By Sean Connor

Call him the waiter, mailman, the dime-dropper or simply the playmaker.

Junior Jose Alvarado of the NIU men’s soccer team has become a master of the assist in his three years as a Huskie.

NIU went 3-0-1 to start the season before losing two games in a row to Northwestern and Detroit-Mercy.

However, Alvarado has helped put the Huskies back on track. The midfielder assisted on each of the Huskies’ last two goals that clinched 1-0 wins over Wisconsin Green-Bay on Wednesday and No. 26 ranked St. Louis on Saturday.

“When I came here I barely thought I would play as a freshman,” Alvarado said. “But some people got hurt and luckily I got to go in.”

As part of coach Steve Simmons’ first recruiting class in 2003, Alvarado played in 17 of NIU’s 19 games and worked his way into a starting role for the last 11 matches of the season.

Assistant coach Ian Clerihew knows all the early experience helped move Alvarado’s career along.

“He was part of the class that played so many minutes in our first year,” Clerihew said. “It’s now coming back to benefit him. Not very many freshmen play that much.”

Alvarado came very close to never playing soccer in the U.S. at all.

At the age of 15 the Elgin native moved to Mexico, his family’s homeland. Alvarado planned on living with his uncle and grandmother while attending high school.

“I only stayed there for one year though, because I got homesick,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado moved back in with his parents and attended Burlington Central High School for the remainder of his prep career.

As a senior, Alvarado scored 27 goals and had 10 assists, but the adjustment to college ball caught him by surprise.

At 5-foot-7, Alvarado realized he wasn’t going to grow much more, making it tougher for him to score at the next level.

“I really used to be more of an offensive player,” Alvarado said. “But people kept getting bigger, so now I’m more defensive-minded.”

Defensive-minded or not, Alvarado led NIU with seven assists last season after notching three in 2003. He was one assist short of tying for first in the MAC last fall.

This season Alvarado is tied for second on the team in assists behind junior Justin McGrane, who leads the Huskies with four.

But it’s the third dimension Alvarado brings to the team that makes him unique, Simmons said.

As a long-range free-kick specialist, Alvarado has made himself much more valuable to his team.

Sophomore Steve Algozino’s game-winning goal against St. Louis was a header off a long-distance free kick from Alvarado. It doesn’t hurt that Alvarado’s main targets are 6-foot-2 defenders Algozino and sophomore Chris Rufa.

“Jose always puts up great long balls,” Algozino said. “[St. Louis’] goalie called for it, but I got up and flicked it in before he could get it.”

Alvarado said the key to his successful passing game comes mainly from the time he spends practicing in NIU’s one-hour warm-up before games.

But more than anything, Algozino said he and the team have grown to appreciate the silent leadership Alvarado brings to the field.

“He’s definitely one of our leaders,” Algozino said. “He leads by the way he plays the game and acts on the field.”