The Franklin Square Raiders youth soccer club took a step forward last month, when its under-14 Academy travel team captured the Arch Capital Group Challenge Cup in statewide competition on June 17 the team’s home pitch in Franklin Square.
Fresh off the plane from San Diego last week, where he had gone to observe the early rounds of the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy national championships, John Kokkoris, whose Johan Juniors Soccer program provides the teams with coaching and fitness training, was eager to talk about their recent successes.
“It’s the second time in three years that the Raiders have won the Arch Cup,” Kokkoris said. “We played a team from Washingtonville — the Warriors — in the finals. We won, 4-0.” Kokkoris described the under-14 team as in control from start to finish.
“Things kind of broke our way,” he said. “They had to travel from upstate that morning, and we were fresh.” The team had been preparing mentally since the team dinner the previous evening, and they were ready. “The kids were really on, just so good. We won all the 50-50s,” he said, referring to the face-offs between players. “And instead of sharing the ball, we dominated. I’d say we had the ball 75 percent of the time.”
Tyler Balsano scored two goals in the contest, with Tyler Lanci and Alessandro Perna adding one goal each. Goalkeeper Gino Cervoni had the shutout.
“Our season begins in August and runs through the June championships” the following year, Kokkoris said. “So these kids started working toward this last summer.” He also described a winter regimen of speed and agility training, work with weights and injury avoidance training under the watchful supervision of Coach Carlos Mery. “They work with Carlos all winter,” Kokkoris said. “When other teams are dark, ours are in the gym. When it stops snowing, we go out and find a place to play.”
According to Kokkoris, the Academy team had its sights set on the cup from the start. The Raiders won it in 2016, and “they wanted to take home some silverware,” he said.
Kokkoris, Mery and coach Max Kimbarrow have tried to create a professional environment for the Raiders teams to train and play in. “All their work in the gym gives them a competitive edge. They go full swing and don’t stop,” Kokkoris said. “These kids have unbelievable commitment. The right type of player will really flourish in this type of environment.”
Kokkoris said he asks two things when players step onto the field: “100 percent concentration and 100 percent hard work.”
“The players do all the hard work,” Kimbarrow added. “I just prepare them to play and teach them how to win.”
The Academy team was not the only Raiders squad to do well. A second under-14 club — the ’04 Outsiders — took home the Long Island Cup in local play. And a team of 8-year-olds, playing as the Franklin Square Orange Machine, a nod to the Dutch international squad they admire, finished with an unbeaten record. The Machine scored 36 goals, with only four against, to end the season with eight wins, no losses and no draws.
“They were amazing,” Kokkoris said. “It was their first season as a travel club, and they played a year up” against teams a year older than they.
While the club emphasizes training and skills, neither coaches nor managers lose sight of their charges’ youthful high spirits. “We stress both training and fun,” said club Manager Robert Gervasi, whose younger son, Colin, was on the winning Academy team, and whose older son, Connor, plays on an under-16 team.
“We want them to be able to let their hair down a little.” Kokkoris agreed. “What’s more fun than being on a soccer field?”
The Raiders are currently in their 37th season, with some 850 to 900 players registered in the club’s two divisions. “We had 425 sign up this year for the intramural clubs,” Gervasi said.
In addition to Kokkoris’s Johan Juniors Soccer, the Raiders work with One Goal Sport. “It’s the same basic approach” to training, Gervasi said. “We want to have a soccer program available to everyone, no matter their level of interest or ability.”
The clubs will have a well-earned rest until the end of July, when preparation begins for a tournament involving teams from up and down the northeastern seaboard, as well as Canada. “It’s a big tournament,” Gervasi said. “We’ll probably enter two or three teams.”
The Raiders will begin registration on July 15 for the fall season, due to kick off on Sept. 9 and run through the first week of November. “It’s nine games in 10 weeks,” Gervasi said. “We don’t play the Columbus Day weekend.”
Interested families can contact the Raiders at (516) 900-3772, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.