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The sky’s the limit for International Soccer Club and Nashua Eagles President Jared Barbosa

NASHUA – Jared Barbosa remembers it well, and it always fuels his fire.

An opposing youth soccer coach came up to him about five years ago after a game in which his International Soccer Club of Nashua U-12 dominated and said, in what he described as a condescending manner, “Do your kids actually play for a real club?”

He was stunned.

“That hit me the wrong way,” Barbosa said. “What’s that supposed to mean? So it was that day forward that my vision for this (the ISC) was the sky’s the limit.

The soccer switch in Barbosa was turned on, and it’s been on high ever since.

Barbosa today is one of the biggest ambassadors of the game, driven to provide local youth from low-income families opportunities to play the game, and also have something to aspire to with the ISC’s semi-pro Nashua Eagles, which he co-owns and is the team president.

So much so that Barbosa had kept the Eagles afloat despite having to play a year out of town and then not play at all due to the pandemic.

Right now, the ISC of Nashua has countless youths playing the game, has a Level 2-team just below the Eagles’ level, and is growing by leaps and bounds. It is clearly Barbosa’s passion.

“It’s part of the vision,” he simply says.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The ISC of Nashua is almost Barbosa’s life, because it deals with his two favorite things – kids and soccer, and serves some 300-plus youths today.

His late father, Manuol Barbosa, and noted local, state and regional soccer figure John Motta – of the same Motta Field at Stellos Stadium – began the ISC in 1992. Its premise was opportunity for youth players, and it ran for about a half dozen years. Then, it faded away for almost 15 years.

“Just like anything else in youth sports, it just kind of dissolves,” Barbosa said.

But Jared Barbos resurrected it. He was the games room director at the Nashua Boys & Girls Club back around 2015, and he was given the go-ahead to start a soccer team. They played against other Boys & Girls clubs, but then Barbosa felt he had enough to formalize it.

“It all started there, humble beginnings, we started with one team, that rag-tag team,” he said.

But here was the difference. Yes, there was the Nashua Youth Soccer Association, but Barbosa was still noticing around the community “a particular population of kids who wasn’t playing the game. So, I said, ‘Why aren’t these kids playing?'”

Barbosa came to the conclusion that finances were a key, as well as other obstacles.

“So we felt that this was going to be a great thing, so let’s go do it and we can get a lot of kids to play,” Barbosa said. “We have our mission, and it’s to provide opportunity for kids, players and families to play at an affordable rate and get professional training.

“We went into this thing with the idea of combating the pay-to-play system. Kids weren’t getting the opportunity, because they were getting priced out. The families on the lower end of the socio-economic chain, ladder.”

Helping that faction is “immensely important” to Barbosa.

“Working at the Boys & Girls Club made me realize, made me want to work with mainly a certain population of kid,” he said. “(It) gave me the drive to work with kids who have tough backgrounds and things of that nature. It’s part of the same reason I became a guidance counselor (in the Nashua School District).”

And Barbosa knows that in this city, those families, as he said, “are very diverse.”

For participation, he says, “There isn’t really a number. It says in our mission statement it’s about broadening opportunities. Whatever number that is, is satisfying to me. … We want anybody.”

Barbosa’s expanded things to the point where he was able to organize the inaugural state futsal tournament – futsal is soccer’s version of Arena Football, more or less – crowning the first amateur New Hampshire champion in late March.

SOCCER A WAY OF LIFE

Barbosa was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but his family moved to Nashua when he was 3 years old. And soccer always has been a huge part of his life

“It was like breathing,” he said. “It was just the way it was.”

In fact, Barbosa, whose brother, Hayden, is the Rivier University men’s soccer coach, was raised in the game. That’s because their late father, Manoel, was a former professional soccer player in Brazil, Mexico, Greece and the U.S. In fact, Manoel played for the Boston Astros against the great soccer star Pele in the 1970s.

“That was his boyhood idol,” Barbosa said. “He said he was just beyond everybody else. To be able to play against him was a dream come true.”

Jared Barbosa played locally for Nashua High School South, and later had another dream come true when he coached the Panthers for two seasons. He played his college soccer at Salem State, and was a steady goal scoring All-Conference player as a forward.

But he’ll remember his final season – a fifth year after an injury gained him another year of eligibility. The Vikings had highly talented teams his first four years at the school, but each time came up short in the conference finals, the fourth time with the injured Barbosa reduced to being a spectator.

But after that loss, he boldly predicted to a friend that with a team depleted by graduation that the Vikings would win it. And they did, downing Westfield State in the finals in Barbosa’s final year. And the story gets better.

“It was probably the first long-term goal I set and achieved,” Barbosa said. “It probably made me be a goal-setter. To set that goal, and tell somebody it’s going to happen, and then it happens.

“It was literally our worst season. We just barely made (the tournament) as the fourth seed.”

And to make it better, Barbosa scored the game-winning goal in a win over Fitchburg State that qualified Salem State for the playoffs, two goals in the semis over Bridgewater State, and then the only goal in the 1-0 title win over Westfield State. That qualified the Vikings for the NCAA tournament, but they lost to Amherst College in the first round.

But at that semifinal match in Bridgewater, Manuol Barbosa, who passed away a few years ago, was in attendance.

“That was the last real competitive game my father got to see me play,” Barbosa said. “I was playing out of my mind at that time. Bridgewater was a tough place to play, and it felt good to silence the crowd – twice. I went over to where my father was sitting, and I danced the Somba and pointed to him. He was just ecstatic.”

A great memory, and the last meaningful time Barbosa played.

DREAM JOB FOR TWO YEARS

Barbosa revealed that some of the players he had at South were dealing with incredible obstacles.

“Some worked midnight jobs,” he said. “Some were homeless. When they knew I was coaching at the high school, they came out and became interested in wanting to play for the team.”

Barbosa said coaching the Panthers had been a longtime goal. The program had been suffering, but his teams made the tournament both times in his two seasons, winning a first-round game his second year.

“I remember thinking, we’re the second-largest city in the state, the most diverse city in the state, how are we not doing better than this in terms of game play?,” he said. “But I remember it being a goal of mine.”

He reached that goal, but philosophical differences with the South administration led to his not returning for a third year. But Barbosa holds no ill will.

“It was good timing in the sense that ISC was growing,” he said. “The timing was right in that sense. Here’s this thing that’s happening, it’s really growing, and you have a chance to take control of an organization that’s growing, and really kind of just put your vision out there.

“I got out of (the South job) what I wanted to get out of it, and had the experience, and we move on. It is what it is.”

So, the silver lining in not returning to South was that he had more time to devote to ISC. It became a blessing in disguise.

“Our vision began to evolve as opposed to just saying, ‘OK, we’re going to provide kids a place to play,” Barbosa said of ISC. “No, we’re going to be a competitive club, and we’re going to treat ourselves as one.”

A lot of little things, such as that opposing coach’s remarks one day, keep Barbosa motivated.

“There’s been quite a lot, man, to be honest,” he said. “It’s really interesting, a lot of little things that keep you hungry, and keep you motivated.”

Which leads to what fueled the fire for Barbosa to start the Eagles, who play in the Patriot Division of the Northeast Conference of the nationally known United Premiere Soccer League (UPSL).

“A lot has to do with research,” he said. “Realizing a particular population of kid who wasn’t playing, but realized that there’s a systemic issue when it comes to U.S. Soccer. And that systemic issue is the pay to play system. The better you are, the more you pay.”

So Barbosa began to think that while players were developing, there might be a dead end looming.

“We’re going to ship them off to some club they probably can’t afford,” he said. “They might get a scholarship for a season, but somebody with more promise, or whoever they chose, would come along and they’d kick them out anyway. These guys are going down a route of guaranteed failure. They were just going to get priced out.”

And Barbosa realized even more.

“These issues locally,” he said, “these are the same issues nationally.”

Proof of that was when the U.S. failed a couple of years ago to qualify for the World Cup. The issue came to a head as U.S. players were saying thanks to the pay-to-play system, “we are not able to develop players to the level that we need, to play at the highest level at the national stage.”

So, the feeling was that most of the clubs didn’t have what he calls “a player pathway.”

“Only in the United States, the majority of the professional clubs, they don’t have any youth ranks,” he said. Or, he added, “if they have some youth, there’s no high level amateur team associated with them.”

“We’ve got to come up with a pathway,” he said. “So what made me say, ‘We’ve got to add the Eagles, got to add the IOC Pro team’ was kids need inspiration, right? They need to know there’s a next level.”

Barbosa remembers that when his brother, Hayden, finished playing high school for Nashua, he brought an 11-year-old wide-eyed Jared to Holman Stadium. A four-figure crowd would take in Nashua playing Bishop Guertin.

“It would be insane,” he said. “I remember he brought me into the locker room after one of the games. I thought I was walking into a locker room with professional players. And these were high school students. I was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to put on that jersey one day. I can’t wait to represent Nashua High School one day.”

“It was the inspiration that drove me to play at the high-school level.”

So, he wanted the same type of thing for the youth players of his ISC program, a high-level team they could aspire to play for.

“I was like, ‘We need to add this,'” he said. “For the inspiration factor. I saw it directly that very first year we had at Riv, it was amazing the reaction the kids had afterwards.”

Barbosa remembers how excited his ISC kids were when they saw the Eagles’ Quincy Appah walk onto the field at Main Dunstable as their coach.

“They said, ‘What’s he doing here?’,” Barbosa said. “And I said, ‘He’s coaching their team.’ They went, ‘Oh my God, he’s coaching our team!'”

“That’s when I knew this (the Eagles) are here to stay.”

Barbosa says the help he receives from families for the club teams “warms his heart,” and he wants them to know the ISC will always be a place for them, and the Eagles will be that place.

And now, they will be playing in a state-of-the-art facility at Rivier, so patience is a virtue when it comes to Barbosa.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “As much as it’s about broadening opportunities for amateur players. I remember coming out of college, still wanting to play, and there not really being any serious options.”

He’d search high and low after Salem State, traveling all over just to find a competitive level.

“Just as much as that, it’s for the youth,” he said. “So, they know, yes, there is a higher-level platform to play, and we’re going to provide that for you.”

The fact that the U.S. also failed to qualify for the Olympics reinforced Barbosa’s drive to complete his mission.

“It showed me we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “Let’s be real. It’s obviously a very small nugget to the big picture. But the reason why the United States didn’t qualify for the World Cup, it’s exactly the reason why we started. There just aren’t enough opportunities for kids.”

Barbosa has statistics to back up his motivation. He says that kids who play an extra curricular activity year round are 400 percent more likely to go to college to obtain a job or a career than those who do not participate at all.

“Then, you look at the pricing of some of these after-school activities,” he said. “No one should sacrifice a living salary to play this game. Some of the prices are insane.”

The U.S. Soccer Association, Barbosa says, registers four million youth a year.

“So, think about it,” he said. “Obviously there’s not four million professional players there, and four million youth have maybe 60 professional organizations to play for in the country.”

In England? “There’s over 200 in small England,” he said. “The idea, again, it’s that whole idea of ‘Come play for us, you’re going to make it.’ And pay thousands of dollars? It’s wrong.”

“There’s 550,000 registered high-school players. Some 25,000 play in college, and that’s Division I, II and III. You’re just whittling down the player pool.”

Those numbers, he says, has the odds against the youth who play soccer.

So, Barbosa battles on.

“The fight is still on, man,” he said. “Finally, there’s little bits and pieces moving. The amateur-professional level is in its infancy.”

“I’m hungry, man, and have no plans on stopping, that’s for sure.”

So yes, the answer for that opposing coach? Yes, Barbosa’s youth play for a real club. And a strong one at that.

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