Naeem Charles made the most of his lost season.
The former George Westinghouse standout wasn’t eligible to play last year for the Long Island University men’s soccer team because he didn’t meet NCAA academic qualifying standards. That didn’t stop him from working on his game as well as his grades, and the effects of his efforts showed once he got on the field for the Blackbirds this season.
“He couldn’t play last year, so he worked his socks off last season in the weight room and on the field on his own because he couldn’t train with us,” said Blackbirds coach T.J. Kostecky. “He was on the field regularly shooting on goal, improving his level. I wasn’t surprised at all that he has played as well as he has.”
Long Island University is heading to the Northeast Conference Tournament for the first time since 2004. The Blackbirds finished the season 5–11–0, 4–3–0 and face top-seeeded St. Francis University in the semifinals on Oct. 14. Charles, a Canarsie native, has played a big role in getting the Blackbirds there.
Before Charles got to the Division I level, he was a standout for George Westinghouse in Downtown Brooklyn. Charles led the public school B league with 32 goals and was the leading scorer for Westinghouse in all four years of high school.
He also played club soccer for the BW Gottschee Academy and many of his teammates played for Martin Luther King high school, which had one of the most elite boys’ soccer programs in the country. Charles chose to blaze his own trail.
“I had a lot of my teammates from Gottschee who went to Martin Luther King,” Charles said. “There was a lot of pressure to join them, but they already had an established program. I wanted to build something for myself at Westinghouse.”
Charles’s play at both Westinghouse and Gottschee attracted attention and offers from schools like Adelphi, Pittsburgh, Stony Brook and Long Island University. Charles clicked with the Blackbirds coaching staff and wanted to stay close to home and his family. Kostecky knew he was getting a special talent in Charles.
“He stood out from others in his age group with his ability to finish in many different ways,” the coach said.
The sophomore showed that this season, starting in all 14 matches he played in. Charles has scored two goals, added three assists and ranks third on the team in points. He was also named Rookie of the Week in the Northeast Conference for his performance versus Sacred Heart on Oct. 31, when he recorded two assists in the Blackbirds 3–1 victory, a win that clinched a spot in the Northeast Conference Tournament.
Charles is sharing this experience with former Westinghouse and Gottschee teammate, Nathaniel Brown. Their chemistry picked up where it left off.
“We are so used to each other,” Charles said. “We played in high school and on club together. Its easy to connect with him on the field.”
In only one season of collegiate soccer, Charles has impressed many and helped elevate the Blackbird program. It comes as no surprise to Kostecky, and he believes the best is still to come for Charles.
“For him this is just the start,” Kostecky said. “He’s got a real high upside as a player. He’s mentally strong. He is confident in his abilities, extremely coachable, and he’s eager to improve his game.”