North Arlington boys’ soccer team owns two impressive wins

Jesse Dembowski knows that the people who devise the schedules for the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference don’t generally dislike his North Arlington High School boys’ soccer team, but the NJIC schedule makers haven’t been exactly kind to the Vikings in recent years.

So when veteran head coach Dembowski saw that the new-fangled slate was totally different for 2020 due to restrictions placed upon New Jersey high school athletics because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dembowski had to just shrug his shoulders.

“We want to play our best soccer against the best teams,” Dembowski said. “I told the players that this was their time to shine. The attitudes changed for the better and they worked harder.”

Sure enough, the preseason pep talk had to have worked, because despite the horrific schedule, the Vikings have trudged on – and done quite well for that matter.

In the early stages of the season, the Vikings have tied powerful Lyndhurst, then managed to knock off perennial soccer powers Wallington and Harrison in successive games.

For a team that lost its last six games of last season, this is no small accomplishment.

Mind you, these were games dominated by defense, as the Vikings won 1-0 over Wallington and 2-1 over Harrison. In fact, the Vikings have played four games (2-1-1) and have scored a total of four goals. This is a defensive-minded team.

“We are built from the back up,” Dembowski said. “We preach defense over and over.”

But getting the win over the Blue Tide was a major accomplishment, because it was the first time since 2006 that North Arlington had defeated Harrison in boys’ soccer.

Dembowski doesn’t mind having a defensive minded team, especially with the Vikings’ last line of defense standing in goal.

Senior Tony Alho is the Vikings’ net minder and simply put, he has to rank among the top goalies in the entire state.

“We’re 100 percent confident with Tony in goal,” Dembowski said. “I know right now he’s at the top of his game.”

Still, there aren’t a lot of colleges that are looking at Alho, which is mindboggling.

“He’s still looking at some schools,” Dembowski said. “I think Tony has taken it as a challenge. Right now, he’s the best he’s ever been. He’s fine tuned.”

Alho, who is also an outstanding baseball player, collected five saves in the shutout win over Wallington and had an astounding 18 saves in the win over Harrison.

The Vikings use three defenders on the backline, spearheaded by sophomore Sean Manzo.

“He’s going to be a hell of a player for us,” Dembowski said of Manzo. “He’s fantastic. He’s not the biggest kid in the world, but he’s fearless. He wins a lot of the 50/50 balls. He plays the backline like he’s a pro. Colleges should be looking at him right now.”

The other defenders are senior Nicholas Rotondo and sophomore Tomas Custodio.

“Nick will go against the biggest kid on the field,” Dembowski said. “Tomas is a young, smart player who is going to be a monster. He has good feet and he’s strong.”

The Vikings have a host of talented players at midfield. Junior Ethan DeJesus is an attacking midfielder, looking to score. Sophomore Daniel Janosek is a good ball handler with good vision of the field.

Juniors Matthew Muchotrigo, Tiago Regatao and Tiago Alves (how many teams have two players named Tiago?) join senior Chayse Correia in the midfield. Alves has scored three of the four Viking goals thus far. Alves also concentrates on soccer all year round.

Freshman Declan Hughes has a ton of potential on the forward line. He scored the deciding goal in the win over Harrison.

Junior Shane Gilchrist adds strength to the backline when called upon. Senior Victor Batista is a skilled goal scorer who sees a lot of time.

The Vikings are missing senior Jared Velazquez, a three-year varsity player who is dealing with medical issues and his return is uncertain.

So the Vikings move on to face another tough foe in Rutherford this week. The schedule is unrelenting.

“But the win over Harrison has instilled some confidence that these kids can play with anyone,” Dembowski said. “They believe they can win these games.”

In that respect, the first battle has been won.




The North Arlington boys’ soccer team is off to a fine start, thanks to the defensive backline. From front to back, they are Sean Manzo, Shane Gilchrist, Nicholas Rotondo, Samuel Flores, Martin Ramos, Metin San, Christopher Gilmour and in goal with the ball, Tony Alho. Head coach Jesse Dembowski is in the far rear. Photo by Jim Hague

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

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.”