By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Barbara Paiva was born in Brazil, entering a family that had a strong background in the sport of soccer. Her father, Adao, was a premier soccer player there. Her uncle, the late Achilles Reis, was a professional player who had a stint with the Brazilian National team.
One would think that Paiva would naturally gravitate toward the sport as well.
But that wasn’t the case.
“I was into karate,” said Paiva, who came to Kearny when she was seven years old and started playing soccer two years later.
“I thought I should give soccer a try,” Paiva said. “I always watched the sport. My dad always played. I figured, ‘Why not? I should try it.’”
Paiva tried out for the famed Kearny Thistle youth soccer program and didn’t exactly enjoy instant success.
“When I first started with it, I never expected to actually play,” Paiva said.
But Paiva became dedicated to the sport and used her father as a powerful instructor.
“I worked on the game with my dad,” Paiva said. “I always used to practice with him. He told me that I had to run more, that I had to be fast to play, so he would make me run sprints. He always made me run and I thank him every day for it.”
Adao Paiva also taught his daughter incredible ball skills.
“We used to watch Ronaldinho videos and my dad used to bring me to the park to work with the ball,” Paiva said.
It was that dribbling skill and ability to use both feet that caught the attention of Kearny High School girls’ soccer head coach Vin Almeida.
“I remember Barbara being in sixth grade and she would hang out at Harvey Field (the home field for both the Kearny boys’ and girls’ soccer teams),” Almeida said.“I used to see her juggling the ball on the side and she had such outstanding touch with the ball. I had to make sure that she came to Kearny High School. We’re very fortunate that she came.”
Incredibly, Paiva wasn’t sure she would be able to play varsity soccer.
“When I first tried out, I thought I had no chance to play,” Paiva said. “But (former assistant coach Lauren) Roemer told me that I could do it and she gave me a lot of confidence. I just started picking it up and after a while, I realized that, hey, I could play.”
Paiva has been a mainstay on the Kearny girls’ soccer program since she arrived a little more than three years ago.
As a sophomore, Paiva helped the Kardinals win the Hudson County Tournament championship, scoring four goals in the title game against Bayonne.
But that was nothing compared to what Paiva has produced this season as a senior.
Paiva has been a goal-scoring machine this year. In one game against Peddie a few weeks ago, she tallied five goals in one game.
Last week, Paiva scored nine goals, including three in a game twice against Harrison at Red Bull Arena and again against Union City in the quarterfinals of the Hudson County Tournament, taking the first step toward leading the Kardinals to their sixth straight county crown.
For her efforts, Paiva has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
On the season, Paiva has now tallied 24 goals and seven assists in 13 games, leading the Kardinals to an impressive 11-2 record thus far. She scored 25 goals all of last season and she’s within reach of the school’s single season goal record set by Stefanie Gomes three years ago.
“Yeah, I’m pretty amazed at what I’ve done this year,” Paiva said. “But I’m not worried about any record. It’s not about me. It’s for the team. I’ll do anything to help the team. But I’m not even thinking about that (a record). I kind of just go with the flow and don’t let anything get to me.”
Almeida said that he is not surprised at all by Paiva’s scoring explosion this season.
“To be honest, I expected a lot from Barbara this season,” Almeida said. “I always knew that she was really skilled. She has a lot of speed and with her ability with both feet, she is able to put it all together. I thought she could take it to another level this year. With her speed and she’s super skillful, she brings a lot to the table. When she’s clicking on all cylinders, we’re a pretty good team.”
Almeida is impressed with Paiva’s ability to shoot with both feet, a rarity in girls’ soccer.
“She’s amazing,” Almeida said. “Her right foot has always been strong, but her left foot has become very good. She can punish you with both feet. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Paiva said that she also worked hard to be able to shoot with both feet.
“Every day, I work on shooting with my left foot,” Paiva said. “I work on that in my yard, so whenever I score a goal with my left foot, I say, ‘Yeah, Dad, look at that.’ He worked on that with me, too.”
It’s safe to say that Paiva was born to play the sport.
“Yeah, it’s in my blood,” Paiva said. “It just took me a little while to realize it. Everyone else around here started playing before I did.”
Paiva has aspirations to play soccer in college. She has interest in Rutgers (coached by Kearny native Mike O’Neill), as well as Monmouth and the University of Delaware. St. Peter’s University has expressed interest in her.
“That would really make my day,” Paiva said about her chances of playing on the next level.
Paiva is already a well respected player around the state. She spent a few years playing club soccer for US Parma and now plays for the storied STA program in Morristown.
For now, her focus is solely on the Kardinals and a pursuit of both a Hudson County and NJSIAA state title.
“I just hope she’s able to keep it going,” Almeida said. “She has it all, speed, strength, technical ability. She’s definitely a better player than she was last year, in terms of her mentality and maturity. She’s also better physically. She’s just having a great season.”
One that Paiva and Almeida hope that continues straight through the rest of this month and into November.