Blue Tide boys’ soccer endures growing pains

Mike Rusek is now considered one of the premier high school soccer coaches in New Jersey. With brother John and father Mickey by his side, the Ruseks have been in charge of the Harrison High School program for 20 seasons now – does it really seem like that long? – and the Blue Tide are rapidly approaching 400 wins under the Ruseks’ watchful eyes.

And though all that time, the Blue Tide never had to experience a rebuilding campaign like the one that they will endure this season.

“Maybe in 2015, we had something similar,” Mike Rusek said. “It’s the only other year that I can think of that would be like this one. We had only two returning starters in 2015 and this year is very close to that. We still have to find out who will work where. I don’t know if this team will come together until October. It should be fun getting to that point.”

But it wasn’t fun last Thursday, when the Blue Tide traveled to Lyndhurst to face the NJIC rival Golden Bears, a team that Harrison had defeated 41 straight times going back to 1999, and suffered a heartbreaking 2-0 setback.

Before the season started, Rusek really liked the makeup of his team, despite losing All-State striker Omar Sowe to graduation and a subsequent contract with the New York Red Bulls II team that plays in the American Soccer League.

“I think at the end of last year, we were going through the motions,” Rusek said of the 19-3 team that lost to eventual champion Union City in the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament and fell in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II final round to Hackettstown, 1-0.

“This team this year was excited to get things going,” Rusek said. “I hadn’t seen a team this excited to play. It was fun to watch them get ready. I think they even played better than what I expected.”

The Blue Tide (3-1) has dismantled teams in their three victories, defeating Secaucus, 10-0, defeating New Milford, 6-0, and knocking off Leonia, 8-2. All three teams in the past proved to be worthy opponents to the Blue Tide, but not this time.

The Blue Tide has four goalkeepers to call upon in juniors Jeffrey Hernandez, Chris Alvarado, Bryan Yllescas and sophomore Emiliano Torres. Rusek does not know who the main goalie will be, but he plans to have a primary netminder in the coming weeks.

“Jeffrey is a good leader,” Rusek said. “He’s very quick. Chris has very little experience, but he’s a strong kid who is good in the air. Bryan always seems to be always into the game. He’s the most experienced one we have. He’s played a lot of club soccer. Emiliano just needs some work with us. I would like to settle on one goalie before the end of the regular season.”

Junior Ronald Carillo is the team’s sweeper back. Carillo started there as a sophomore last season.

Senior Ederson LaTorre is the Blue Tide’s stopper. LaTorre was injured, but came back strong, scoring two goals in the win over Leonia.

Senior Dylan Leon and sophomore Enzo Diaz are the team’s other two defenders.

“We really haven’t been tested there yet,” Rusek said.

The center midfielder is senior Jairo Araujo, who had 15 goals and 15 assists last season and has two goals and two assists in the early going this season.

“Jairo is our offensive center midfielder,” Rusek said. “We hope to get multiple goal scorers this season. We hope to have about five guys with 10-to-15 goals.”

Araujo has one goal and one assist in the win over Secaucus.

Another center midfielder is junior Steven Espinoza, who is off to a solid start. Espinoza has two goals and two assists thus far.

Other midfielders including seniors Shane Abraham and Kyle Ferreira and freshman Brando Moreno. Moreno also has two goals and two assists thus far.

The forward line features a familiar name. Mustapha Sowe, the younger brother of former All-State players Modou and Omar, is a junior forward. Mustapha scored eight goals last season, but he’s well on his way this year, having scored five goals and dished off for five assists in the first four games.

“We had him playing more of a defensive role last year,” Rusek said. “But with Omar gone, we need Mustapha to become more of a scorer.”

He looks like he’s doing just that.

Senior Allan Melo also returns and he’s had a great start, scoring a team-high six goals and adding two assists.

Gabriel Barreto has also contributed early, scoring two goals and adding one assist.

The Blue Tide has games this week against Butler and Dwight-Englewood and at Secaucus on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“We’re hoping that the enthusiasm we had in the preseason carries over into the regular season,” Rusek said. “I think the competition we had for spots was good for this team. They’re making it fun and that’s good. The enthusiasm is a key.”

The Blue Tide will also play St. Peter’s Prep at Red Bull Arena on October 5. That should be a very interesting game indeed.




The Harrison boys’ soccer team is off to a 3-1 start this season. Front row, from left, are Shane Abraham, Kyle Ferreira and Dylan Leon. The back row, from left, are head coach Mike Rusek, Ronald Carrillo, Emiliano Torres, Christopher Alvarado, Bryan Yllescas, Jeffrey Fernandez and Ederson LaTorre, 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.”