Valley Stream Soccer Club celebrates Autism Awareness Day

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The Valley Stream Soccer Club celebrated its second annual Autism Awareness Day last Saturday at Fireman’s Field in Valley Stream, with an afternoon of scrimmages, music, motorcycles and pizza.

Dozens of young players from the club’s TOPSoccer teams — The Outreach Program for Soccer — kept busy practicing a variety of soccer skills as they awaited the arrival of the New York Red Bulls. The Bulls provide professional coaching for the club’s intramural and traveling teams and support the TOPS program with coaching and sports equipment.

With some 1,200 members, Valley Stream has one of the larger soccer clubs on Long Island, club President Tim Graham said. The TOPS program has approximately 50 members and supports players with a range of physical or intellectual special needs, including autism and Down syndrome.

The Valley Stream TOPS team was a labor of love for coach Azzedine Layachi. TOPS teams have been playing since 1978, and Long Island boasts 26 clubs. Layachi founded VSSC’s program in 2014 so his son Zakarya would have a place to play. All three of Layachi’s children are enthusiastic players.

The Red Bulls donate 100 percent of their time, and supply each TOPS player with a soccer ball and two tee shirts each season. The program is free, including insurance. “The whole point of the program is to have fun,” Graham said. “They can run around, have a great time and hopefully give the parents a break, too.”

“I like scoring goals,” 12-year-old player Gregory said matter-of-factly, when asked his reasons for playing. His friends Salvador and Stephan echoed the sentiment. Salvador added “making friends” to the list.

Two other TOPS clubs — from Hempstead and New Hyde Park — joined with Valley Stream for the afternoon, as well as the Valley Stream Green Hornets cheerleading squad. The Underworld Ryders and Disturbin The NiteLyfe motorcycle clubs from Brooklyn also generated their share of full-throated approval from the players.

The motorcycle clubs are involved in a variety of community service projects, including visiting the elderly, Underworld member Evan Louis said. “We rode out here last year, too, but it got rained out.”

The VSSC is now in its 43rd season and is open to children and young people ages 4 to 19. The club has intramural and travel teams and is part of the Long Island Junior Soccer League, which operates within the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association.

The day finished with a feast of pizza, garlic knots, salad and ziti. It was difficult to tell which the players enjoyed more — the game or the food.