It’s hard not to ask Harrison High School junior striker Brando Moreno the origin of his unique first name.
Were his parents huge movie buffs and named their son after Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando, the famed Don Corleone of “The Godfather,” or other roles like “Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront?”
Hey, Stella, it’s not that easy. Hey, Charlie, this kid could be a contender, but he’s not named after you. Sorry.
“I don’t think that’s it,” Moreno said. “I think it was for Bruce Lee’s son (Brandon). At least, that’s what my Dad (Milton) told me.”
But to the credit of the Blue Tide goal-scoring machine, Moreno knows who Marlon Brando was.
Moreno got his background in soccer from his father, who was a professional player in his native Venezuela.
“He played for five different teams there,” Moreno said. “He told me about playing with 10,000 fans behind him. It inspires me to think I could live that journey.”
Milton Moreno saw the potential in his young son, because earlier this year, Brando Moreno was invited to play in Orlando at the Orlando FC Academy for about a month in April and May.
“It helped me a lot,” Moreno said. “I got mentally stronger. I got faster and stronger. I was playing with a lot of older players. I really loved it there.”
Before Brando took that offer that he couldn’t refuse to go to Orlando, he was a fixture watching Harrison soccer games.
“I always bled blue,” Moreno said. “When the time came for me to come here, I couldn’t wait to try out for the team. I was more than grateful.”
As it turned out, the more thankful person was Harrison head coach Mike Rusek, who knew early on that he had an up-and-coming superstar in the kid with the familiar first name.
“We had him coming around to our games since he was a kid,” Rusek said. “We heard about him in middle school.”
So when the time came, Rusek inserted Moreno into the starting lineup right away as a freshman with excellent results. Moreno tallied eight goals and had 14 assists as a freshman.
“He was always more of a playmaker for us,” Rusek said. “He was our center midfielder. For any freshman to come in and do what he did was impressive.”
But last year was a disaster for everyone involved. It was the COVID-19 delayed and cancellation-filled season, where the Blue Tide played only nine matches.
However, Moreno never got into a rhythm. He remarkably didn’t score a single goal in those nine games.
“I really got unlikely,” Moreno said. “I missed a PK (penalty kick) against Wallington. It was tough to play that way, especially with COVID and getting the tests.”
“Everything that could go wrong did,” Rusek said. “Brando never got any consistency.”
Missing the free kick totally motivated Moreno.
“Since that day, I worked harder,” Moreno said.
And Rusek had an idea.
“We always have a good group of midfielders in Harrison,” Rusek said. “That’s who we are. But we needed someone who could put the pressure on teams from up top (the forward line). We thought it would be best if Brando moved up top and played forward.”
It’s been a move that has paid tremendous dividends. Moreno has developed into a top-flight scoring threat, scoring 22 goals and adding 12 assists. He recently had a streak where he scored at least one goal in seven straight games and had two goals in three of those contests.
For his efforts, Brando Moreno has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Rusek likes what Moreno’s scoring punch has meant to his team.
“It’s been a really special year for (assistant coach and brother) John and I,” Rusek said. “He’s been great. We have a spark with this team that we haven’t seen in a long time. I think everyone saw that things could change very quickly. Brando is matured physically and mentally. He really picked it up this year. He’s scored goals in big games for us.”
Just last Thursday, the Blue Tide faced North Bergen in the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament. Moreno scored a goal in regulation and knocked home the game-winning penalty kick, sending the Blue Tide into the tourney championship Thursday night at Red Bull Arena, with game time of the heated rivalry beginning at 7:30 p.m., following the Kearny-North Bergen girls’ championship game at the prestigious venue.
“He’s just been very aggressive,” Rusek said. “He’s been going after defenders well. Brando has the work ethic of a midfielder and he’s like a midfielder who is closer to the goal. He just has a knack for the goal. He just keeps getting better as he gets closer to goal. He has been gaining confidence. He’s just been fun to watch. He’s our leader and has a good competitive quality. He’s just taken it to another level.”
The Blue Tide take a 14-2-1 record into their showdown Thursday against the state’s No. 7-ranked team in the Kardinals of Kearny at Red Bull Arena.
“He just has a good personality,” Rusek said. “He’s always smiling and laughing. I don’t think we’d be where we are without him.”’
Moreno is a little shocked with his production.
“I am surprised,” Moreno said. “I knew that I had to have more than the eight I had as a freshman. I knew that I had to score more than last year. To know I have 22 is amazing. I’m very happy to learn that.”
And it comes from a lot of hard work.
“Since the winter months, I have been working in the gym every day,” Moreno said. “I worked on my balance. I worked on my legs and shoulders. I can see that I’m a lot stronger, faster and smarter. I think going to the Academy (in Orlando) helped me a lot. I’m not just a goal scorer. I’m a better player, looking for my teammates to score. Everyone has to touch the ball for us to win. The job’s not done.”
After all, Moreno is only a junior. That’s an offer no one can refuse in Harrison.
Harrison junior striker Brando Moreno has gone from zero goals last year to 22 this year, earning Athlete of the Week honors. 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.”