Names and faces change, but results don’t for dominant Blue Tide

Before the high school soccer season began in earnest back in late August/early September, veteran Harrison High School head coach Mike Rusek didn’t know what to expect from the Blue Tide.

After all, the Blue Tide lost Omar Sowe, one of the best players to ever grace the Harrison blue and white, to graduation last May. Sowe, a two-time All-State honoree during his heyday in Harrison, went on right from high school to sign a professional contract with the New York Red Bulls II squad, the high level developmental squad for the main MLS team that plays in that grand silver edifice on the banks of the Passaic River.

But the Blue Tide lost a host of other talented performers as well. In fact, the 15 seniors that graduated from the Blue Tide program was the largest total in Rusek’s two decades as the head coach.

It meant that Rusek and his family brain trust, namely his assistants, brother John and father Mickey, had to restructure the Blue Tide succinctly so that Harrison could maintain its lofty location in the minds of soccer fans throughout the state.

Harrison is believed to be a high school soccer factory, much like its neighboring rival Kearny. There’s never any talk of rebuilding in Harrison. It’s a dirty word. Mike Rusek has had no choice but to reload every year. There’s no place for a down year. In Harrison, a so-called down year is suffering three losses.

So when the 2019 season kicked off, there were question marks galore. No one knew what to expect — even Rusek.

In the third game of the season, the Blue Tide suffered a 2-0 loss to Lyndhurst. That thought was simply unheard of. Harrison hadn’t lost to Lyndhurst since Bush was President – the older one. It was 22 straight times that the Blue Tide toppled the neighboring Golden Bears. Harrison wasn’t exactly State Farm Insurance, you know, playing the role of the good neighbor.

But here it was, a clean sheet loss in the third game of the year.

Things didn’t look good for the perennially powerful Blue Tide, but Rusek just made sure that all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly. Sure enough, in typical Harrison fashion, the Blue Tide turned things in their favor. They have reeled off 11 wins in a row to push their record to 13-1, including three gigantic wins in recent days.

The Blue Tide first defeated St. Peter’s Prep, 2-1, in Red Bull Arena, debunking the idea that the glorious professional stadium was bad luck to the Blue Tide.

“We’ve had some bad luck history at Red Bull Arena,” Rusek said. “We’re only 2-6 there.”

Most of those losses came at the hands of rival Kearny, but there were also setbacks to Newark East Side. The last time the Blue Tide won at Red Bull Arena was 2016 and a win over Union City.

But that bad luck changed this year on Oct. 5, when the Blue Tide toppled the Marauders, the top seed in the Hudson County Tournament. The Blue Tide received goals from Steven Espinoza and their leading scorer, junior Mustapha Sowe, the younger brother of the aforementioned Omar.

St. Peter’s Prep entered play that day as the No. 15 team in the entire state.

“That just shows everyone how good St. Peter’s Prep is,” Rusek said. “We always think we have the ability to win games. But St. Peter’s plays such a harder schedule than us and we had question marks to start the season. We hadn’t played St. Peter’s since 2011. So a lot of people thought that we were getting a little over our heads there. But we wanted to be in the conversation with the best teams in the county. We wanted to make it known that we’re still going to be there.”

Bryan Yllescas (the young man has to buy a vowel there) was in goal and made nine saves to secure the victory in RBA for the men in blue.

“He made some really big saves for us,” Rusek said about Yllescas (pronounced exactly how it is spelled). “He really stepped up and played well.”

Three days later, the Blue Tide faced Lyndhurst, the team that saddled Harrison with its only loss this season. This time, the Blue Tide was an inspired bunch and they came away with a 2-0 victory. Sowe, who now has 18 goals and 12 assists this season, scored in this one, as did Ederson LaTorre, who has nine goals this season.

Allan DeMelo has also been a major contributor for the Blue Tide, scoring 11 goals and dishing off for eight assists. That’s impressive scoring.

And Espinosa has been timely with his contributions, scoring a goal against Lyndhurst, only his third goal of the season. The Blue Tide has been receiving contributions from several different players of late.

So in a span of three days, the young, upstart Blue Tide defeated the No. 1 seed in Hudson County and the only team to beat them this year. Not bad at all.

Rusek particularly enjoyed the win over St. Peter’s at Red Bull Arena.

“It was one of the nicest regular season wins we’ve ever had,” Rusek said. “I think we’ve played above our expectations recently. It was tough to beat St. Peter’s, but it was fun to beat them.”

And now, the Blue Tide will take on their archrival Kearny in the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament Thursday night, more than likely at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City.

Let the fireworks begin.




Winners of 11 straight matches, Harrison has received solid play of late from Steven Espinoza (left) and senior Dylan Leon (right). Photos 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.”