As Harrison head coach Mike Rusek and his brother John look at their roster they notice a potential problem that virtually every other boys soccer coach in the state wishes they had to deal with.
“I think we’re going to be challenged a lot by how many different kids we have to get time on the field,” Rusek said. “When you’re returning 15, 16 guys, there’s not much room on the roster. This could be a year where a kid or two who normally make the roster, might be on JV or playing both (JV and varsity).
“We want to try different systems, we want to try different lineups, we want to try different kids in different places. We’ll probably be doing a lot of experimenting (early) to see what’s clicking.”
With the majority of the roster back from last year’s 17-4-1 squad and several promising underclassmen coming up through the system. Rusek sees a Blue Tide team that potentially is as deep as the 2013 and 2014 teams, which went an incredible 46-4-1 and won state and Hudson County championships.
“A lot of those kids experienced a great Harrison season that unfortunately was cut short unexpectedly,” said Rusek of the 2021 campaign which saw the Blue Tide take eventual Group 4 champion Kearny to overtime in the Hudson County final, but was upset by Caldwell in the second round of the state tournament. “I’m hoping that they’re hungry to make sure that we have another great regular season and then we perform even better in the state tournament.
“I really feel like this is the team that can make that big state tournament run. I haven’t seen a team of juniors and seniors this deep and this solid since probably 2013 and 14.”
Regardless of alignment, one player sure to generate significant attention from opposing defenses is senior striker Brando Moreno, a four-year varsity player, who led the team in scoring a season ago with 24 goals and 12 assists, and is sure to face heavier defensive scrutiny this year.
“He is a talented offensive player and he’ll be a senior leader for us,” Rusek said. “A kid like Brando might not come away with the amount of goals he did last year, but he’s going to be even more important because he’s going to draw definitely one player, possibly two away from the rest of our team. I think Brando is kind of used to it.”
Two of the big beneficiaries of the attention directed at Moreno should be senior forward Fabrizio Sousa, a converted midfielder, who scored 13 goals last season, as well as promising sophomore Yusuf Jaite, who had eight goals and eight assists in limited action. Adriano David da Silva, the leading scorer on the JV team last year, will also work his way into the mix.
Junior Diego Sanchez returns as the Blue Tide’s attacking midfielder after posting 15 goals and 10 assists in a breakout sophomore season.
Gabriel Reis (eight goals, 14 assists), a four-year varsity performer is an outside midfielder, who can play all over the field. Junior Eann Vieira will start at the other outside spot after displaying a knack for the clutch moment with goals in the Hudson County Tournament against Kearny and North Bergen.
“They’re both fun to watch and we hope part of our attack is to get the ball out of the middle,” said Rusek. “We really feel like our two outside guys would be center midfielders at a lot of other places. We want to get the ball out to them as much as possible and we want to attack from the outside.”
Senior Dylan Huseinovic, a standout at center back last year, shifts up to the holding midfield spot, but could also see time at his previous spot as well. Senior Carlos Moreno, a holding midfielder last season, is poised to see time at various spots in the midfield this fall.
Promising sophomore Joel Rueda and freshman Christian Barrios have excelled during the offseason and are primed to see meaningful minutes. Another midfielder will be Renzo Chung, who moved from Texas, but is the son and nephew of former Harrison soccer standouts.
Junior Anthony Bento, a starter last year, returns to anchor the defense at center back along with juniors Randy Abarca and William Olmedo, who have experience at multiple spots. Junior Cesar Escobar will man one of the outside spots after getting valuable minutes a year ago. Junior Leonardo Betancourth, a transfer from St. Benedict’s is poised for a big role at the other outside spot. Seniors Angel Gonzalez and Deangelo Vargas bring experience to the back line and are sure to see plenty of time.
The goalkeeper spot is currently a three-way battle between a trio of talented juniors. Ismael Kone did a solid job as the backup a season ago, but Jonathan Hermo has opened eyes this summer as has Ariel Lopez after that latter two had standout years at JV.
Harrison’s pursuit of a 26th state championship begins on Sept. 13, when it hosts perennial Group 1 contender Wallington in a NJIC crossover contest.
“I really think that last year left them all wanting more and that’s a good thing,” said Rusek. “You’re hoping this year they really come back and try to dominate every game and really make things happen.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)