The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team only played nine games in the COVID-19 ravaged season a year ago. The Blue Tide, perennially one of the state’s best programs, had a very unconventional 4-3-2 record, which reads more like a phone number than a soccer record.
“We had 14 games cancelled,” said veteran Harrison head coach Mike Rusek. “It was not a year that I would ever want to go through again. I know a lot of other people feel the same way. I think we were all just happy to get some practices and some games in. I think the one thing that we all took from last year is that you can never take anything for granted. I think we all came to appreciate high school soccer even more.”
The Blue Tide, who open their 2021 season next Thursday at Leonia, suffered serious losses to graduation. An NJSIAA Group II school should not be able to recover from graduating 11 seniors in one clip. However…
“We had 14 graduate the year before,” Rusek said. “But I think these kids came in working hard, knowing that we haven’t won a championship in a while. I think we were starting to go through the motions. We got spoiled by our own success. I think what happened last year made us all appreciate it more. The kids lost something last year and now they’re getting it back. Last year we’re throwing into the archives and moving forward.”
Rusek said the pandemic put a little bit of a cramp in what he usually did as a coach.
“I hadn’t seen some of them for nine months,” Rusek said. “Some of them have grown into young men. I just hope we can carry on through this year.”
Senior Emiliano Torres is the returning starter in goal for the Blue Tide.
“He’s come into the year excited and knows he has to be a leader,” Rusek said.
The Blue Tide will use a diverse rotation with five defenders.
Senior Carlos Dionisio is the team’s returning starter among the defenders.
“He’s a really big kid with a nice soft touch on the ball,” Rusek said.
Senior Hector Canales is a very athletic defender and is joined by sophomore defender Anthony Bento, whose older brother Luis was a staple on some fine Blue Tide teams in the past.
Juniors Gabriel Reis and Carlos Moreno are the two outside backs. Both started last year.
“By the end of September, we should see how this all works out,” Rusek said of the new-fangled alignment.
Senior Enzo Diaz was used all over the field last year, but will be a mainstay in the midfield this year. Sophomore Diego Flores-Sanchez also returns to the midfield, where he started last year as a freshman.
“He’s a talented player with a lot of potential,” Rusek said of Flores-Sanchez. “He’s a nice offensive type of a midfielder.”
The next player has a very familiar name in Harrison athletic circles, but for different sports.
Junior Dylan Huseinovic, whose older brother Dustin earned Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2018 before heading off to play college football at Pace University, is a solid midfielder. The younger Huseinovic played academy soccer last fall, but has returned to play for the Blue Tide this season.
“He’s devoted himself to soccer,” Rusek said of Dylan Huseinovic. “He plays all over the field and does a little bit of everything for us.”
Sophomore Eann Vieira is another midfielder that Rusek can call upon.
The forwards are juniors Brandon Moreno and Fabricio Sousa, along with freshman Yusufu Jaiteh, a transfer from Gambia. Moreno led the Blue Tide with five goals last season.
“I’m expecting more out of Brandon this year,” Rusek said. “I’m expecting a solid season.”
The Blue Tide also features junior Misael Espinoza and sophomore Randy Abarca in the midfield and sophomore Ismael Kone, who is a native of the Ivory Coast.
The Blue Tide certainly represents a true melting pot of soccer talent, with eight starters from different countries and 14 different countries represented on the Blue Tide roster.
The Blue Tide opens against Leonia on Sept. 9, then won’t play again until Friday, Sept. 17 against Newark East Side.
Needless to say, it shapes up to be yet another great season for the Harrison boys’ soccer team. Let the games begin.
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.”