MIDDLETOWN – Third-year coach Eric Morley sees a lot of promise in his 2022 Middletown North High School boys soccer team.

The Lions return nine starters from a 2021 squad that went 6-12. Leading that group are junior midfielders Tommy Valinotti and Travis Soto, and senior defender C.J. Crolius.

Michael Colantino (forward), Liam O’Keefe (defense), Matt Silva (midfield), Nick Dinella (midfield), Ryan Barnao (defense) and Andrew Marinelli (goalkeeper) are also back on the field for the Lions.

“We knew we were going to be a little inexperienced last year and now we are older and stronger and ready to play,” Morley said.

Juniors Josiah Stepney and Jake Isaksen are new additions to the lineup. Stepney missed 2021 with an injury and is expected to make an impact at forward, said Morley.

Middletown North began its 2022 campaign on Sept. 8 with a 2-0 loss at Howell High School. Morley said the Lions need to improve at “finding the back of the net” and executing on their scoring opportunities.

“We had three or four good opportunities to score and we just didn’t finish,” the coach said.

The Lions rebounded from their loss to the Rebels with a 3-0 victory over Raritan High School on Sept. 10 in Hazlet. Colantino led the way with two goals as the Lions improved to 1-1.

Barnao also scored a goal against the Rockets. As a freshman in 2021, Barnao scored four goals and added two assists. Soto led the Lions with five goals a year ago.

Dinella, Crolius and Silva each recorded an assist in the victory over Raritan.

The victory over Raritan snapped a streak of two consecutive seasons in which Middletown North lost at least its first two games of the campaign.

Middletown North will host Red Bank Catholic High School in its first home match on Sept. 12. The Lions will resume their Shore Conference A North Division schedule on Sept. 14 with a road game at Marlboro High School.