While members of the Kearny boys soccer team were happy after defeating Union City, 3-0, for the Hudson County Tournament championship at Red Bull Arena on Friday night, the celebration afterward seemed just a little subdued.
Yes there were smiles, and photos and interactions with friends and family members in the crowd postgame. But within that excitement came an understanding more work and greater goals await, most notably, another state championship.
“We have bigger goals for this year and we have a lot of pressure on our back,” said senior defender and captain Michael Reis. “There were a lot of people who were talking down about us and we want to show them what we can do again.”
But before they can potentially repeat as NJSIAA Group 4 champions in the next couple of weeks, first was their defense of their county title.
And like they have so many times during its now 34-game unbeaten streak, the Kardinals not only struck early, they delivered goals in bunches.
Johan Baez’s well-placed freekick from 20-plus yards out found the head of Alejandro Alvarado, who flicked the ball over the keeper from point-blank range to make it 1-0 in the 22nd minute.
“He just plays an amazing ball into the box,” Alejandro said. “He always gets it to me in a good area and I’m able to finish it.”
“Half of our goals have come on set pieces from me to Alejandro,” said Baez. “We know the ritual, put one behind them and just keep it going every time.”
Less than four minutes later, Baez did keep it going.
Kearny was awarded a penalty kick after being fouled in the box. Baez then walked up and sent a left-footed shot into the lower-right corner to make it 2-0.
“I think everybody knows that when it comes to PKs I step up to it. I always have the confidence to step up to it no matter what,” Baez said. “I was a little shaky, but I knew what I was stepping into and I knew I had to put one into the net.”
“We’re like sharks. We get one and then we keep going and going and going,” said Alvarado. “That’s what I love about this team. We don’t get one goal, we get multiple.”
From there, the game was comfortably in hand with the Kardinals defense rarely challenged. Alvarado added another goal, his 22nd of the season, in the 63rd minute, providing the exclamation point on Kearny’s seventh Hudson County title. Kearny has now gone more than two years since its last loss to a county opponent, a streak that is now 33 games.
But despite such success, these Kardinals know they have to further up their game in the state tournament, as it competes in one of the state’s deepest sections — North 1, Group 4.
Brackets for the state tournament are set to be announced on Monday, Oct. 24, after publication, but based on the current power point standings, Kearny is set to be seeded third and projected to play perennial state power Montclair in the first round on Thursday.
“I believe we’re playing our best, but we have to keep on getting better every day,” Reis said. “No matter what, you can always improve.”
“We’re not at the top yet, we’re still going,” said Alvarado. “We’re not at our best, but we’re playing very, very well. We’re playing well against the good teams and we’re showing that we can compete with anyone in the state.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.