Despite losing in the playoffs, the Teamsters’ season was seen as a success to players, coaches, and ownership. The season started in April on rocky ground. It tied its first match at Don Ahern Veterans Stadium, where the team plays home games, and lost the following two. That was when owners Alex and Sibrina Geraldino decided to go with a new goalie, Michael Mejia, 19, of North Bergen. Since then, the team won eight games and lost two, propelling it into the playoffs.
Players, who try out for the team throughout the year, are an eclectic mix of local kids and out-of-towners, some as far as South and Central America. The Teamsters play against teams in the Northeast Conference of the American Division in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL).But team members also want to make it to the next level, whether that is Division 1 college soccer or a professional team.
“Being goalie is more of a leadership position,”said Mejia, who attended North Bergen High School. “You have to see the whole field and be mentally strong. Missing a goal can cost you the game.”
His performance in Division 3 college soccer and with the Teamsters led to recruitment by Fairleigh Dickinson, where he will transfer this fall to play in Division 1. “That’s everyone’s goal, to play at the next level,” Mejia said.
New coach develops players
Like many other players on the team, Mejia played for Hudson United Football Club (FC) in Union City under Javier Romero, the Teamsters new coach. Romero, of Jersey City, cofounded United Football FC, which was for middle school and high school boys.
“This has been quite a good transition because now I’m dealing with adults,” said Romero, who is accustomed to working with teenagers as an assistant varsity coach at Saint Peter’s Prep in Jersey City and with the Hudson United FC. “This program takes a lot more commitment,and the level of competition is definitely a lot higher than I thought coming in.”
With the play at an elevated level, Romero has taken his coaching to a new level, as well. He and the coaching staff are developing players through film sessions and are getting ahead of the competition by scouting opposing teams. But one of his greatest assetsis his familiarity with the community and the players.
“The county has been dying for a local team.” – Roberto Chernez
“It feels good playing with these guys,” said Darwin Cruz, 24, of Bayonne.“I can understand playing with them because I’ve done it before. You feel like you’re home again.” He plays center-midfield for the Teamsters and graduated from Bayonne High School in 2012 before going on to play Division 3 at William Patterson University and at the Hudson United FC. “Especially coming from Bayonne, it’s good to get our city out there and our names out there.”
“The county has been dying for a local team,” said Roberto Chernez, 24, of Jersey City.Chernez is a private investigator and high school soccer coach. “After high school, a lot of kids have to make the decision whether to continue playing or to stop altogether. This is a big commitment, and we set high expectations for players, but it fits that need.”
The team’s success has been a welcome surprise to everyone.
“No one expected much out of a new team,” Chernez said. “To be the best, you have to beat the best. Hopefully we’ll make a name for ourselves in the process.”
The NJ Teamsters live-stream all its games on its website at njteamstersfc.com.
Soccer on the rise
According to a Gallup poll from December 2017, soccer’s popularity has tripled in the last decade, falling two percent behind baseball and four percent behind basketball. Seven percent of U.S. adults surveyed called soccer their favorite sport.
The primary cohort pushing soccer’s popularity are millennials. According to the poll, soccer is the second most popular sport among 18- to 34-year-olds. About a third of millennial Latino-Americans, like much of Hudson County’s youth population, are soccer fans, according to a 2017 report from Simmons Research.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.