Harrison boys’ soccer ranked among state’s best
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team enjoyed a sensational season in 2012, winning 20 games and advancing all the way to the overall Group I state championship game, where the Blue Tide eventually lost to Haddon Heights.
But posting a 20-2-2 record is certainly nothing to be ashamed of – unless you’re Harrison, where the program has a win-it-all mentality.
Veteran coach Mike Rusek returns for his 11th year as the head coach and he’s certainly enjoyed his fair share of success during that time, winning six overall state crowns. But last year was a bit of a disappointment because the Blue Tide came so close and came home from The College of New Jersey empty.
“Our program is using that as a motivation this year, because the majority of this year’s team was on the field for that game last year,” Rusek said. “We only lost three seniors from last year. So you can see already that the team has the passion you need to win. I’m more comfortable with the talent we have returning from last year’s team. I’m comfortable with their passion.”
The man who gets the job to protect the Blue Tide’s goal is junior Nick Araujo, who was a backup net minder last season.
“He grew up mostly as a field player, mostly in the midfield, but we made him a goalie,” Rusek said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s ready to play.”
The Blue Tide will abandon the traditional sweeperstopper defensive formation this year, mainly because of the brilliant player they have returning on the backline.
All-State Group I player Modou Sowe is back for his senior year. Despite being a defender, Sowe scored an astounding 18 goals and had 10 assists last year, producing midfielder’s offensive numbers.
“He’s such a great presence back there that I think he’s the reason we can go four across,” Rusek said. “He’s a physical player who gets to the ball. I think there are a lot of similarities between Modou and former Kearny player Hugh MacDonald (who was the firstever Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2003). He’s a weapon on set pieces. We haven’t had a weapon like that in Harrison so we’re taking advantage of it.”
So we already scored a goal in the Blue Tide’s 3-0 season opening win over Wallington last Friday.
The other defenders are junior twin brothers Rodrigo Esquivel and Marcelo Esquivel. The two twins both started last year along the Blue Tide’s defensive line.
The other defender is Carlos Yacsavilca, who is a senior.
The midfield is talented more than words can describe.
Senior Kevin Villanueva had an incredible junior year at center midfield for the Blue Tide, scoring 11 goals, but collecting 28 assists, the highest assist total in school history. He’s joined by returning standout Leandro Gonzales, who is as equally skilled with the ball.
Others in the midfield include senior Exequeil Baez, who started last season, and Jorge Castro, a junior.
The forwards are Jose Neto, who had 10 goals and 10 assists last season, and Leonardo Trujillo, who had five goals and four assists.
As you can see, this team is absolutely loaded with talent.
“We have outstanding juniors and seniors,” Rusek said. “We’re really hoping for a solid year. This team all has a year under their belts and that has to help.”
There is one slight problem come state tournament time. Harrison is now a school with a Group II enrollment, so the Blue Tide will have to compete in that bracket for a change.
“It’s been five years since we won a state tournament,” Rusek said. “We’ve had a lot of success over the years, but this team hasn’t won one. Maybe it’s their turn.”