Harrison hosts preseason soccer tourney as way to kick start season

The 2016 high school soccer season doesn’t officially kick off for a few more weeks, but a lot of New Jersey’s top soccer squads convened in Harrison last weekend to participate in the Harrison Summer Soccer Tournament at Harrison High School.

In all, 11 top teams participated in the event, including local squads Belleville and host Harrison.

The teams battled the stifling heat and humidity _ which at one point read 110 degrees on the FieldTurf playing surface _ to get a chance to get a head start on the season.

Harrison, which will field a team comprised mostly of newcomers when the season begins for real in a few weeks, won two and tied two over the first two days. Each team got six games over the weekend. The games were 45 minutes long to cut down on possible injuries, as well as the heat.

Needless to say, it was a good way for the season to start.

Among the other teams participating included Hudson County rivals St. Peter’s Prep, Union City and Memorial, as well as Shore Conference powers like Rumson-Fair Haven, Freehold, Matawan and Long Branch. Bergen County standout Hackensack was also a part of the tourney, as was perennially strong Princeton.

It was a good field with good soccer to be played _ and a little less stressful than playing in the regular season.

“It’s the unofficial start of the season,” said veteran Harrison head coach Mike Rusek, beginning his 16th season (along with brother John and father Mickey, as the First Family of West Hudson soccer). “When we first started doing this tournament, we only had a few teams. But word got out that it was a good tournament and teams wanted to come. For us, it’s the first time we get to see our full team together, so John and I can start making decisions as to who’s going to play. We get six games in three days, which is a lot, but we’re happy.

Added Rusek, “We have a lot of hungry kids who want a chance to play. Last year, we had a bunch of young kids, but now we’re making signs that we’re getting significantly better.”

The Blue Tide went 19-3-1 last year. That’s considered a down year for Harrison.

“I think John and I are looking for players who have that controlled passion for the game,” Rusek said. “We’ve been working the ball this weekend and looking for each other. I like that. It’s what I want to see. We have others who step in who do the same thing, so it doesn’t stop with the top players. I think we played pretty well.”

Senior midfielder Josh Seebeck can notice the difference in the Blue Tide’s play already.

“I think this prepares us for the reason season,” said Seebeck, who unleashed two wicked bombs that clunked off the football goalpost and then the soccer crossbar on Saturday, ferocious blasts that show Seebeck is ready for the season to start right now.

“I think this helps us build chemistry that we can carry over to the regular season,” Seebeck said. “I think this is going to help us with our regular games. Overall, I think we played well. We just need to work on some things, like communication between each other.”

But nothing is going to stop the Blue Tide, who lost in the Hudson County semifinals to neighboring rival Kearny, then fell in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II semifinals to Garfield via penalty kicks last season.

“We’re hoping to win it all this year,” said Seebeck, who had two assists in sporadic minutes last year. “I think this put us in the right frame of mind.”

It certainly put last year’s freshman phenom Omar Sowe on the right track. Sowe played everywhere for the Blue Tide last year, scoring 13 goals and adding eight assists. Sowe was mainly a forward last year, but he played a ton of sweeper back over the weekend, unleashing that powerful leg when he had a chance.

Jean Lara is another strong legged senior who will try to keep up with Sowe this year.

“I think this definitely helps us improve our passion,” Lara said. “We need to have more passion and that works better for the team. I think it definitely gets us ready for the season.”

Lara was asked about the heat, which reached 95 degrees Sunday morning before noon.

“Once you’re playing in the game, you don’t pay attention,” Lara said. “The other team is playing in the heat as well, so there’s no advantage.”

But was it bad?
“It was pretty hot,” Lara said.

Senior Michael Sousa is ready for his final go-round with the Blue Tide. Last year, Sousa had 13 goals for the Blue Tide.

“I think this weekend helped us improve as a team,” Sousa said. “I think all in all, we’re just a better team. I think that playing together is only going to help us during the season. We’re together doing this and I like that. I get pretty excited, thinking about our chances this year. It’s great that we’re getting this head start.”

Rusek fixed the schedule so that his team would not face the Hudson County rivals Union City, St. Peter’s Prep and Memorial.

Memorial also looked in midseason form, battling state power Long Branch to a 2-2 tie Sunday morning.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”