Kardinals win Battle of West Hudson

Matthew Escobar vividly remembered the last time that Kearny High School’s boys’ soccer team faced neighboring rival Harrison.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Escobar, the Kardinals’ senior captain, recalling the 4-3 loss the Kardinals suffered in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals last year. “To be honest, they had a little more hunger than we did that day.”

Kearny junior goalkeeper Matthew Brun was certainly aware of the rivalry between the Blue Tide and the Kardinals.

“It’s a big rivalry,” Brun said. “It’s really competitive. We all have friends over there, but when we’re playing, we forget about that.”

So when the 2019 Hudson County Tournament got down to the semifinals last Thursday and lo and behold, Harrison was playing Kearny once again, both Escobar and Brun were ready.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know we were playing Harrison,” Escobar said. “But when we found out, we were pretty excited. We all looked around at each other and got ready to win. We really wanted to win. We needed more hunger, more passion and more determination to our game.”

Sure enough, the Kardinals, who have only lost once all season and have reeled off nine in a row, got a penalty kick from Escobar in the 63rd minute and Brun made seven saves to secure his fifth shutout in the last six games, as the Kardinals (14-1) defeated the Blue Tide (14-2), 1-0, to advance to the Hudson County Tournament finals.

The Kardinals, who have won the tourney five times in the nine years of the tourney and last won in 2017, will now face St. Peter’s Prep Thursday night at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium at 7 p.m. for the county crown. St. Peter’s is the lone team to defeat the Kardinals this season, winning 3-1 on Sept. 19.

Ironically, the Kards were slated to face the Marauders twice in a span of three days with championships at stake in both matches. The first match slated for Tuesday was for the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League (HCIAL) championship and the match Thursday is for the Hudson County Tournament title. Got all that?

“It’s not a great situation,” Kearny head coach Bill Galka said. “It’s not going to be easy. But we’re getting battle tested. We’re consistently getting better with playing under pressure.”

Galka was impressed with the way his team conducted themselves against Harrison.

“It’s absolutely a good rivalry,” Galka said. “The kids look forward to playing the game on both sides. There’s also a closeness to the rivalry. It’s a challenge to get ready to play a game like this.”

Escobar was happy to be the one to take the penalty shot. He previously took the game-winning penalty kick in a 1-0 win over Delran Oct. 5, so Escobar had some experience with taking the shots.

“My teammates passed me the ball, so I knew I had to take the shot,” Escobar said. “I’m glad that they had faith in me and put their hopes in me. But I knew I’d make it.”

Brun was then aggressive in goal with the lead. He came out of the box on several opportunities to secure 50-50 balls and stayed the course when the Blue Tide put on the pressure, especially whenever high scoring forward Mustapha Sowe controlled the ball.

Ironically, Brun and Sowe were teammates on two travel teams – Thistle and Kearny United.

“I think the rivalry makes the game even more competitive,” Brun said. “I just had to make sure that I kept the ball out of my net. I had to play smart and try to make the saves when I could.”

The Blue Tide kept the pressure on during the final minutes. Their best chance of scoring came when Allan Melo let loose with a cannon shot that hit off the crossbar with eight minutes left.

“I tried to make sure that I wasn’t caught looking at the clock behind me,” Brun said. “But it was tempting to do so. I then heard our fans counting down, three, two, one. Then it was time to celebrate.”

“It means a lot to me,” Escobar said. “Just the feeling of beating them this time after losing last year. It was a nice experience.”

And now the Kardinals have to worry about playing the same opponent twice in 72 hours.

“Both games are very important to us,” Escobar said. “Of course, it’s going to be difficult, but we want to achieve both goals, winning both the county and the league.”

“We’ll be ready,” Brun said. “We want to win both. Both games are important. Winning the county tournament will be nice after they beat us earlier this year.”

Galka was overjoyed in collecting the victory.

“It was a really good win,” Galka said. “All the things you need to do to beat Harrison, we did. All the things you want your team to have going into the finals – composure, playing well under pressure, playing hard. You need all those things to be successful.”

And the Kardinals will look to be at the top of their game in both contests.


Kearny girls also win semifinal match


The Kearny girls also reached the Hudson County Tournament finals, looking for their incredible 11th straight championship.

The Kardinals (14-4) defeated Union City, 7-0, in the quarterfinals, then duplicated the feat by disposing of North Bergen by the identical score.

Senior striker Skyler Matusz exploded in the win against North Bergen, scoring five goals, giving her 28 goals for the season, well on her way to re-writing the school’s record books. Julie Castillo and Maci Covello each scored a goal and Abigail Crispin added two assists.

Senior goaltender Cat Canaley made three saves to collect her ninth clean sheet of the season.

Ironically, the Kearny girls have a similar situation as the boys, as they have to face Bayonne twice in a span of four days, facing off on Monday to close out the regular season, then in the HCIAL final with No. 11 waiting them. Kearny has not lost to a Hudson County team since joining the HCIAL 11 years ago, which is pretty remarkable.




Goalkeeper Matthew Brun (left) and senior midfielder and captain Matthew Escobar (right) are having a ball at practice at Franklin School Field Friday, one day after defeating rival Harrison, 1-0, in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals. Kearny faces St. Peter’s Prep Thursday for the county championship. Photo by Jim Hague


Senior forward Skyler Matusz scored five goals in the Kearny 7-0 win over North Bergen to advance to the Hudson County Tournament finals against Bayonne Thursday. Photo by Jim Hague



Learn more about the writer ...

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.”