When Nico Gomez was a little boy, he would constantly go to Red Bull Arena to watch his favorite team, the New York Red Bulls, play.
So when Gomez learned that his Kearny High School soccer team was getting the incredible opportunity to play at the area’s soccer Mecca last Thursday night in the Hudson County Tournament finale against arch rival Harrison, the junior forward was more than thrilled.
“I came here every weekend when I was little,” Gomez said. “I always watched the Red Bulls and dreamed what it would be like to play here. It was like a dream come true.”
Gomez’s dream became even more of a reality when he was able to get his dyed-blond head onto an incredible 55-yard crossing pass from Alan Castillo just 1:09 into the overtime session for the game-winning golden goal, giving Kearny a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Blue Tide before 4,300 vocal and avid fans at Red Bull Arena.
The Kardinals (16-1-1) drew first blood with a goal in the 25th minute from Dalton Davila off a fine corner pass from Juan Rojas and that goal stood up for most of the contest.
But then the upstart Blue Tide (16-3-1) took command of the game and got most of the good scoring chances. Leading scorer Brando Moreno had a great shot on a direct free kick with 12 minutes left, but Kearny’s brilliant goalkeeper Joshua Rodriguez made the save. The tide was turning for the Blue Tide.
Four minutes later, the Blue Tide finally got through. With 8:41 remaining, Moreno took a shot that clanked off the crossbar, but an alert Eann Vieira was there to knock home the rebound to tie the game at 1-1.
The game remained that way, but it looked as if the Blue Tide were going to get the upset win.
With 3:34 remaining in regulation, Blue Tide sophomore forward Diego Flores was pulled down in the penalty box and was awarded a penalty kick, much to the chagrin of the Kearny sideline.
Harrison head coach Mike Rusek thought that Flores was going to be able to win the game right there.
“He’s a good penalty kick taker,” Rusek said. “I was confident with him stepping up and taking the kick. We wanted it in that kid’s hands.”
The left-footed Flores took a hard shot, but Rodriguez in goal made a sensational save, catching the ball under his left armpit, not even allowing a rebound.
“We just hoped that Josh would be able to stop it,” Kearny head coach Bill Galka said. “We have a lot of faith in him. He did well to stop it and even handle it.”
That save seemed to turn the momentum over to the Kardinals’ side.
As the game headed toward overtime, no one knew how long the game would go on.
As it turned out, it wasn’t long.
Castillo was fouled around midfield and was able to take a free kick. He unleashed a perfect bomb to the right corner of the goal mouth.
“I just put it in front of the goal,” Castillo said. “It was the plan to get it to the middle of the box.”
“Alan strikes a great long ball,” Galka said. “It was straight on line.”
As the ball traveled toward the goal, Gomez saw it all the way.
“I’m not the tallest guy in the world, but I knew I could get to it,” Gomez said. “I just saw the ball and flicked at it. Maybe there was a little luck involved.”
Gomez got enough of his blond locks on Castillo’s cross to get it past Blue Tide net minder Emiliano Torres to set off the improbable frenzy that came with the golden goal.
“I really didn’t know what was going on this year,” Gomez said. “It’s my first year with the varsity. I never expected to get a chance like this. It’s just something you dream about. I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
Galka realized the magnitude of the win against the arch rival on a grand stage.
“It was a tremendous game,” Galka said. “First, it was a dream to play here. And we scored a tremendous goal. I’m glad Nico got a chance to get at it.”
Truly, a dream come true.
Of course, Rusek was disappointed with the setback.
“We gave everyone a good show,” Rusek said. “I think there are a lot of positive things our kids can take out of this. It was like a heavyweight boxing match. It wasn’t a Hollywood script, but if we can compete at this level, I feel very confident moving forward in the state tournament.”
Kearny earned the top seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV tournament and was slated to face Barringer in the first round of the sectional Monday. Harrison was given the second seed in North Jersey Section 2, Group II bracket and was slated to face Morris County Tech Monday. If the two teams are victorious, they will both play home games on Thursday at 2 p.m.
Lyndhurst is the No. 4 seed in the same section as the Blue Tide. The Golden Bears were scheduled to face Technology of Newark in the first round of that section also on Monday. If the Golden Bears won, they also will have a home match Thursday against the winner of Lodi-McNair Academic of Jersey City.
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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.”