"It had to be the early 1990s," Belluardo said after the Bruins defeated previously undefeated Bayonne, 2-0, Tuesday night to improve to 8-0. "This is very similar to those seasons."
In 1991 and 1992, the Bruins were the toast of Hudson County soccer, winning the HCIAA championship both years. One of those two championship years, Belluardo is convinced that the Bruins started off perfect after eight matches.
Needless to say, it's been a long time since North Bergen has enjoyed this much success.
Although, the Bruins haven't exactly been slouches in recent years. Two years ago, the Bruins won 16 games and went to the HCIAA Coviello finale against Memorial before falling. Last year, they were 17-4, but dropped their final two games of the season - to Dickinson in the HCIAA Coviello semifinals, then 1-0 to Kearny in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoff first round.
"This year, we pretty much have the same team that we had last year," Belluardo said. "We have eight of our 11 starters back. Keeping the same team together has helped us. They were mostly all sophomores when we went to finals against Memorial and they were back last year."
Belluardo was asked if the late-season losses of a year ago have motivated the Bruins.
"I think there has to be a remembrance," Belluardo said. "I think those losses have had to inspire these kids to do better this year. They definitely remember the way last season ended. They knew that they had a chance to come away from the Kearny game with a win and didn't get it. I think they have to be motivated to go further this year."
Leading the way for the Bruins in the early going is talented junior midfielder Cesar Ventura, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors a year ago. Ventura has been downright brilliant in the early going, scoring 13 goals in the first eight games.
"Most definitely, he's playing like an MVP," Belluardo said of Ventura. "We move when Cesar moves. He's the mainstay of the team, the main focus."
The Bruins' other returning All-Area performer, forward Willy Cardenas, suffered a hamstring injury in the beginning of the season and his playing time has been limited. Cardenas scored 26 goals a year ago as a sophomore, but he returned to action against Bayonne and scored his first goal of the season in that game.
"We're going to use him sparingly until he can get back to full strength," Belluardo said. "It's amazing we've been able to do what we've done really without Willy. But I think everyone else has rallied together and everyone has been productive so far. We're getting our scoring from all over the place and that's the way I want it."
Senior Andrew Buitron has also been contributing, scoring nine goals from his forward slot.
Senior Jimmy Alcivar has been doing a yeoman's job at forward, filling in for the injured Cardenas.
Senior Danny Valencia is the Bruins' goalkeeper and acts as the last line of defense.
Valencia is joined by sweeper Jose Fernandez and stopper Oliver Garcia. Christian Villalta and Brian Monsalve are also members of the Bruins' back line. All four are juniors, so Belluardo will have his entire backline returning next season.
The midfield is obviously controlled by Ventura, although senior Jonathan Mesa has been doing a fine job there.
"Jonathan compliments Cesar well," Belluardo said. "They work well together."
Seniors Gabe Arismendi and Hugo Seoane are the Bruins' other two starting midfielders.
Belluardo doesn't know how long the winning streak can last. The Bruins will face archrival and two-time defending HCIAA Coviello champion Memorial this week and will face Pope John of Sparta, Elizabeth, Newark Tech and Sayreville in upcoming independent games.
"I'm very happy with what we have," Belluardo said. "I'm also pretty confident, because we have a good bench and we always need to get people off the bench. It's very important to have everyone step up to the play. We have a quality team, but a good bench is necessary to be successful. I think we can keep winning. The camaraderie on the team is terrific and the kids are productive, both on and off the field. They all want to win. They know what happened the last two years. They came so close and they want to take the extra step this year." - Jim Hague