By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After graduating from Harrison High School in 2004 as one of the best soccer goalkeepers in the high school’s history, Raphael Viana always hoped he could return to his alma mater as a coach.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Viana said.
Well, that chance has occurred, as the 28-year-old Viana has been named as the new girls’ soccer coach at Harrison, replacing Annemarie Sacco, who held the position for two seasons.
Viana – who now owns his own soccer company and training school called Go2Soccer in Livingston with another former Harrison great, Tony Dominguez – heard that the head coaching position for the girls’ team might be available.
“(Harrison athletic director) Kim Huaranga called me and said that the position was open,” said Viana, who was in goal for some of the Blue Tide’s state champions in 2001 and 2002. “(Harrison boys’ soccer head coach) Mike (Rusek) might have whispered something in my ear to tell me that if I had interest, that I should call.”
A few phone calls later and Viana was appointed to the position.
He was asked if there was any problem coaching girls’ soccer after being around the boys’ game for so long.
“I don’t look at it any differently,” Viana said. “The girls are athletes as well, first and foremost. Like any other good athlete, you know that if you’re going to play soccer in Harrison, you know what you need to do. You have to have the kind of program that commands respect. There’s nothing better than getting the chance to work in my hometown. It’s a place I have an affinity for and I’m getting a chance to give something back.”
In recent years, Viana had been coaching travel soccer teams in Millburn while starting his business. But now, it’s all about coming home.
Viana said that he learned most about coaching soccer from the current Harrison coaching staff, namely the Rusek brothers, Mike and John.
“I learned so much from those guys,” Viana said. “It’s where I get my coaching from. They had success right away and I hope to have the same kind of success.”
Viana hopes that his experiences as a Harrison soccer player will go a long way as a coach.
“I think it has to help a little bit,” Viana said. “They can see me and think that he went through the same thing, that he’s from here and that he knows what it takes to do it. I’m a Harrison kid. I know that Harrison kids are a little different than anyone else. I think having that edge can only help me with the girls.”
Viana attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Florham Park after leaving Harrison. He played soccer for two years there. He had a stint as a volunteer assistant with the boys’ soccer team at Harrison after graduating from FDU-Florham.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to come back home,” Viana said. “There’s something about spending the afternoons in September and October with Harrison soccer. It’s a little surreal that it’s all coming together for me being here.”
Viana said that he’s had a few workouts with the girls since taking over.
“It’s all been pretty positive,” Viana said. “We had a week in late June where we got together and we’ve been getting together twice a week recently. The response has been great.”
Viana said that as many as 40 girls have shown interest in playing soccer this fall.
Viana believes that he can turn things around in a hurry.
“I think they just needed to be coached properly,” Viana said. “I have to make them believe they can win. It’s a nice group to work with.”
Viana was asked what kind of team he expects to field this fall.
“It’s tough to be a defensive- minded team coming from Harrison,” Viana said. “I think it all depends on what style the team allows us to play. We’re from Harrison. We’re going to take some risks. But at the end of the day, I was a goalie, so defense is always in my mind.”
Viana said that he is eager to get practices started for real next month.
“I’m really excited to get this going,” Viana said. “We have to get this program where it should be. I’m not here to be here a year. I’m here to build a program. We’re coming in and we want to win every year. We have to believe we can win a state championship. I’m really excited to think we can do that. We have the right tools in the shed. They just need to be a little sharpened.”
Seems like someone wants to instill the Harrison winning ways in the girls’ soccer program right away – the only way Raphael Viana knows how.