Kearny explodes in second half against Harrison

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny’s Nicole Kelly (23) moves the ball up field against Harrison’s Ashley Castillo during the Kardinals’ 7-0 victory over the Blue Tide Saturday at Red Bull Arena.


After the first 40 minutes of high school soccer ever played at Red Bull Arena, the Kearny girls’ team held a 2-0 lead against neighboring rival Harrison.
That was good news for first-year Blue Tide head coach Annemarie Sacco. Her upstart team was more than holding their own.
“I couldn’t have been happier with the way we played in the first half,” Sacco said.
It didn’t take long for the onslaught to begin for the Kardinals — and incredibly, much of the damage was caused very far away from the goal.
First, junior midfielder Katie O’Neill unleashed a monstrous bomb from about 35 yards out that bent like the way Beckham became famous for. O’Neill, who scored a first half goal with her left foot, uncorked a missile from way out that was like a heat seeker for the net.
Even O’Neill, watching a replay of the shot on the scoreboard after the game, was impressed.
“I’m pretty amazed by it,” O’Neill said. “I got one with each foot. That’s pretty cool.”
“That girl (O’Neill) has the best shot I’ve ever seen,” Sacco said.
“It was a great shot that no one could have stopped,” said Kearny head coach Vin Almeida.
O’Neill’s goal came in the first three minutes of the second half, giving the Kardinals an insurmountable 3-0 lead. But it didn’t stop there.
Four minutes later, senior forward Stefanie Gomes scored the first of her two goals on a solid shot from outside the penalty box. Then Kaitlyn Lima chipped one high from about 40 yards out that found the goal as well, making it 5-0.
“We had a few goals from outside,” Almeida said. “We usually don’t like taking shots from that far.”
Seven minutes later, it was Gomes again for her second goal of the game and then a little later on, Melissa Pineda scored her second goal of the contest, putting an exclamation point on a resounding 7-0 victory that served as the prelude to the boys’ contest between the two schools that followed.
It was the 11th straight win for the Kardinals (11-1), who opened the season with a tough setback and have since never looked back.
“That loss (to Scotch Plains-Fanwood) is a long-distance memory,” Almeida said. “Maybe there are times you need a loss like that to reassess yourself. The girls have definitely showed that they have some character since that game.”
“We’re never looking back at that game,” O’Neill said. “We’re playing well right now and excited about things.”
Almeida was pleased with the way the Kardinals responded in the second half.
“It made things a little more comfortable and we were able to get other girls into the game,” Almeida said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play here.”
Almeida was singing the praises of O’Neill.
“She’s a fantastic player and very creative,” Almeida said. “She can create something out of nothing. She’s really a special player.”
The daughter of local soccer legend and Hudson County Sports Hall of Famer Hugh O’Neill, one of the first Americans to ever play top division pro soccer in England, O’Neill continues to get better with age.
“I think we felt the pressure a little today and knew we had to come out strong,” O’Neill said. “We showed that we were much better in the second half.”
Like many of the other players involved in the game, O’Neill was awestruck when the game started and she was on the field at the most impressive soccer palace in the northeastern United States.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” O’Neill said. “It was a great game and it helped that it was in this stadium.”
Even in defeat, Sacco was appreciative of the chance to play on such a grand stage.
“Our girls are really thankful to the Red Bulls’ organization for having the opportunity to play here,” Sacco said. “I’m just a little disappointed we broke down in the second half.”

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