By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Most soccer players dream of being the goal scorer, the one who blasts the ball into the back of the net, then can do a leap of joy into the arms of a waiting teammate.
But Kevin Villanueva isn’t like most players.
The Harrison senior center midfielder is much happier making the pass that leads to the goals for his Blue Tide teammates. Villanueva would rather collect an assist than score the goal, a complete rarity.
“It’s just the way that I was taught to play,” Villanueva said. “I want my friends to be the ones who get the ball. It’s just the way I grew up. My favorite team is Barcelona and that’s the way they play. They’re all unselfish and that’s the way I want to play.”
It’s an approach that pleases Harrison head coach Mike Rusek.
“I think that just speaks a lot about the type of kid he is,” Rusek said of Villanueva. “I feel that he would have the ability to score 20 goals, but that’s not his nature. We’re lucky to have a player like Kevin. We have a lot of unselfish players and that’s the reason why we’ve had such great success this season. But Kevin is the leader.”
The Blue Tide, already the winner of the Hudson County Tournament championship, currently owns an impressive unbeaten 19-0-1 record as they begin the next step, the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state tournament this week.
And there’s no question that Villanueva is a major reason why Harrison is ranked among the top 20 in the state (No. 11 overall) and the top seed in the sectional. The Blue Tide will play host to Ridgefield Park on Wednesday in the first round.
“He is our captain,” Rusek said. “I think our team gets a lot of its traits from its leader. It’s a very unselfish team and that comes from him. Kevin just wants to win and he wants the team to succeed. I don’t think we could do what we have done without Kevin and the way he plays.”
Villanueva has scored six goals this season, but has amassed an incredible 24 assists. He’s just three assists shy of the school record set by All-State superstar Cristhian Acuna when Acuna was the state Player of the Year in 2004.
In the last week alone, Villanueva registered eight assists in three games, all Harrison victories.
For his efforts, Villanueva has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Villanueva loves his role with the team, collecting assist after assist as the Blue Tide collects win after win.
“I don’t really pay attention to who gets the assists,” Villanueva said. “I just play for the team. As long as we get the job done and win, nothing else matters. I believe I’m an unselfish player and I don’t mind, because I know I couldn’t get the job done without the rest of the team.”
Villanueva said that his teammates are very grateful that he supplies great setups for goals.
“They always come up to me and say that it was half my goal,” Villanueva said. “I don’t see it that way. I know it’s their goal. Whoever finishes gets the goal.”
But Rusek realizes the importance of Villanueva and the unique approach he provides.
“Really, in all the players I’ve ever coached, I don’t I’ve ever had a player like Kevin,” Rusek said. “He’s very unique in that he concentrates on his passing more than any other aspect on the field.”
Rusek believes that Villanueva can make any kind of pass _ as has been proven in the last few weeks.
For example, it was Villanueva who provided the assists on both of Jose Neto’s goals in the 2-0 victory over Memorial in the county championship game two weeks ago.
“Kevin put the ball low so that Jose could make the play on both goals,” Rusek said.
But Villanueva also precisely puts the ball high at times so that multi-talented center back Modou Sowe can get his head on the pass in order to score off set pieces.
“Kevin is special because he can make the adjustments on his passing to the type of team we have,” Rusek said. “I think it’s because he’s so intelligent as a soccer player. It’s remarkable what he’s been able to do.”
It’s also no fluke, considering that Villanueva contributed 25 assists last season.
“We really didn’t know what we were getting from him,” Rusek said. “So last year he was a surprise. Now, as a senior, we could only hope he could match what he did, but he’s going to do better.”
Plus, the team is better overall because of his solid play.
“It’s amazing,” Villanueva said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this. I love being able to help my team. It’s really fun to celebrate their goals.”
Villanueva would love to be able to continue his soccer career on the next level.
“I have my fingers crossed that someone will notice me,” said Villanueva, who considers himself a “decent student.”
Rusek believes Villanueva would be a good college player.
“He has to find a coach and a program that fits his style,” Rusek said. “He wants to become a teacher, so he needs to find the right school.”
For now, Villanueva will look to lead the Blue Tide to another title.
“He’s the type of kid who you don’t realize how important he is until he’s gone,” Rusek said. “He’s going to be missed. He’s very special.”
And if the Blue Tide scores a goal, chances are that it is Villanueva who made the perfect pass.
“I think the whole team goes insane every time we score a goal,” Villanueva said. “We celebrate every goal with such emotion. If I had something to do with it, then it’s fine with me. It’s all fun for me.”