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Alvarez led Ripon to its first TVL title

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Ripon High's Roberto Alvarez

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

POSTED December 31, 2013 2:07 a.m.

Roberto Alvarez’s soccer career began, and nearly ended, with the Manteca Area Soccer League.

“I started playing when I was around 5. I really didn’t want to play after a while because I was getting knocked down a lot and kids were chopping at my feet,” Alvarez said.

He stuck with it.

Good decision.

Alvarez could have a big future as a soccer player. He spent his first two-plus years of high school playing for the San Jose Earthquakes Youth Academy and made his one-and-done run with the Ripon High team count. The ultra-talented 6-foot-1 senior led the Indians to their first-ever Trans-Valley League championship and first Sac-Joaquin Section home playoff victory this past fall.

Alvarez is the Manteca Bulletin’s 2013 All-Area MVP and perhaps the greatest player to come out of Ripon.

“We have had some good players in my 11 years of coaching at Ripon,” Ripon head coach Jamie DeBruyn said. “He takes the cake by a longshot.”

And at one point, DeBruyn thought it was a longshot to ever get Alvarez on the team. That’s because Alvarez was contractually obligated to compete solely for the Earthquakes Academy, which requires its players to train four days a week and play games on the weekends. The Major League Soccer club’s youth program selects the top players who try out from the Bay Area, Sacramento area and Central Valley. Manteca High’s Alex Hernandez is currently on the under-16 roster.

“I couldn’t play for any other team, including high school, but it was fun,” Alvarez said. “A lot of hard work was put in for me to get there. They showed me a lot of new things and improved the way I play, pretty much. It was an amazing experience that only few get to experience.”

Alvarez left the Earthquakes Academy during his junior year, when a groin injury sidelined him for two months and cost him playing time on his return. Their loss was Ripon’s gain.

DeBruyn can’t help but wonder what would have been had he had him for all four years. He does know the Indians would not have won a league title without him.

“We did add a lot of new faces this year that helped us overall, but without him we don’t win a lot of our close games,” DeBruyn said. “You watch him for 5-10 minutes and you know that he’s the most dominant player out there. I don’t care what team he plays on, they’re going to be better with him.”

DeBruyn shared that sentiment with other TVL coaches, making the case for Alvarez to be the league’s MVP. That Alvarez only played one year for his high school ultimately went against him. The distinction was instead bestowed to Hilmar’s Osiris Guerrero, who certainly had his own case by being the section’s third leading goal scorer.

“I knew there were few good players in league, but it didn’t really bother me,” said Alvarez, who finished with 11 goals and 11 assists — most of them coming in league play. “I just went out there and played my game.”

Alvarez’s reward was the team’s historic achievements, which wouldn’t have been made possible without some of his heroic moments.

The versatile Alvarez started the season as Ripon’s defensive midfielder. DeBruyn figured he had enough scoring weapons up front and that the team overall would be stronger with Alvarez fortifying the back end.

Alvarez’s role changed when Ripon first faced Riverbank, the TVL’s reigning king which hadn’t lost or tied a league game in two years. The Bruins led 1-0 at halftime but appeared to be in full control.

After weeks of lobbying for a switch to forward, Alvarez finally got his wish. In the first minute of the second half, he scored. They battled to a 2-2 stalemate, ending Riverbank’s league winning streak.

From that point on, Alvarez was Ripon’s one-man breakaway. Even if he didn’t score, his presence on the attacking third opened up opportunities for others.

Alvarez came through in Ripon’s next match at Hilmar, where the Indians have traditionally struggled. He led a comeback charge after they trailed 2-0, scoring a goal and assisting two others en route to a 4-2 win.

“He can really play any position at a high level,” DeBruyn said. “He has all the physical makeup of a soccer player — the speed, the size, the strength, the ability to go left or right. We get kids that are talented but are not big or fast enough to play in college.”

Ripon ended up with its first TVL title, an outright claim thanks to a loss Riverbank had to take for using an ineligible player. The third-seeded Indians went on to beat Bret Harte 3-0 in the opening round of the SJS Division V playoffs, with Alvarez contributing to every score (goal, two assists). Their season ended in the semifinals, where they ran into a juggernaut in eventual champion Galt.

“I would have liked to have played for a section title, but it was nice to be part of the first-ever Ripon team to ever win TVL,” Alvarez said. “We deserved it. We all wanted it real bad this year.”

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