NORTH ARLINGTON – Kevin Barber was taking on a new challenge, taking on the head coaching duties for the North Arlington High School boys’ soccer team, replacing long-time head coach Jesse Dembowski.
Barber was the junior varsity coach and assistant to Dembowski with the NA soccer program for nine years before being elevated to the top spot this season.
And Barber was aware of one item that had to be addressed before the Vikings ever took the field for the 2021 season.
“If anyone was needed to get us going, it was Tiago,” said Barber, referring to his senior striker Tiago Alves. “He just has that drive, that itch, that touch you need to be a goal scorer. He’s a bulldog around the net. His soccer IQ is off the charts. The game just seems to be slower for him. He just sees the game that very few kids can do. He’s like another coach on the field.”
Alves realized that he was going to have increased expectations for the coming season. So to prepare for his senior campaign, he went to Portugal for a month over the summer and trained with his cousin who plays for one of the top level soccer clubs in Portugal called Braga.
“It’s a very good first division club team,” Alves said. “I knew my cousin was a great soccer player. I asked if he could help me out and he said I could come train with them. I trained with them practically every single day and I played pick-up games every day with them. It was a big help. It definitely gave me confidence, so when I came back here, I was ready.”
Alves said that he had special motivation to get ready for the season.
“We came so close last year (losing in an NJSIAA sectional title game to Technology of Newark), so I wanted to pick it up right where we left off,” Alves said. “We went right back to work with captain’s practices.”
Alves also played a lot of soccer over the summer with his club team Ironbound on the 17-and-under level.
“I felt good about our team’s chances this year,” Alves said about North Arlington’s squad. “I was training a lot, using my right foot.”
Alves is a predominantly left-footed player.
“I wanted to make my right foot as good as my left,” Alves said.
And Alves knew that his role with the Vikings was as a striker.
“With the midfield we have, they just had to send me the ball,” Alves said. “Then it was my job to find the back of the net.”
Two games into the 2021 season, Alves has found the back of the net – early and often.
Alves kicked off the season with a four-goal explosion in an 8-1 win over Hoboken and followed that great game up with a three-goal hat trick against Hasbrouck Heights in a 6-0 Viking victory.
That’s seven goals in the first week of the season. That’s some start.
Well, to start the 2021-2022 scholastic sports season, Alves has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. The weekly feature will honor the top student-athletes for the 20th season, culminating with the presentation of the Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Needless to say, Alves was just a tad shocked to have such a scoring outburst. After all, Alves scored just seven goals all of last season and he already has seven this season.
“I was surprised,” Alves said. “But I’m going to try to score seven goals every week. I have higher standards than most.”
Barber likes Alves’ determination.
“He just has that drive, that touch that you need to be a goal scorer,” Barber said. “He has that edge you like. He’s a bulldog around the net. He just goes after it. Of course, you’re surprised when someone has a week like that. What he can do is limitless.”
Barber recalled Alves’ first game as a junior varsity player against Saddle Brook.
“He scored three goals in that game,” Barber said. “I told Jesse (Dembowski) that he was not a junior varsity player anymore.”
Alves has been a member of the Viking varsity ever since.
He now hopes that his goal scoring explosion will lead to a college scholarship.
“I hope to play in college,” Alves said. “I’ve received a few e-mails from some schools. I know I can play (NCAA) Division 2 or maybe Division 1. I just have to keep playing hard. I know seven goals aren’t going to come every week, but it’s not a bad thing to shoot for. I just want to get the opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Just like his father Venacio taught him going back to when Tiago was just three years old.
“He introduced me to soccer and I just loved it,” Alves said.
And everyone in North Arlington is happy about Alves’ passion for the sport. Seven goals in one week? It’s unheard of, but it can be done, as Tiago Alves just proved it.
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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.”