Kardinals begin defense of NJSIAA Group IV state soccer title

The 2017 high school soccer season was a dream campaign for the Kearny High School boys’ soccer team.

“Soccertown, USA” once again claimed having the overall NJSIAA Group IV champion, defeating Princeton, 3-1, in the title game at Kean University.

It capped an undefeated season to remember for the Kardinals, who posted a 22-0-3 record. It was the Kardinals’ first undefeated season since 1984 and the first overall state title since 2002. The Kardinals shared the Group IV crown in 2004 because the title game with Rancocas Valley was played to a draw. It was the 17th time that the Kardinals had captured the Group IV championship since the playoff system was instituted in the early 1970s. All totaled, Kearny has won an astounding 32 state championships dating back to 1922.

The Kardinals also captured the Hudson County Tournament championship, defeating St. Peter’s Prep in the title game, 3-2. It was the Kards’ fifth Hudson County championship in the nine-year history of the tournament.

So it was certainly a campaign for the record books, one that will never be forgotten.

As the Kardinals make their preparations to start another season next week, veteran head coach Bill Galka said some things never change.

“The goals are all the same,” Galka said. “We want to win the league, win the county tournament and win the states, like we did last year. You can’t plan on doing it, because things certainly happen. But that’s the goal. That’s what we shoot for.”
When the Kardinals started to make plans for the 2018 season, they believed that standout center midfielder Jose Escandon was going to be back for another go-round. After all, as Escandon was earning the New Jersey State Player of the Year honors last season, scoring 22 goals and collecting 17 assists, it was all done with Escandon being a junior.

So it was believed that Escandon had another year left to play with the Kardinals.

Even if there was the lure of playing for one of the area academy teams was hanging around, Escandon made it clear that he wanted to come back for another go-round with the Kardinals.

 “I can’t wait to play here next year and try to get another state championship,” Escandon said after being named The Observer Athlete of the Week last November, exactly 10 months to the date of this preview article.

 “I want to be able to share another one with my friends and family,” Escandon said. “We’ll have to see what happens. But I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life.”

Well, Escandon will not get another chance to lead the Kards to state glory. Escandon has moved with his family back to their native Ecuador. He forever becomes a name for the history books, taking his place with some of the all-time greats to grace the pitches of Harvey Field and the high school complex. But he’s gone, forever a memory.

“It’s hard to replace a guy like that,” Galka said. “He’s probably one of the best midfielders we ever had and certainly was the best player we’ve had over the last 10 years. He was an extremely talented player who proved that he was the best player in the state. We all thought he was a junior and that he would be back. We would have loved to have Jose for another year. We almost have to treat it like he’s a kid who graduated.”

So the Kardinals have moved people around and Galka is counting on his returning players to lead the way without Escandon.

“We’ve had to shuffle people around a little bit,” Galka said. “The kids have been up to it. They’ve been training pretty well. We had some injuries, but they’re training hard. Kearny has always had a target on its back from other teams. Now, since we won last year and we lost a great player, the target is even bigger. Teams just might smell blood in the water and come after us a little harder now that Jose is not here. Our kids have to play at a higher level.”

The Kards also lost standout goalkeeper Bryan Noristz to graduation, so the Kards are working with three keepers – seniors Gabriel Santos and Marcelo Medrano and sophomore Matthew Brun. DeSilva was the starting goalie with the junior varsity last year, so he’ll get the first crack at being the main net minder this year, but all three are getting a shot to stand between the pipes.

If there is one major advantage that the Kards have going into the 2018 season, it’s the fact that the team returns their entire defensive corps in unison. Seniors Jerson Ruiz, Nickolas Fiallos, Ferbris Gonzalez and Marlon Rodriguez all started last season and all return this year.

“Automatically, they’re so familiar with each other,” Galka said. “It’s a great strength for us as a team to have them all back. They play well together.”

Senior Rafael Bernardino is another talented defender who will see his share of playing time throughout the course of the season.

But the Kards will have some difficulty in the midfield, replacing everyone, especially the master distributor and playmaker Escandon.

“We’re finding out what we have there,” Galka said.

Leading the way in the midfield is junior Matthew Escobar, who transferred to Kearny from Hudson Catholic last year and had to sit out the first 30 days of the season. The talented Escobar never really got a chance to display his talents with the Kardinals, but he will get that opportunity this year.

“We’re looking to get a lot from him this year, since he’ll be with us for the whole season,” Galka said.

Senior Ryan Silva, who was a godsend last year, scoring 17 goals from the forward line, has been shifted to the midfield to try to offset the loss of Escandon. Silva is a multi-talented performer who can do it all.

“He scored a lot of clutch goals for us last year,” Galka said of Silva, who is handling the move to the midfield well. “He is a very talented player. He’s also a good finisher. We really need him in the midfield. We will use him in the midfield and up front.”

The other midfielders are seniors Joseph Figueiredo, Joao Hornung and Juan Rendon, who played a big role a year ago and scored six goals and added six assists.

On the forward line, the Kards will look to senior Rodrigo Valero and junior Juan Macias.

“Macias is a very quick guy who is a good finisher,” Galka said. “We’re hoping he can score some goals for us.”

The Kardinals will open their season Thursday against Hudson County rival Bayonne and will face another county foe in Union City at Harvey Field Saturday.

And then, on Sept. 15, there’s the long-awaited showdown between Kearny and Harrison at Red Bull Arena. The two teams didn’t face each other at the local soccer palace the last two seasons, but details have been worked out to have the rivals square off in doubleheader with the two girls’ teams of the two schools playing before the boys’ game.

“It’s a thrill for our kids to get a chance to play on that surface, in that venue,” Galka said. “Everyone looks forward to that game. If we’re playing Harrison, it’s a big deal for everyone.”

So all in all, Galka is looking forward to the season. Whether it culminates in a state or county championship remains to be seen, but it should be exciting.

“We’re looking forward to having a great season again,” Galka said. “If we can get back to that same level again, that would be great. Right now, we have some unanswered questions that we have to address. But we’re getting ready.”

And that’s what the preseason is all about, getting ready for when it truly counts.


The Kearny High School boys’ soccer team is getting ready to defend the NJSIAA Group IV state championship the Kardinals captured last year, the first since 2004. Front row, from left, are Rafael Bernardino, Marlon Rodriguez, Adrian Santana, Ferbris Gonzalez and Brian Miranda. Back row, from left, are Lautaro Sosa, Gerson Ruiz, Marcelo Medrano, Matthew Brun, Gabriel Santos, Federico Vazquez, Nickolas Fiallos and head coach Bill Galka. Photo by Jim Hague

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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.”