Kearny boys’ soccer hanging tough at 5-1

As the 2019 high school soccer season began, Kearny High School head boys’ soccer coach Bill Galka found himself in a different predicament.

“I just didn’t know who would be on the team,” Galka said. “I didn’t know if the sophomores could claim the spots that were open. We had seven spots open and I didn’t know who would fill them. We would usually know into preseason, but we went the whole summer not knowing. And the summer moved pretty quick.”

So Galka, the veteran coach who is in his 10th season as the head coach of the Kardinals, had to play mix-and-match throughout the preseason, trying to find the right combination.

“I really didn’t know what the (final) team would look like,” Galka said. “We were young and inexperienced. We had to move forward carefully.”

And Galka did the best thing possible. He asked the aspiring players what positions they played.

“I always ask some of the kids,” Galka said. “That loosens things up a little and allows us to have a little fun. I ask them what’s their favorite position and then if they don’t know, then I put them some place. I usually would say to a kid, ‘Do you see yourself playing that position?’ And the kids are generally honest. I always waited for them to tell us where they wanted to play.”

So as the 2019 season approached, Galka approached his players and asked them where they wanted to play. Sounds like a very novel approach indeed.

The Kardinals entered the new season with three goalkeepers, namely juniors Diego De La Cruz and Matthew Brun and senior Jhoel Besantez. Galka was non-committal about the three.

“They’re all vying for the spot,” Galka said. “They’re sharing the spot right now. They’re battling back and forth. No one has stepped forward and racked up the spot.”

Brun has seen the most action over the first six games, of which the Kardinals have won five. They only lost to Hudson County rival St. Peter’s Prep by a 3-1 margin in their last game last Friday. They won their first five contests against Hudson County rivals Bayonne, Dickinson, Union City, Memorial and North Bergen.

The Kardinals have a ton of depth in their defender position, led by returning senior starters Adrian Santana and Federico Vazquez at center back.

“Freddy is a left-footed shooter who gets on top of the ball,” Galka said. “When one goes, the other one stays and vice versa. They work well together.”

The rest of the defensive alignment has not been finalized.

Senior Kevin Chavez saw considerable time at defender last year. Senior Thiago Teixeira is another experienced defender. Senior Alejandro Diaz is a strong player with a solid leg. Junior Matheus Ferreira is a transfer from St. Benedict’s Prep of Newark. Sophomores Alan Castillo and Daniel Velazquez, the younger brother of the late Adrian Velazquez, who played at Kearny and was killed in a car accident after his freshman year at Rutgers-Newark, are fitting in well with their new varsity teammates.

“They’re all sharing playing time right now,” Galka said.

In the midfield, senior Matthew Escobar stands out. Escobar, who had two goals and a team-high 14 assists last season, was selected to play in an upperclassman Allstate All-American game at the MLS All-Star game this spring, but didn’t make it to the game.

“He’s a talented player who has a good left foot,” Galka said. “He can beat people down with his dribble.”

The Kardinals also have Luan Souza and Jandry Jervis, both of whom are seniors, who fill out the roster well. Jervis scored the Kards’ lone goal against St. Peter’s and showed a ton of promise in the preseason.

The Kards also have junior Anthony Fernandez and sophomore Angel Tovar in the midfield.

Along the forward line, the Kards have senior Juan Macias leading the way.

“Juan is a three-year player who can slide back to midfield if we need him,” Galka said.

Junior Aytor Valdez is another forward who can cause some damage up front.

“He saw some time last year,” Galka said of Valdez. “He’s a good talent, a skillful player who is good on the ball. We just need results from him now.”

Senior Sean Veiga is also getting time on the front line, along with junior Miguel Rodriguez, who has scored five goals already this season.

“Miguel has been pretty good for us thus far,” Galka said.

There are a host of sophomore performers among the mix at forward, including Gabriel Menezes, who scored the game-winning goal against North Bergen and Dalton Davila, who scored the game-winner against Union City.

Jeremy Klinger and Alex Montero are two more sophomores who are getting looks with the top lines on the field. Both Klinger and Montero have the versatility and flexibility to move to either midfield or forward.

The Kardinals play Bayonne once again on Thursday and play host to Millburn in the suicide prevention awareness game against Millburn Saturday at the high school field at 3 p.m. The girls’ teams from the two schools will face off at the high school field at 1 p.m. The doubleheader will be to honor the life of former Kearny girls’ soccer standout Stephanie Miller, who took her own life last year.

“We’re working hard,” Galka said. “These kids are not afraid of working hard. They have been coming in early for practices. We’re just trying to improve as every game goes by.”

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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.”