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Hudson County title game brings players and families down the street to RBA

Kearny takes boys and girls titles on rival turf in Harrison

Kearny High School (left) and Harrison High School (right) line up for the Hudson County title game at Red Bull Arena last week.
Photo by Mike Battista

If I started an article by saying a red team won a major trophy at Red Bull Arena over a blue team, you’d probably be happy. If I added that the red team lost a one goal lead in the second half, saved a penalty kick with three minutes to go, and won in overtime with a casual header, I’d expect many New York Red Bulls fans would say they heard this story before. In this case though it might come as a shock to know the other guys were kind of the home team darlings.

That’s what happened on Thursday night when Harrison High School played Kearny High School for the Hudson County Tournament championship. The Harrison Blue Tide put up a valiant effort but fell, 2-1, to the Kardinals in extra time thanks to a golden goal from Nico Gomez. The junior midfielder headed in a long free kick from teammate Alan Antonelli just under two minutes into extra time.

Kearny (16-1-1 and ranked seventh in the state) earned it’s sixth Hudson County title and first since 2017. Harrison (15-3-1) was seeking its third championship and first since 2013. The Kearny High women’s team also took home a title, defeating North Bergen High School, 4-0, in the prior game to win their county title for a 12th consecutive time.

Kardinals’ head coach Bill Galka spoke to OaM after the match after celebrating with his players and the happier half of the 4,300 in attendance.

“We’re delighted of course. We’re happy as hell. It could have gone the other way with the penalty kick at the end… It was a great battle, our guys stayed in it. It was a back and forth game, we had chances (and) they had chances.

“We didn’t just get through it, we played well.”

The Kardinals had the majority chances in the game, finishing up the first half by outshooting the Blue Tide six to two. Their hard and fast play out possessed the Tide’s precision passing offense. Harrison played with five in the back with two advancing wingers but Kearny’s aggressive play was able to cut through the midfield for the most part. It gave way when senior Dalton Davilla patiently held a feed inside the box before striking a shot into the right post and past keeper Emiliano Torres.

Kearny takes a corner kick in Thursday’s boys title game.
Photo by Mike Battista

The way half the stadium lit up after that was awesome to see. It’s funny to say loud cheering can sound different but high school sports have a different sound to it’s celebration than professional ones. Being at RBA helped that a lot and Harrison has plenty of experience at the venue. The Blue Tide, both boys and girls, have played at least one game a year at the arena nearly every year since 2011.

“We’re glad to be back,” Harrison principal Matthew Weber said to OaM. “It’s been a few years since we’ve been here and we’re glad to be back in the arena. It feels like familiar territory”

What’s funny about this game is that the game wasn’t even originally scheduled for the arena. After Kearny advanced over Hoboken the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League needed a neutral site for the game. One option being floated around was using Jersey City’s Lincoln Park but quick discussions with the team and arena allowed both championship games to be played in Harrison.

It was the best call and the atmosphere was only helped by the fact that the Kearny and Harrison rivalry is great. Two schools, one mile apart, where almost everyone knows each other. Parents dawn their old varsity jackets and meet with old friends. The people they know as neighbors are suddenly on the other side of yellow caution tape and rooting for the other guys. It’s the kind of thing that only happens in small communities and West Hudson is the perfect breeding ground for it.

We’ve all heard a story or two about Red Bulls fans becoming New York City FC fans when the Bronx club was formed, turning the early Hudson River Derbies into civil wars of former friends. But when it comes to Kardinals against Tide it’s actually kids who grew up playing the game together, sometimes on the same travel teams, sitting on opposite sides of a field. Watching the highlights on YouTube might bring back memories of seeing Red Bulls II play in the arena to small crowds. But in person it’s dumb fun and the Harrison crowd will always turn out for it whether it’s against Kearny or someone else.

It was no shock that in that crowd of familiar faces one stood above them all. Former Tide player and current Red Bulls striker Omar Sowe attended the match with his family to support his old school. Sowe, who leads Harrison all time in goals (89) and assists (67) and signed with the first team earlier this season, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face while talking to his old coaches and teachers. Harrison has the unique chance to play one game a year normally at the arena and the RBNY star had multiple games on the same field he now calls home between 2015 & 2018.

Red Bulls forward Omar Sowe (in MLS jersey on bench) supported his alma mater in Thursday’s title game.
Photo by Mike Battista

“It makes us very, very proud,” said Weber. “We’re really psyched to see how much he’s accomplished and he always remembers where he’s from. He’s proud of his Harrison roots. He makes us proud every day.”

For their part his old team fought back. For the second half the game slid more in Harrison’s favor as they picked up speed. Multiple breaks down the field resulted in few shots but were one step away from beating either the final defender or keeper Joshua Rodriguez. Head coach Michael Rusek continued to push players up like freshman forward Yusufu Jaite. With just over eight minutes to go it paid off for the Tide after consecutive shots off the crossbar finally found sophomore Eann Vieira who evened the game at 1-1 each.

“The game is going on and it’s hard to stop momentum for either team. You got it rolling, but the other team can get it rolling pretty good (too). You need to soak up the pressure and try to get some rhythm yourself in the game. We took some pressure from them, (especially) at the end when they were breaking us down, and our guys were shouting at each other and keeping mentally alert because you’re getting tired. We knew we’d be getting tired, everybody is getting tired in a game like that with the size of the field.”

With three minutes to go that Harrison push nearly paid off again. Sophomore forward Diego Flores-Sanchez dripped into the box while being challenged by a defender. A tug of the jersey sent him down for a penalty, but his attempt was shot right at Rodriguez who covered it quickly to stop any chance for a rebound. After the match Flores had the most emotion on his face as players from both sides hugged and consoled him.

Kearny now moves onto the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 Tournament as the top seed. They’ll host 16-seed Barringer High School (Newark) tomorrow (November 1st) in Kearny.