NORTH ARLINGTON – Kevin Barber had definitely paid his dues. Barber spent eight years as an assistant coach with the North Arlington High School boys’ soccer program, so when long-time head coach and friend Jesse Dembowski decided he was stepping aside, Barber was poised to step up and take over.
“It was easy,” Barber said. “Working with Jesse was easy. This is his program. I’m just sort of picking up the ball and running with it.”
Barber has been coaching all kinds of sports on all kinds of levels for all that time. He coached freshman basketball, junior varsity baseball, bowling, varsity golf, you name it. His wife, Jessica, coaches track and field and cheerleading at the school. They might be the first couple of North Arlington sports.
And Barber comes from coaching genes. His father, Kevin, was a long-time teacher and coach at Harrison High School and his late grandfather, Artie, was the long-time boys’ soccer coach at Harrison, the architect of 12 state championships with the Blue Tide.
“I’m about 12 state championships behind my grandfather,” Barber joked.
So when Dembowski told Barber of his plans to step down, Barber didn’t know what to expect.
“I came home and talked to Jessica about it,” Barber said. “I really didn’t know what I wanted.”
Finally, Barber decided to do the right thing and take over the Vikings.
“We have great kids in a good program,” Barber said. “It’s actually a credit to our great Rec (North Arlington Recreation) program. I’ve coached many of these kids on JV.”
The Vikings lost a good group of seniors to graduation, including the 2020-2021 Observer Male Athlete of the Year Tony Alho, currently a student and not an athlete at Seton Hall University. Alho was the starting goalkeeper for all four years of his days at NA, earning All-North Jersey Interscholastic Conference honors three times.
“It’s always difficult to lose seniors,” Barber said. “They were good kids who would work their tails off. I think a lot of that has rubbed off on this team.”
Two juniors, Angel Arce and Patrick Lind, will share the duties in goal.
“We have two goalies who are very good,” Barber said. “They push each other and they make each other better. Tony’s name doesn’t even come up with us. He’s as irreplaceable as they come, but Angel and Pat can do the job. We’re not looking for the next Tony Alho. We just want them to be the best Angel and the best Pat they can be.”
The Vikings will utilize three defenders, which is more of a testament to junior standout Sean Manzo more than anything else. Manzo is a captain as a junior, which should tell you a little about Manzo’s leadership skills.
“As soon as tryouts began three years ago, we all knew that Sean was never going to play JV,” Barber said. “He’s an amazing player. And when he speaks, people listen.”
A lot like the old E.F. Hutton commercials, although Barber is so young that he doesn’t remember those popular ads.
“It’s going to be fun to watch and see what Sean can do,” Barber said.
Seniors Shane Gilchrist and Christopher Gilmour are the other two defenders. Gilchrest started last year.
“Just having the experience of Shane and Sean means so much to us,” Barber said.
The Vikings are talented in the midfield as well. Junior Tomas Custodio is more of a defensive midfielder, but he can move the ball up and down the field.
“We’re going to move him around,” Barber said.
Senior Matthew Muchotrigo is another of the team’s captains.
“He’s a distributor who should score some as well,” Barber said.
Senior Ethan DeJesus is another solid ball distributor in the midfield.
“He’s so tall that he’s going to get to a lot of balls in the air,” Barber said. “We have to use that height to our advantage.”
Senior Tiago Regatao is “fast and smart,” according to Barber. “He played forward last year, so he’s one of those utility guys you need in order to win.”
Sophomore Declan Hughes is another versatile player.
“We don’t have to worry about him,” Barber said. “He’s a coach’s son.”
The forward line has already combined to score eight goals – in one match.
Senior Tiago Alves tallied four goals in the Vikings’ 8-1 win over Hoboken in the season opener.
“He was so pumped for the season,” Barber said. “He kept hounding me with e-mails throughout the offseason, asking me, ‘What can I do?’ It was every day. He’s going to be so difficult to play against.”
Four goals in one game should be enough of a message to Viking opponents.
Junior Daniel Janosek tallied two goals in the season opener.
“He’s a good shooter,” Barber said. “He’s good with both feet. He’s just an all-around good soccer player.”
And Vincent Richard also scored two goals from his forward position.
Junior Mert Kutlutan is a solid midfielder who can also play forward. Freshman Hugo Rojas is a transfer from Kearny who will contribute right away.
Barber knows that this team has the makings of being something special.
“The majority of these kids went undefeated while on JV,” Barber said. “They have taken what they learned on that level and brought it to varsity.”
And taken what they learned from the coach, who is now running the show with the varsity. It’s Kevin Barber’s show now. He’s proven that he’s ready.
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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.”