By Jim Hague
Steve Montanino is a lifelong Kearny resident, a product of the town through and through. He grew up playing soccer in Kearny for the famed Thistle program and became an Eagle Scout. He went to Kearny High School and after graduation became a police officer in Kearny.
Montanino has spent the last 18 years with the Kearny Police Department, the last four as the resource officer at Kearny High, as part of the DARE program.
During this time, Montanino has also been a dedicated volunteer soccer coach on practically every level in the town.
“I just love the game,” Montanino said. “I think it goes back to my parents instilling in me that I should always give back. I’m lucky to be in the DARE program and I feel lucky to be able to coach soccer.”
This year, Montanino took on a new challenge, coaching the Kearny United U16 team, called the Kearny Bhoys, spelled like that in honor of the followers of the famed Scottish soccer club Celtic FC.
“What’s unusual about this team is that a lot of them played for me last year for the Thistle U14,” Montanino explained. “So basically half of them are playing up a year.”
Montanino’s team last year went to the New Jersey Youth Soccer State Cup semifinals for the 14-and-under division, but to take those kids and ask them to play against opponents all older than them is quite a task.
“I knew we had a pretty good team with a lot of talented kids,” Montanino said. “I also knew that we had such a deep bench.”
So Montanino went out and sought out the best competition for his team to face during the regular season.
“We made sure we played all the top competitors in the state, because we knew we had a talented team,” Montanino said. “We also have some good quality kids. Even though they were playing up, I thought they could handle it with their skill set.”
Well, that strategy worked, because the Kearny United Bhoys went on to win the New Jersey Youth Soccer Cup U16 championship recently, winning the title game in double overtime against the Jersey Central Spartans.
It marked the first time that a Kearny youth soccer team captured a state championship since 1984, when a team featuring Hall of Famers John Harkes and Tab Ramos and current Kearny head coach Billy Galka won the state cup title.
Montanino is ecstatic with the talent level of this group, especially with players like midfielder Marcelo Matta and goalkeeper Sebastian Ferreira.
“Marcelo is a tremendous player,” Montanino said of the rising star, still only in eighth grade. We haven’t seen a player like him in Kearny in a long time. He’s a throwback player like Hugh O’Neill.”
O’Neill is the Hudson County Sports Hall of Famer who was one of the first Americans to ever play top division professional soccer in Scotland.
The team has another eighth grader in Cort Montanino, the coach’s son, who anchors the backline as a fullback.
Ferreira is a freshman at Kearny High and will more than likely become the Kardinals’ starting net minder in the fall.
The team also features two standouts who are also freshmen at Kearny, namely Daniel Vicente, who is the team’s starting center/midfielder and has played under Montanino’s wing since he was 9 years old, and forward Andres Pessantes, who scored the game-winning goal in the second overtime to give Kearny United Bhoys the state crown.
The defensive backline features Queen of Peace player Kyle Lennon, along with Oliver Madrid, Jesse Majano, Chris Smith, Andrew Quintos and Modou Sowe, a Harrison resident by way of Gambia.
Other than Matta, the midfield features Richard Blancas, Jordy Arias and John Cuco.
The forward line is led by Pessantes, but also has Wender Lima, who assisted on Pessantes’ cup-winning goal, Arturo Sanchez, Kevin Tapia and Timothy Farias.
Needless to say, the future of soccer in Kearny is definitely bright, evidenced by the efforts of these young men.
Montanino received a bit of good news last week after his team won the State Cup. They have been invited by the New Jersey Olympic Development Program to participate in the Region 1 tournament at Rider University later this month.
“It’s a great honor to get invited as a club team,” Montanino said. “We’re going to be playing teams from Connecticut, Eastern New York and Maryland.”
The New Jersey ODP team will also participate, but it’s a great achievement for the kids from Kearny.
“There are going to be more than 200 college coaches there and the Team USA coaches,” Montanino said. “It’s great exposure for our kids. The head of New Jersey ODP said that we were worthy of it. He felt that we had a few guys who needed to be seen by the coaches. That’s why I coach. I want to get the kids the exposure they deserve.”
Montanino said that the Cup championship could not have been possible without tremendous help from the local business community, who helped to sponsor the team.
“We have that great community support and we appreciate it,” Montanino said. “We’re doing what we can to keep the Kearny kids here to play soccer.”
And in part, to help Kearny maintain its nationwide moniker of identity as “Soccertown, USA.”