North Arlington’s Neves a goal-scoring force

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington senior forward Cristiano Neves.
Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington senior forward Cristiano Neves.

Two years ago, Cristiano Neves was a defender on the Newark East Side High School soccer team.

But Neves wasn’t exactly a happy camper back then.

“I really didn’t like playing defense,” Neves said. “I think I’m better as a forward.”

Luckily for Neves, his family moved to North Arlington and he enrolled as a junior at North Arlington High School.

It didn’t take long for North Arlington head boys’ soccer coach Jesse Dembowski to realize that Neves had to be a part of the Vikings’ offensive attack.

“He’s unbelievable with his ball control,” Dembowski said. “He has great ball control. He knows where to place the ball. He has the size and he has the playmaking skills. He also has incredible determination. He strives to go to the goal all the time.”

Neves played midfield for the Vikings last season and scored 26 goals and registered nine assists. So much for being a defender.

“I knew that the team lost some of their best players to graduation, so I had to be more of a playmaker and goal scorer,” Neves said.

That’s exactly what Neves did, as he scored goal after goal, establishing a reputation as an offensive wizard.

“He can move the ball well,” Dembowski said. “He has a hard shot and he has a precise shot. He knows how to strike the ball and where to place it. He’s a workhorse. He never gives up on a ball and never stops running.”

When plans were being made for the 2015 season, Neves knew that he had to take on an advanced role.

“During the summer, I tried to get everyone together for captains’ practices,” Neves said. “I felt like everyone was committed. I wanted us to come together. We needed to get more wins.”

Neves said that he was attempting to play a more versatile position on the field.

“I tried to get back and help the midfield,” Neves said. “I had to make sure that the rest of the team got the marks off me. I had to see what I could do to help the team.”

That wasn’t easy. With a reputation of being a top goal scorer, Neves was sure to be a marked man and the center of attention.

“He knew he was going to be marked closely,” Dembowski said. “But he was still very determined.”

Neves has been a consistent force for the Vikings this season, leading them to a 12-5 record.

As the second-seeded Vikings prepare for their first game in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I this Friday, facing the winner of the first-round match between Becton Regional and Technology of Newark, Neves has been scoring at least one goal in every single game.

“It’s really unbelievable how he’s been able to score,” Dem bowski said. “He’s being marked so closely and he’s still putting in goal after goal. He’s been unstoppable up front.”

Neves started the season with consecutive hat tricks against Paterson Charter and Saddle Brook, then has scored at least one goal in every game.

In a recent game against Hasbrouck Heights, Neves tallied four goals, but he’s kept his goal-scoring streak alive, scoring one goal against Wood-Ridge, Wallington and Weehawken.

For his efforts, Neves has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Neves, who has tallied 27 goals and collected seven assists this season, said that he was caught off guard with the goal-scoring barrage.

“I’m really surprised that I’ve been scoring a lot of goals lately,” Neves said. “I feel like everyone on the team is stepping up and helping me. I think we play well together. I know I have to stay patient and just play the game. I can’t get frustrated and have to stay positive. I feel that there are a lot of nice people in North Arlington, people who really love the game. When I was at East Side, I didn’t have that. I would go to the park and no one would want to play. But when I come to the park here, there are always people who want to play. That helps me.”

Neves said that he has hopes to play soccer on the college level. He has recently received some attention from New Jersey City University.

“I spoke with the coaches there,” Neves said. “I would love to play in college.”

“He’s kind of unsure of what he wants to do,” Dembowski said. “But I think he can definitely play.”

For now, Neves is going to continue his run leading the Vikings. With the state playoffs about to start, one loss and it all comes to an end.

“I’m really happy with the way things have gone here,” Neves said. “It really has worked out well.”

The proof is in the pudding. Twenty-seven goals this year to go with 26 a year ago proves that Cristiano Neves is a goal scorer supreme – and North Arlington is glad to have him.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
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Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”