Kearny NJ, also known as Soccertown USA, is home to one of the most famous youth clubs in the country, Kearny Thistle United FC. As soccer grew in popularity, New Jersey was a hotbed of soccer talent, and top players were coming together in Kearny to play for Kearny Thistle.
In the 1970s, and 1980’s the club was home to some of the best and well known players in the country. At the 1994 World Cup, three players from Kearny Thistle starred on the team, John Harkes, Tab Ramos and Tony Meola. In addition, some of New Jersey's top college coaches including Rob McCourt who is head coach of Monmouth Men’s Soccer and Mike O’Neill who is head coach of Rutgers Women’s Soccer were also grew up playing with Kearny Thistle.
In the 1990’s and 2000’s, there was another generation of top players who came through the club being coached by Hugh O’Neill, a former professional player in the NASL and John Millar, one of the winningest coaches in High School soccer history. Former Red Bulls player Hugh MacDonald and Kearny High School coach Scott Millar both played for Kearny Thistle. Both players went on to Division I program Virginia Commonwealth University, where with Rob McCourt as assistant coach, helped lead the program to a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, and then Millar and MacDonald made another run in the NCAA tournament reaching the Elite 8 in 2004. They are just a couple of names of a large list of players to come from Kearny Thistle and imprint themselves in the soccer landscape.
Now, going into the 2020-2021 season, the recently rebranded Kearny Thistle United FC is led by Michael Mara, and is looking to return to being one of the elite clubs in the state and region. With the large talent pool coming out of Kearny, the future looks very promising for the club.
“It's well known that we have an unrivaled national soccer tradition here in Kearny, but we can't simply rest on that proud history. We are actively studying and learning from the past though, which is why we recently made 100 hours of FREE PLAY the cornerstone of our player development model. Summer street soccer, free play Fridays in the fall & spring + winter futsal are now coupled with high level weekly team training sessions. We are mixing ages and genders during free play and essentially recreating the old school winner stays on, playground mentality that put Kearny on the map. If you played the game in the great state of NJ, then chances are you have a story or two about playing with or against a Kearny team or player. Kearny boys and girls tend to stick out and it's my job to make sure it stays that way.
We have some really exciting things in the works right now. Our rebranding as Kearny Thistle United and renewed club energy has led to a Youth Training Partnership with the NY Red Bulls, a contract with Nike Soccer and additional partnerships with the likes of Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) and others. Most importantly we look forward to expanding our presence and actively taking advantage of all that EDP offers.”
— Michael Mara, Director Kearny Thistle United FC