The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team was once again one of the most powerful teams in New Jersey in 2016, winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship before falling in Group II state semifinals to Newton.
The Blue Tide shot past all expectations last season. Starting a basically new roster, they won 19 games.
“We really did exceed expectations last year,” said veteran head coach Mike Rusek, now beginning his 16th season as the Blue Tide’s head coach. “We got better as the year went along. It was great to see because how young we thought we would be.”
But now, those youngsters are proven veterans and suddenly, the expectations change.
“We should have a good team,” Rusek said.
As well they should feel that way. The Blue Tide welcomes back junior defender Omar Sowe, who was named First Team All-Group II a year ago as well as senior forward Deydiry Chamba, who was named to the Second Team All-Group II squad.
“We feel that Omar is the best junior in New Jersey and we feel that Deydiry is the top goal scoring senior,” Rusek said. “That’s a good start.”
What also helps is that the Blue Tide has eight returning starters back from last year.
“All of them were solid starters and players for us,” Rusek said. “They all played in big games and bring that big-game experience and knowledge every day.”
The Blue Tide currently has three goalkeepers to choose from. All three are juniors in Joshua Tapia, Christian Quispe and Eduardo Nelson. None of the three have varsity experience.
“We’d like to have two solid goalkeepers,” Rusek said. “But it’s hard to keep them all playing, so we will eventually need to get to one. We have a week or so to figure it all out.”
The sweeper is Sowe, who had four goals and nine assists last year.
“If we can push him forward, we will try it,” Rusek said. “I know he wants to do it all the time. We’re the ones holding him back.”
The stopper is senior Ney Moreno, who also has good offensive skills and the ability to score goals.
“We have a lot of versatile players,” Rusek said. “We need some of them to play defense, but it’s good to know that if we need a push for a goal, we can do it.”
The other defenders are senior Harman Briceno and junior Lucas Trinidade.
The Harrison midfield is also packed with talent.
A pair of juniors in Kalleb Braga and Maicol Diaz lead the way there. Braga had six goals and 10 assists last year, while Diaz had five goals and 10 assists.
Junior Luis Palomino is another solid midfielder who plays more of a defensive midfielder role. Senior Luis Zapata was a reserve last year and will get a chance to play more this year.
There’s another familiar name along the midfield stripe for the Blue Tide. It’s freshman Mustapha Sowe, the younger brother of former Blue Tide standout Modou and current standout Omar.
“Mustapha has a lot of promise,” Rusek said. “We like him a lot.”
Chamba returns to his slot on the forward line. He will begin the season in pursuit of the school’s all-time goal scoring record set by Mark Eckerd 40 years ago this fall. The record is 78 and Chamba has it within his sights.
“He’s been the most consistent goal scorer we’ve had over the last three years,” Rusek said. “He gets 20 goals every year. We’re expecting big things from him.”
Senior Raphael Resende is another Blue Tide forward.
“We’re hoping he comes into his own this year,” Rusek said.
Resende had a great run in last year’s state tournament, scoring six goals, giving him 14 for the season.
“We hope that kind of success continues into this season,” Rusek said.
The Blue Tide opens its season on Tuesday, Sept. 5 when they travel to face Belleville. They then will face Newark East Side at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, Sept. 9.
If there was one disappointment to the 2016 season, it was the early departure from the Hudson County Tournament, losing in the quarterfinals to Dickinson of Jersey City.
“We like to think we’re among the four best teams in the county,” Rusek said. “We always play big schools in the tournament and sometimes the county is harder to win than the state.”
Who knows? Maybe this year, the Blue Tide will meet up with rival Kearny in the county tournament, considering that they will not see each other in the game at Red Bull Arena once again.