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Seventh Heaven, Soccer Style


Las Positas soccer star Marco Neves had a prolific season with 25 goals in leading the Hawks to the NorCal regional playoffs under new coach Andy Cumbo.

You might even title it a “Magnificent Seven” season because Neves’ lucky number and his jersey number are seven. Thus, it follows that he would knock in 25 goals because 2 plus 5 equals, well, seven.

Neves was literally born into the number seven.

“The coolest thing about my name is that Neves is seven backwards,” he says. “I have number seven, my favorite number’s seven. It’s kind of like a little OCD I have.”

Then there’s a lot of fun facts in relation to Neves, the Coast-North Offensive Player of the Year who will compete in the Sophomore Soccer Showcase at Oxnard College Saturday.

His super-cool name, Marco Paulo Neves, is tantalizingly close to that of Marco Polo, the famed Venetian merchant traveler. Perhaps his parents, who are of Mexican and Portuguese descent, knew he would excel in a sport that brings cultures together. Then again, it might have been a little confusing for Neves during “Marco Polo” games at swim parties.

“They scarred me for life,” Neves jokes of his name.

Neves left many an opposing defense scarred this season. A Bellarmine College Prep-San Jose graduate and transfer from Cal State East Bay, he was selected to the All Region and All State teams. Neves scored twice in the Hawks’ season-ending 3-2 loss at Taft in the first round. He amassed his gaudy goal total despite being the focal point of opposing defenses – a fact that enabled his teammates to pop open for big goals in the final third of the season.

What did he learn about himself? That he’s more capable than he even thought.

“I haven’t played forward since I was 14, so it’s been awhile,” he says

What does he take from the Las Positas' 11-7-5 season?

“I think we did the best with what we had,” Neves said. “We all knew how to play a certain style, which we thought would be the most effective. I think they knew for us to win I would have to be scoring those goals, and luckily I got on the end of a lot of chances, because I was put in direct positions by people just putting service balls in the box.”.

Not surprisingly, Neves has drawn interest from UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, Ohio State and Cal State Fullerton. He says his “dream” location is Santa Barbara, but is open to wherever the road takes him. He will graduate after the semester, so he plans to work and save for college in the interim.

Making sacrifices is nothing new to Neves, who made the long commute to Bellarmine every day in high school with his dad, Henry, who works in the South Bay as a social worker. Father and son would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and arrive at school at about 6:30 a.m., when Marco would either nap or do his homework until classes started. After school, Neves would practice soccer at 7 p.m., meaning he wouldn’t be home until about 10 p.m.

The long days took a toll.

“At some point, it got overwhelming and that’s why I kind of quit soccer for about a year or so,” he recalled.

A highly-regarded youth player, Neves faced elite competition playing for the De Anza Force and San Earthquakes Academy teams, so he could not play for Bellarmine at that time. He was invited to a couple of National and Regional camps, and was ranked in the top 150 in the country up until his junior year.

The extra recognition didn’t always serve him well.

“I kind of just took that for granted and started not practicing as much; thought I didn’t need to,” Neves recalled of his mindset. “Kind of slacked off. Lost my starting spot on my club. And the schools … I was probably going to go to Notre Dame in South Bend (Indiana), and they kind of just lost contact. It kind of shows that you just can’t half-ass anything.”

Thus, coming to Las Positas has been sort of a major college kick-starter for Marco Paulo.

“One, I got to reunite with my coach (Cumbo) who’s probably one of my best friends. He’s a cool guy,” Neves said. “It’s kind of just a good life lesson: Sometimes the easy road isn’t the one you’ve got to take.”

Now he hopes the road will take him to the highest level of soccer, to a career as a professional player.

Talk about seventh heaven.

-- Matt Schwab