BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer When Mike Costa took over as the head coach of the Brookdale Community College men’s soccer team last year, he had just 15 days to prepare for the 2006 season. This time around, he’s had an entire year to build the 2007 Jersey Blues. Costa has a mix of returning veterans and a solid recruiting class to try to turn around last year’s 6-8-2 record. “We’re definitely a lot better team,” noted Costa. “We have depth. “Our strength is midfield and our depth,” he added. It’s 25-year-old Sgt. Jared Bowen, an Iraqi combat medic veteran, who may be the face of this year’s BCC squad. Now living in Howell with his wife, who is also a medic, Bowen contacted Costa in the offseason about his desire to play college soccer, and just like that, Brookdale had its stopper back on defense. “He’s a natural leader,” said Costa. “He takes over out there and provides a physical presence we didn’t have last year.” Sweeper Vic Masino (Howell), midfielder Helder Andrade (Ocean Township), forward Tomas Cholula (Colts Neck), defender Brendan Hilliard (Raritan), midfield/forward Joe Shan (Central Regional), defender Stalin Larco (Long Branch), and defender Duane Gardner (Kingston, Jamaica) are among the key returners. They’ve spent a season under Costa and know what he expects, especially when it comes to defense. Among the impact newcomers in addition to Bowen are John Loiodice (Brick Memorial), a midfielder; goalie Greg Gantt (Neptune), and midfielder Brian Fernandes (Holmdel). Loiodice is a second generation Jersey Blue. His father, also John Loiodice, was an All-American for BCC back in 1979. Gantt, fills a need, a big need. The Blues had no one who had played goalie last fall, and Costa took care of that, getting one of the Shore Conference’s best goalies in Gantt. Fernandes and Loiodice have changed the face of the team, according to Costa, with the talent they bring to midfield. They have a way of making everyone better with their ability to distribute the ball. Brookdale’s forwards won’t be lacking for scoring chances this fall. A transfer from William Paterson, Rob Galicia (Ocean Township) brings college experience to the team. He’s another solid midfielder. Other newcomers include defender Ryan Habel (Old Bridge), defender Danny Mullaney (Howell), defenders Mauricio Roses and Eric Roses (cousins from Shore Regional), defender Dan Kissiday (Keyport), forward Bruno Bontempo (Long Branch), forward Josh Bower (Howell), forward Diego Huerta (Ocean Township), midfielder John Cella (Matawan), midfielder Ricardo Dagher (Long Branch), defender Nick Campbell (Point Pleasant Borough), defender Nathaniel Mendicta (Shore Regional) and midfielder Kevin Gardner (Kingston, Jamaica, but no relation to Danny). Costa can go to his bench this year knowing there is little if any drop-off in talent. Injuries have already slowed the team, with last year’s leading scorer, Cholula, questionable with a knee injury, and Andrade having suffered a separated shoulder. Fortunately, these injuries aren’t as devastating as they would have been last year when Costa had fewer quality players. With the defense improved over last year, and a group of midfielders who can dominate the ball and create scoring chances, the Blues should be a contender for the Region XIX title. Brookdale opened its season over the Labor Day weekend playing in a New York tournament. The Jersey Blues, whose home opener is Sept. 13 against Morris (3:30 p.m.), will be accustomed to the road in ’07 with just six games scheduled for Lincroft. Brookdale’s season got off to a promising start over the Labor Day weekend as the Blues captured the Empire Kickoff Classic in Johnstown, NY. BCC beat Jamestown, 12-0, and Finger Lakes, 3-0. Masino was named the Defensive Player of the Tournament. Huerta paced the offense with three goals while Gantt’s career began with consecutive shutouts. Shan delivered the game-winner in the final against Finger Lakes.