Long Island New York United on their way to the Viareggio Cup

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Article originally appeared in Soccer Long Island Magazine

By David Harris

Juventus Club Long Island NY Gaetano Scirea together with Ciccio Graziani Soccer Dream and in conjunction with the Albertson Soccer Club and the Long Island Soccer Football League (LISFL) held a dinner on Sunday to raise funds in support of their upcoming participation in the world-renowned Viareggio Cup. The tournament will be held from February 11 - 25, 2013 in Viareggio, Italy. Long Island United have been drawn in a group with A.S. Roma, Spartak Moscow, and Spezia. The team features some of the best young players from throughout Long Island and will be coached by former professional player and coach, Adrian Gaitan, currently coach at the Albertson SC U.S. Academy teams.

Mario Celso with LISFL President Gus Xikis and Carmine Posillico

At the dinner, the club welcomed guests of honor 1982 Italian World Cup Champion Francesco Graziani, former Juventus player Massimo Bonini, current New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese, ENYSSA President Sal Rapaglia, LISFL President Gus Xikis, and Long Island Rough Rider’s Women’s Team member Sue Alber. Unable to attend was 1982 Italian World Cup Champion Claudio Gentile, who called into the event and wished everyone well.

New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese addressing the team members of Long Island United

New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese received the "Man of the Year" award. Club organizer Mario Celso mentioned that Francesco Graziani recalled coaching Giovanni years ago when Giovanni was playing for a club in Italy. Afterwards, he gave a very inspirational speech and demonstrated exactly why the Cosmos selected him to lead their team.

Savarese had the following to say to the team members of Long Island United, "First of all I’m very honored to be presented with this award. For the people that have been here before receiving the awards, Mr. Sal Rapaglia and others, people that have done so much for soccer in New York. I saw them as a little kid coming up and I still see them working in soccer. I’m so proud to be here and what I have to say you guys (addressing the team) is that you’re having a tremendous experience right now, the possibility to travel to probably the best tournament in soccer, in the world. You are going to be showcased, but most importantly, I think that the past few years that we have represented the United States there we haven’t done it the right way. I think you have a great responsibility and opportunity to really show what the state of soccer is in the United States at the moment so that’s what you have at hand right now, to be able to show everybody there that we have grown in soccer so good luck, it’s a great showcase, you’re with the right people to take you there so best of luck and we’ll see each other when you get back with great stories to tell."

when you get back with great stories to tell."

ENYSSA President Sal Rapaglia

Later on in the event, club organizer Mario Celso recalled how the idea to take a team of young players from Long Island started out as a joke, but when mentioned to Graziani he simply said, "Don’t worry, I’ll take you there". It turns out that Graziani was not joking at all as the team is in the middle of training and preparing for the task ahead of them.

Former Italy, Torino, and Roma player Francesco Graziani

The event was a terrific success and many soccer fans were treated with the opportunity to spend an enjoyable afternoon in the company of some terrific people who’ve dedicated their lives to the sport of soccer. It’s not often that you’re able to go to an event on Long Island where champions like Graziani and Bonini are present. It was also very special to have someone like Savarese there to connect the past to the present and give the young men who make up Long Island United a sense of exactly what is in store for them in Viareggio.

This is a tournament that many top young players in Italy’s Serie A and throughout the world have played in. A few years ago, a young player named Mario Balotelli was playing in it. There’s no doubt that the young men of Long Island United have a tough challenge ahead of them, but now is their time to shine and show the world just how good soccer is on Long Island.

Former San Marino, Juventus, and Bologna player Massimo Bonini

Jeremy Cheeseman from Manorville, player with Dayton Dutch Lions and Sue Alber from Islip, player with Long Island Rough Riders