Kardinals prove to be kream of the krop

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny goalkeeper Tyler Anderson made 11 saves in goal for his fourth straight shutout in the NJSIAA state tournament, helping his team collect the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championship last Friday.


By Jim Hague

The Kearny High School boys’ soccer team suffered a heartbreaking loss to Union City in the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament last week, ending all hope of repeating as county champs and getting another chance to face rival Harrison.
But Kearny head coach Bill Galka knew that the loss to Union City wasn’t exactly the end of the world, that the Kardinals had bigger fish to fry in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV tournament.
“Honestly, we put that loss away quickly,” Galka said. “We didn’t dwell on it. It was over and we had to move on. I told them that the state playoffs represented a new season and we weren’t done yet.”
Sure enough, Galka was right, as his Kardinals won a more important championship instead – claiming their first state sectional championship in seven years.
Junior Batista scored a first-half goal in just the 12th minute of the game and goalkeeper Tyler Anderson made the goal stand up by collecting 11 saves, as the Kardinals defeated Randolph, 1-0, last Friday afternoon at Harvey Field to win the North 1, Group IV state crown.
“We hadn’t made a run in a while,” said Galka, who claimed his first state sectional title since he took over for the legendary John Millar six years ago. “Of course, when it doesn’t happen for a while, you begin to put pressure on yourself. You want to do well with the excitement that comes at this time of the year. We haven’t had it in a while. It’s been too long to have this pressure. But we came through.”
Batista, whose goal enabled him to tie former All-American Sergio Ulloa for the school’s career scoring mark, made a brilliant play to get the Kardinals (18-5) on the board.
Batista moved past two defenders and made it look like he was going to unleash a patented right-footed shot. But at the last minute, Batista changed to his left foot and lifted the shot over the sprawling Randolph goalkeeper Michael Lansing for the first and only goal of the game.
“In the state tournament, scoring early in games has really helped us, so that was an important play,” said Batista, who scored his 25th goal of the season. “I knew I couldn’t hit it with my right foot. I never shoot with my left, but I had to do something, so I tried lifting it and it beat the goalie.”
“It was a sweet goal,” Galka said. “We wanted him just to hit it in front to see if we could get anything out of it, but he pulled it across his body and then put it high with his left foot. It was a tremendous goal and got us going.”
The Kardinals tried to put the pressure on the visiting Rams (13-6-1) by scoring a second goal, but there weren’t a lot of chances.
It wasn’t because of a lack of effort from center midfielder Abdellah Bouzidi, who is the Kardinals’ version of the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going and going. His energy is beyond amazing.
Bouzidi ran the length of Harvey Field all day and never appeared to get tired.
“I guess it’s part of my African heritage,” said Bouzidi, who was born in Morocco. “My father always had my sister (Salma, who plays for the Kearny girls’ soccer team) and me running since we were little. I guess it paid off. I think a lot of it just comes from the heart. I always give it all I have.”
“It’s a credit to him,” Galka said. “He asked if he could be the center midfielder this year. So we gave him a shot and he’s come into his own. He plays with so much energy and he has the ability to win balls. He gets us where we want to be. He’s played well all year.”
The Kardinals controlled play in the first half, allowing Randolph to have two decent scoring chances. Sweeper Ryan Wilson was a stalwart in the back line, maintaining the play.
However, knowing that their season was in jeopardy, the Rams turned up the heat in the second half and took control away from the Kardinals, winning many loose ball battles and keeping the action on the Kearny side of the field.
Anderson came up huge with two big saves early in the second half, but Randolph had other chances, including one with less than eight minutes left that just sailed wide right of the goal while Anderson came out to try to make a play.
“It was the longest 15 minutes of my life,” Bouzidi said of the waning moments of the game. “I just kept trying to clear the ball, but the wind kept it on our side. It was crazy. They’re an excellent team and kept putting the pressure on us. But we stood together and made sure we were going to win.”
“I thought we would need more than one goal, but our defense has been outstanding,” Batista said. “I kept asking the referee how much time was left. It felt like the clock wasn’t moving fast enough.”
But the Kardinals had the shutout, and incredibly have won all four state playoff games via a shutout, defeating Memorial, Montclair, West Orange and now Randolph without allowing a single goal. Quite impressive.
“We did what we had to do to win the game,” Batista said. “We have a lot of seniors who don’t want to lose and end it.”
Bouzidi was asked what it was like to be a state champion.
“Oh, my God, I can’t believe this,” Bouzidi said. “We’ve been working so hard for this day. I’ve been dreaming about this day since I first came to Kearny. It’s been a long time, but it’s like a dream come true.”
Galka looked like he had the weight of the world off his shoulders.
“It’s always nail biting at the end of state playoff games, especially with us winning by one goal,” Galka said. “We just held on. For the most part, we defended well again and that’s a key. We have a good goal scorer and a good goalkeeper. You just want to have a chance to win these games.”
Now, it’s on to Watchung Hills to face Bridgewater-Raritan and the chance to capture the school’s 18th overall Group IV state championship. Winning the sectional was the first part of that quest.

Kearny Champs

Senior forward Junior Batista scored a pretty left-footed goal in the 12th minute and senior goalkeeper Tyler Anderson made it stand up, by making 11 saves, leading the Kearny High School boys’ soccer team to a 1-0 victory over Randolph last Friday afternoon at Harvey Field, giving the Kardinals their first state sectional championship since 2004.
The Kardinals (18-5) survived some scary moments down the stretch, as the Rams (13-6-1) had several chances to score in the second half, but the Kardinals’ defense, spearheaded by players like Anderson, sweeper Ryan Wilson and workhorse center midfielder Abdellah Bouzidi, kept the Morris County invaders at bay to collect the state sectional trophy.
It was the fourth straight win in the state playoffs that the Kardinals won via shutout. They had previously defeated Memorial, West Orange and Montclair, all without allowing a single goal.
“That’s how championships are won,” said Kearny head coach Bill Galka, who claimed his first state sectional title as the head coach. “If you don’t give up a goal, you have a shot to win.”
Batista’s goal was the 25th of the season and the 65th of his career, tying the school record set by Sergio Ulloa 11 years ago.
The Kardinals now move on to the overall Group IV semifinals, where they are scheduled to face North 2, Group IV champion Bridgewater-Raritan, which defeated Elizabeth, 1-0, to capture the sectional title. The winner of that match would then move on to the overall Group IV title at the College of New Jersey in Ewing over the weekend.
The Kardinals are in pursuit of the 18th overall state title in the school’s history, trailing only Harrison’s 23 state championships. Kearny won state titles in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1975, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1999, 2002 and finally 2004.
– Jim Hague

Learn more about the writer ...