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Homegrown: Local soccer club sparks interest in sport

Pitch perfect: The Brooklyn Italians have clinched two U.S. Open Cup championships and are looking to build on that success going forward.
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They’re looking to score a different kind of goal.

The Brooklyn Italians soccer club has been around since 1949, but now, with the spotlight shining brighter than ever on the sport, the organization wants to take the next step in growing hometown talent.

The team first formed as a social club for new Italian immigrants in Brooklyn to ease themselves into living in a new country by giving them a chance to speak their native language and spend time with those facing similar struggles.

Now, nearly seven decades later, the club is a respected member of the National Premier Soccer League, winning U.S. Open Cup championships in 1979 and 1991. Along the way, the players and fans have changed with the city around them.

Royett noted that now, the team features players from all over the world and all different backgrounds, similar to the area that they call home. The team plays its home matches on the campus of Long Island University and is made up of mostly college athletes from area schools.

“It definitely has changed a lot,” said Rafael Royett, the organization’s youth coach. “It went from being just Italian immigrants, but as the city changes and as Brooklyn changed, now there is a much bigger community within the club. “You get to see a high level match without having to travel far, or pay a lot of money.”

The team is off to a fast start this season, so far unbeaten through the first five games of a 12-game summer slate and sitting in first place in the league’s Atlantic Blue Division. But on a deeper level, the squad is much more than just a soccer team.

The club also features an immense youth program — formed in the 1990’s — that continues to grow. The club currently has more than 800 youth members, ages four to 19-years-old.

The program is split into two different paths — recreational, focused on teaching and forming a love for the game, and competitive, focused on playing in high level tournaments around the world.

Players can move from the recreational side to the competitive side whenever they and their coaches see fit. Dominic Casciato, director of the program and head coach of the Italians National Premiere Soccer League team, sees the model lasting for years to come.

“I oversee all the youth coaches and develop our curriculum for the younger ages, make sure the players are playing in the right positions and stuff,” he said. “So I like the fact that it’s really a sustainable model because we take players from our recreational program and put them in our travel program.”

The youth program also holds a summer camp held each year at FDR High School in Brooklyn and offers scholarships for athletes whose families may not be able to afford the cost of playing on a travel team.

“We go into local schools, we do after-school programs, we do clinics in schools, we run gym classes, all with the aim of giving back to the local community,” Casciato said.

The goal for the Italians is to build a strong core of home-grown players, something that is still a work in progress for the organization. Royett, however, is certain the future is bright – both for participation in soccer and the growth of the program.

“The goal is by 2025 to have at least 50 percent of the men’s team be players from our own youth program,” he said. “So the link between the youth program and the first team, it’s kind of new, but definitely getting stronger.”

Italians alumni from the past include Mexican National Team coach Juan Carlos Osorio, New York Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker. Now, the organization is looking to keep growing and, most importantly, stay local, giving area athletes that first chance at their goals.

“In the specific soccer world, when you talk about the Brooklyn Italians, people who are in the industry, they know what you’re talking about because it’s a club with a rich history,” Royett said.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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