The time is now for the Riverside-Brookfield boys soccer team. After losing to Little Village on penalty kicks during last year’s playoffs, the Bulldogs return this season hungrier than ever to claim a first-ever soccer regional championship.

“This is supposed to be the prime year for us,” RB senior midfielder Rafi Romero said. “I think we will be a lot better this season than in past years. Everybody has been playing club soccer together so we have great chemistry.”

Despite their season-ending setback to Little Village, the Bulldogs enjoyed a relatively successful 2008 campaign, claiming 11 wins and a share of the Metro Suburban Conference title with Ridgewood.

The primary reasons for heightened expectations this fall are returning personnel and the aforementioned chemistry.

The Bulldogs welcome back a pair of outstanding senior defenders in Jerry Brown and Tim Henegan. Senior Mark Benya, a three-year varsity player, is one of the top goalkeepers in the area. When asked about his role, Benya offered a simplistic but revealing view of his position.

“I want to give up as few goals as possible,” Benya said. “I can either get blamed or do my job.”

Bolstering their solid backline, the Bulldogs have several excellent midfielders, notably Romero and promising junior Tyler Polanski.

Perhaps the key to the Bulldogs’ success will be the play of their forwards. Sean McGonagill and Matt Kenahan, who both served as goal scorers last season, are not playing soccer so they can focus on their basketball and football careers, respectively. Ruben Chavez and Joseph Lovrinovic will be called upon to fill the scoring void.

Within conference, RB should battle Fenton and Ridgewood for the league championship. Illiana Christian and Timothy Christian join the conference this year, expanding the league to six schools.

The team opens the season at the Leyden Tournament on Aug. 25. After competing at the Leyden and Maine East tournaments, the Bulldogs return home for a series of tough games against Elmwood Park, Morton, Brother Rice and Fenwick.