It is impressive for any youth soccer team to compete in a State Cup final, let alone to actually win the title. It’s even more impressive when that title is in New York State, one of the most competitive in the country. And when I attended the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association’s (ENYYSA) State Cup Championships in Lagrangeville on June 2, I was surprised to find four teams from Manhattan Soccer Club competing in the finals of their respective age groups - with two of those teams being led by the same coach, Wilson Egidio.
At the final whistle, Manhattan Soccer Club had won three state titles – losing the fourth in a penalty-kick shootout (PKs). Two of those titles were won by Egidio’s teams, including the one my nephew plays for. In fact, I’ve watched some of these kids play for seven years now, growing and developing on the pitch and off, so it was wonderful to see them achieve such success.
Manhattan Soccer Club
Manhattan Soccer Club (MSC) is one of the premier youth travel soccer organizations in the New York metropolitan area. It trains and manages more than 1,000 boys and girls on 65 teams, making MSC one of the largest youth soccer clubs in New York State.
Kids ages 5-8 are part of MSC’s academy program, with 5-6 year-olds focused solely on training and 7-8 year-olds training and playing scrimmages. Ages 9-18 field competitive travel teams, with multiple teams in each age group. These teams play primarily in the Westchester Youth Soccer League and Metro League, but MSC’s top teams compete in various premier leagues outside of the home league, including the Eastern New York Premier League (State Premier), Northeast Regional Premier League (Sub Regional Premier), and Region I Premier League (top league in the region, representing a quarter of the country). Select MSC teams also compete in the uber-competitive Eastern Development League, which is a newly formed league comprised of top soccer clubs in the Northeast who are also affiliated with the US Club Soccer Association.
Like most of the competitive youth travel soccer clubs in the area (and in the country, for that matter), MSC operates as a pay-for-play program. Players attend tryouts for age-specific teams, and those selected pay the dues in exchange for coaches and training, uniforms and supplies, and management and travel. Costs per player can range from $800 per season to as much as $3,000 for the elite teams, which tend to train and play year-round as well as travel to more tournaments.
As with many pay-for-play clubs, scholarships are available for players with abundant talent and limited means. But MSC takes that a step further with a rule stating that no player can be denied a spot because of an inability to pay. And they back that up with a generous amount of player scholarships, totaling more than $220,000 last season and projected to reach $300,000 next season. That means roughly one out of every six kids in the program receives some type of financial aid.
ENYYSA State Cup Championships
Of the four boys teams MSC sent to the State Cup, three of them battled into extra time with two going to PKs. The one game that didn’t require additional time was MSC U14 Cruzeiro. As I noted, my nephew Sean plays for the team (full disclosure, folks!), but he has been out injured for much of the campaign.
It was an exciting game to watch as MSC came from behind to win it 2-1 over Dix Hills Elite, the defending champions. The MSC goals were scored by Ousmane Barry and Matt Cooney. It was an especially tough loss for Dix Hills, as their goalkeeper let the winning goal slip past him.
I also saw the last half of MSC U15 PSG ’96′s game against defending title-holders Smithtown Kickers. The two had met in last year’s State Cup final and the MSC side were looking for revenge.
Smithtown scored first, but MSC came back to earn a 2-1 advantage. Smithtown equalized towards the end of regulation time, sending the match into extra time. Still scoreless, the two sides went to PKs. One of the MSC shooters missed early on, but their keeper – Gerado Amigon - made up for it by saving a Smithtown effort. Each keeper had their turn shooting as well, with the shootout going a full 24 PKs before a Smithtown player had the misfortune of sending it high and wide – a full “Baggio.”
It’s a shame that it had to come to that. Someone was bound to miss, and that kid is always going to wonder why it had to be him, why he had to be the one to pay the price. But soccer, like life, isn’t always fair. This time MSC U15 PSG ’96 earned the right to head to the Northeastern Regional Championships later this month – along with MSC U14 Cruzeiro.
I didn’t get to see MSC U16 PSG ’95 play local rivals Downtown United Soccer Club (DUSC), another respected pay-for-play program in NYC. They remained tied 2-2 at the end of extra time and went into PKs as well. But this time MSC fell short, with DUSC winning the shootout 4-3.
The other game I missed was MSC U17 Ajax, who faced Northport Cow Harbor from Long Island. They were also tied 2-2 before MSC racked up three goals in extra time to win their third State Cup in the past four years. Given their experience at Regionals (they have already won them once before), which will be held in Lancaster, PA, hopefully MSC U17 Ajax can show the other two MSC teams the ropes as they all battle to finish first in their age group in Region I.
The Secret to MSC’s Success
Rich Corvino is MSC’s Executive Director and has been involved with the club for the past 12 years (his daughter played at MSC, and went on to play for Carnegie Mellon). When asked about the success the club has achieved in recent years, he noted two factors. The first was the club’s financial strength.
“Between our dues and the tournament we run, we’ve establish a solid financial platform for the club. That’s enabled us to grow our scholarship program by 1,100 percent over the past 10 years,” explained Corvino. “And that scholarship program is the key to the diversity of our teams. It allows us to attract and support talent from all communities, ensuring that we can field the best teams available here in New York City.”
The other major factor has been the club’s training model, which is clearly starting to bear fruit. MSC expanded its program to include the U5-8 age groups in hopes of attracting more kids to the game – a greater talent pool to choose from – and teaching them the basics at an earlier age.
“For ages 5-12 we try to emphasize training and development, improving individual players and building stronger teams for the future,” noted Corvino. “We save the competitive focus for ages 13-18, when the kids have the skills and understanding needed to play the game at that level.”
In addition to this strategy, MSC has also placed a greater emphasis on quality control in terms of that training. The have developed written guidelines for coaches and have staff and volunteers who regularly attend practices and games to ensure compliance.
Clearly the model is working, as MSC is not only one of the largest clubs in the region but also one of the most successful. And, as the kids who started receiving the improved training at an earlier age begin to mature, the club’s teams will likely grow even stronger in the coming years.
“We have sent seven teams to the State Cup finals in the past two years, and we’ve had 10 semifinalists,” added Corvino. “Our goal is to be the best club in the state, for both boys and girls.”
The Wonders of Wilson Egidio
A well-run, well-organized, and well-financed program is an essential platform, but a quality coach can take a team to the next level. And one of MSC’s finest is Wilson Egidio.
Egidio coached both MSC U14 Cruzeiro and MSC U15 PSG ’96 to State Cup titles, two of the many titles his teams have won over the years. As a coach, he has a record like Mourinho with a style and temperament like Guardiola.
Egidio grew up in Belo Horizonte, the third largest city in Brazil and home to the top-flight Cruzeiro Esporte Clube. He started his playing career at a local amateur club, Villa Nova AC, and eventually landed a spot as a professional playing for Santos FC, the legendary Brazilian side that brought us Pele and Neymar. After his run with Santos, Egidio moved to New York City where he played professionally in the American Soccer League for NY United, a club that eventually folded – along with the league – in the early 80s.
After retiring as a professional player, Egidio was named head coach of the City College of New York’s (CCNY) varsity soccer team. He thrust the CCNY Beavers into the national spotlight by winning four conference titles, earning six Coach of the Year Awards along the way. And having secured a spot in the CCNY Hall of Fame in 1992, he was recruited to be a US Olympic Development Coach, spending the next five years scouting and developing some of the top young soccer players in America. Seeking to improve the level of youth talent, his work with the Olympic Development Program eventually led him to coaching positions with MSC as well as Horace Mann, a private school in the Bronx. Egidio soon distinguished himself at the youth level as well, coaching MSC U19 Phoenix to a Region I Championship and the Horace Mann Lions to a NYSAIAA State Championship.
When I asked Egidio about his success in building championship teams, he told me about his work with MSC U19 Phoenix. He started coaching many of the players years ago, carefully building the team season-by-season. Between his personal reputation and that of MSC, he’s able to lure many of NYC’s most-talented youth players to the club’s annual tryouts. But Egidio is very careful with his selection. He prefers to add only one or two quality players each year, either strengthening a specific aspect of the squad or creating depth for the long season ahead.
And when I asked him what he looks for in a young player, he said that talent came first, but hard work and a positive personality were just as important. He strives to create balance on his teams, which can prove the difference between a talented side like Barcelona (or Spain) and a talented side like Real Madrid (or the Netherlands).
Speaking of balance, he has a knack for finding talent in all corners of the community. His teams often look like a Benetton ad, as Egidio shrewdly takes advantage of the amazing diversity of soccer in New York City. For example, MSC U14 Cruzeiro has players whose parents hail from Albania, Chile, England, France, and Guinea.
He also encourages the kids he coaches to be creative, experiment, and take chances. He wants them to take on opponents one-on-one, which is something you don’t typically see in the youth game – which might explain why we don’t see enough of it at the highest levels of American soccer either. But Egidio believes that it is important to develop those skills – and the confidence to use them – at an early age.
As someone who has been a casual observer of MSC U14 Cruzeiro, I will be the first to admit that it doesn’t always work. Players occasionally bite off more than they can chew, dribbling until they are stripped of possession. But that’s fine with Egidio. He seems willing to sacrifice a win today in order to build a team with lasting talent. And he certainly has the track record to prove it.
I wish more youth coaches took Egidio’s approach, and more clubs followed MSC’s path. It would improve the level of the game in this country. But as Egidio sees it, the level of talent in America is improving. He’s seen it in the progress of the kids he’s worked with over the years. And with coaches like him, and programs like MSC, things are only going to get better.
[Editor's Note: The video above showcases one of the MSC U14 Cruzeiro players. It was produced by Alexander Abnos. Learn more Abnos him and his work at anabnos.com.]