Historical Club Profile: Brooklyn Italians

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This article is the first in a series that will focus on the history of some well-known club teams in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.

By PETER NOLAN

imgresBROOKLYN, N.Y. — The past and the present vie for attention when you step into the Brooklyn Italians storefront headquarters on a bustling street corner in the Borough Park neighborhood of the United States’ hippest precinct.

But this is not that Brooklyn. No, in Borough Park school buses crowd the streets, and the men in beards and fur hats mark the area as a Hasidic stronghold rather than a hipster haven.

An odd spot, then, for a soccer club whose name evokes the early, ethnic beginnings of the world’s game in the United States, the Brooklyn Italians.

Founded in 1949 by John DeVivo as a social and soccer club for Italians immigrants looking for a piece of the old country in their adopted city, the Brooklyn Italians have long since outgrown those parochial roots and today count players from all over the world as members of the club. The club began life in the old Metropolitan Soccer League and was later part of the American Soccer League.

The club’s full-time director of coaching, Dominic Casciato, a self-described “streetwise London kid,” noted that his players come from, “all over the place. We have kids from Arab nations, kids from South America, Central America, a few Italians,” the former Limestone College of South Carolina All-America said.

After pausing for breath, Casciato continued with his world tour. “Eastern Europeans, we have a lot of Ukrainians, Russians, Haitians, Africans, you name it, a real mix.”

IMG_3565But back to the clubhouse, where the past hits you in the face before you cross the threshold. Trophies fill the two front windows, a motif that carries over when you step into the wood-paneled room, the walls of which are cluttered with more trophies and team pictures of varying vintage.

Included in the trophy haul are two honoring the clubs’ greatest achievements, winning the U.S. Open Cup, which the Brooklyn Italians did in 1979 while known as the Brooklyn Dodgers, and again in 1991 (at left). The original U.S. Open Cup, since rebranded as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, is kept elsewhere, presumably in grander surroundings.

The days of amateur clubs like the Brooklyn Italians winning the U.S. national club championship appear to be over. An MLS club has raised the Cup every year since 1999 when the A-League Rochester Rhinos last claimed the spoils for a lower division club.

The Italians first team competes in the amateur National Premier Soccer League and with their team of college pickups, plus a couple of graduates from their youth program, the Brooklynites still set the goal of qualifying for the Open Cup tournament

But the Italians are far more than just the NPSL side — the club fields 25 teams, and more than 800 youth and senior players, and has recently added a girls program. The club wants to see those youngsters move up to the senior team in greater numbers, with Casciato looking to increase the percentage of youth-club graduates on the senior side from today’s 16 percent to 50 percent by 2025.

Another goal for the club and one that occasionally frustrates Casciato, is the desire to help some players earn college scholarships. It is frustrating because Casciato, who cut his teeth in coaching as an assistant to well-respected St. John’s University coach, Dave Masur, finds that not all of the players from many different cultures wearing the Brooklyn Italians blue and white value a college degree as much as he might like.

“With a lot of our kids, especially the older kids, we have a lot of first-generation kids, we have a lot of kids who are newly arrived immigrants themselves, so they’re in a home environment where going to college and university is not the goal,” he said. “The goal is go to work and get a job and provide for your family, help put food on the table.”

IMG_3562Noble goals, of course but Casciato would like to get the parents to understand that, “if you are able to follow the steps that we’re telling you to follow, your child could have a better life, have a better job, be more comfortable, play college soccer, get his education paid for. There’s a lot of benefits but a lot of our players because they’re not getting the message reinforced at home, it kind of goes in one ear and out the other.”

But let’s take one more look at that window. Taped to the glass is a small poster touting the club’s recreational program, Scuola Calcio, which according to Casciato translates literally to soccer school.

Scuola Calcio is the club’s introduction to the game. Something like a clinic, the non-competitive environment is meant to stoke players love of soccer, and even if a third trophy honoring a U.S. Open Cup championship never comes, there is still much for the current crop of Brooklyn Italians to aim for.

IMG_3571Examples of former Brooklyn Italians players who have moved on to the professional ranks include former New York/New Jersey MetroStars player and the current New York Cosmos Coach Giovanni Savarese, Vancouver Whitecaps and U.S. under-23 defender Tim Parker, and Mexico’s national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

The club is affiliated with three professional clubs, the Brooklyn-based Cosmos, Premier League side West Ham United, and Michael Bradley’s first Serie A club, Chievo Verona.

The Hammers camp is just around the corner, running from April 10-14 at Brooklyn’s Calvert Vaux Park. Boys and girls from U-8 through U-16 can sign up with the top prospects earning a trip to London for what is described as “an Academy experience.”

From there, who knows? Maybe one of these youngsters will bridge that gap between the past and the future and make some fresh history and earn a place of honor on the Brooklyn Italians clubhouse wall.

For more information, check out the club’s website here.


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