Wyatt Atkinson, senior Brian Muhic has played in net once again after scoring two goals and three assists last season, playing out because Atkinson, a three-year varsity player, performed exceptionally well during his time at Moorestown.
But the time spent out of the net last season, Muhic said, helped expand his goalie IQ in an unconventional way this season, by furthering his familiarity with seeing shots from a different angle and helping him better understand how he should be positioned when switching back to goalie.
“I think playing up top really helped me; it gave me the chance to see what shots I like to score on, so those would be shots I don’t want to face while in net and I worked to adjust my defense and positioning in net to prevent those kinds of opportunities,” Muhic said.
“Wyatt was a great role model to learn from throughout last season too,” he added. “I still got the chance to play in net every now and then, which was a lot of help preparing for this year as well.”