Lia Cruz has one up on Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cruz, the daughter of Portuguese immigrants, scored the only goal in the North Arlington-Lyndhurst girls soccer match held at Red Bull Arena on Sept. 20. That was believed to be the first Bergen County high school game played at the venue in Harrison.
“When I shot it, I fell and didn’t even see it go in,” the North Arlington junior recalled a week later. “So then, when I got back up, and I saw that the ball was in the goal… it felt amazing, because it was at a professional stadium.”
Ronaldo, her favorite pro soccer player, has appeared in one match on record in New Jersey, a 2014 international friendly at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. The star of the Portuguese national team was slowed by injury and did not score in a 5-1 win over Ireland.
“I love Ronaldo,” Cruz said. “My whole life, I’ve loved playing soccer – especially scoring goals.”
And when the 5-foot-3 forward says, “my whole life,” she means it. She began playing soccer at age 3, and although she is also a member of the Vikings basketball and track programs, her favorite game remains on the pitch.
Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that Cruz is the first North Arlington soccer player (boy or girl) to be named The Record Athlete of the Week.
She tallied four goals and two assists for the week, bringing her season totals to eight goals and four assists. However, few could compare to the one she scored on the big stage.
“I was very excited, nervous, anxious,” Cruz said. “Before the game, I had so much energy, and my adrenaline kept me going.”
The 1-0 win helped North Arlington take control of the NJIC National Division, one year after it captured the Meadowlands Division title.
Cruz has another year before college discussions turn serious, but she would like to play at the next level. Her father, Jose, played up until college in Portugal.
“I just want to keep going [with soccer] in college, maybe even further,” she said. “And I think I have the potential to do it.”
School: North Arlington
Class: Junior. Age: 16
Accomplishment: Cruz became the first Bergen County high school soccer player to score a goal at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, one of four she netted in a three-game span. She added a goal and two assists in a county-tournament win over Tenafly to help the Vikings start 6-0.
Also nominated: Amber Dangelico of Cresskill, Sofia Bell of Tenafly, and Brookelyn Talmadge of Immaculate Heart for volleyball; Emmi Barkan of Cresskill for soccer; Noor Rabah of Ramapo for gymnastics; and Zoe Merryman of Mahwah for cross-country.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Bergen Record Female Athlete of the Week: Lia Cruz, North Arlington