By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The newest member of the First Family of West Hudson soccer arrived last Monday.
Christian Michael Rusek was born on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, weighing in at eight pounds, six ounces. He’s the first child for Harrison High School head coach Mike Rusek, who had a reason to miss the Blue Tide practice session the next day, leaving the duties for the newborn’s grandfather and uncle to carry on.
Mike Rusek begins his 15th season as the head coach at Harrison, where he now coaches with not only his brother, John, but with his father, Mickey.
This year, things will be a little different for the head coach in the family, because of his new family obligations.
“I find myself running home after practice now,” Rusek said. “I tell everyone, ‘It’s time to go. I have to go home and be with my son.”
But in most aspects, things won’t change one iota with the Blue Tide’s immensely successful boys’ soccer program. The Blue Tide should once again contend for top honors in the Hudson County Tournament, which they won last year, and in the NJSIAA Group I ranks, where they lost in the overall state title to Newton last November.
In fact, the 2-1 loss in the state championship was the lone blemish in what had been a perfect 22-0-1 record up until that cold, dreary day at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. The Blue Tide won 19 of their 22 games via shutout last year. They featured the state player of the year in senior defender/ do-everything Modou Sowe. It was definitely a year to remember, culminating in county and state sectional titles.
But the Blue Tide graduated a lot of key members to last year’s 22-1-1 team, including the immensely talented Sowe, now at Ramapo College after amassing an astounding 19 goals as a defender last season.
“I was looking at our stats from last year and we lost a total of 75 goals to graduation,” Rusek said. “That’s a lot. You always believe and hope that the seniors who are left can carry on and hope that others now get the opportunity to play where they might have been held back.”
Rusek likes the makeup of his team.
“We do have a good number of seniors this year,” Rusek said. “We do have about half of last year’s team back. I just hope this is a group that can carry us a very long way.”
Leading the returning players is senior goalkeeper Nick Araujo, who was the one to record those 19 shutouts a year ago.
“I feel very good about that position,” Rusek said. “Nick is a solid keeper.”
The Blue Tide utilizes what Rusek dubbed “a flat back four,” instead of the traditional sweeper/stopper formation on defense.
The center defenders are seniors Rodrigo Esquivel and Ali Lathgar, both of whom are capable and experienced. The other two backs are senior Marcelo Esquivel (Rodrigo’s identical twin brother and good luck trying to determine which one is which) and senior Alexis Burga.
So the Blue Tide have some experience and strength along their back line.
One midfielder slot belongs to senior Jorge Castro, who compiled seven goals and had 10 assists last year.
“He’s a good distributor,” Rusek said. “He’s also a good defensive midfielder.”
The other midfielder is junior Cristian Marquez, who had six goals in limited action last year, but five of those scores came in the NJSIAA state tournament.
“He really came on at the end of the season,” Rusek said of Marquez.
The center midfielder is returning senior starter Leandro Gonzales, who is a three-year starter in the Harrison midfield. Gonzales had 10 goals and 10 assists last season.
“We’re hoping that Leandro can lead us if we’re going to get things done this year,” Rusek said. “If we’re scoring goals, he’s the one who will be behind a lot of it.”
Junior David Inahuazo is another key contributor in the midfield.
Up front, the Blue Tide welcomes back senior Ali Lakhrif, who had 12 goals last year, including the big lone goal in Harrison’s 1-0 victory over Kearny in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.
“He’s definitely going to get his chance to score,” Rusek said of Lakhrif, whose family is originally from Morocco. “He has a good, strong leg.”
The other forward is senior Christian Restrepo, who gets a chance to crack the lineup this fall.
“He’s finally going to get a chance to play,” Rusek said of Restrepo.
The Blue Tide begins their season Monday, Sept. 8 against New Milford.
There is something else to be excited about. The Blue Tide will, indeed, face Kearny in the regular season at Red Bull Arena in Harrison on Saturday, Sept. 27 as part of a girls’-boys’ doubleheader on that day. No need for waiting and hoping for a county tourney showdown. The two will meet in a regular contest in late September in the state’s premier soccer palace.
“It should be a great day of soccer,” Rusek said. “I know our kids are very excited about it. As long as it’s a good day weather-wise, it should be a great crowd.”
Needless to say, the Blue Tide should be in the thick of county and state playoff runs as well – like they always are.
“I like to hope so,” Rusek said.
However, this time around, Rusek does it as a father. And there can’t be any more rewarding feeling than that.