• Svetlana Shkolnikova

The World Cup is an obsession in North Jersey cradle of American soccer

Every four years, around the time the World Cup kicks off, attendance at Harrison High School takes a dive.

"Tremendous absenteeism,” said Mike Dolaghan, a town councilman, maintenance supervisor for the Harrison school district and soccer aficionado. "I know from past World Cups."

Next come the country flags — propped up in windows, fluttering from cars, draped across shoulders. The streets empty once a game begins.

“This town shuts down,” said Kevin Manjarrez, president of the Harrison Futbol Club, a youth soccer organization. “You don’t see nobody here. Everyone’s home watching the games.”

In neighboring Kearny, where a street sign once welcomed visitors to "Soccer Town, U.S.A.," the main drag, Kearny Avenue, comes alive after games — particularly when Peru or Colombia wins.

“You just drive around town and everyone's got their flags up," said Michael Mara, coach and treasurer of the Thistle youth soccer club. "I know other towns don't have people riding up and down their main street beeping horns and waving flags."

Other towns don't have the history of Kearny, Harrison or their fellow West Hudson community of East Newark, where these familiar scenes have been playing out since the 2018 World Cup opened in Russia on June 14.

American soccer was born on the banks of the Passaic River in Hudson County, flourished in immigrant enclaves stretching from West Hudson to Newark's Ironbound district, and reigns as the dominant local sport and, some would argue, obsession.

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