By Michael Lewis
BROOKLYN — The N.Y. Pancyprian Freedoms have won countless trophies over the decades, from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup to the Cosmopolitan Soccer League.
But rarely has the storied soccer club taken home hardware in September.
But this year turned out to be an exception for an exceptional team.
The Pancyprians added a golden soccer ball trophy to their burgeoning collection Sunday, after capturing the Rapaglia Cup at Verrazano Sports Complex.
“I never won this cup, so it’s always good to win something that you’ve never won,” said forward Adam Himeno, scored in the semifinal and final wins. “But it’s also great for the club. So much history to win this.”
The CSL team made even more history as it defeated fellow First Division side Sporting SC, 2-0, to become the first club to win the Rapaglia Cup three times. The competition is named after Eastern New York State Soccer Association president Sal Rapaglia.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” said James Thristino, who tallied the first goal in the final. “It’s my first time on the team this fall, so we’re looking forward to winning more cups like this. It was a great feeling winning the first time, playing with the guys, getting to know everyone, getting myself situated. It was good.”
Yes, the Pancyprian Freedoms will be in position to take home more trophies. By winning the one-day tournament, the Pancyprian Freedoms qualified for the Fricker Cup tournament. Its Eastern New York State Soccer Association opponents will be determined during a draw in the near future.
“That’s why I decided to play for Pancyprians because they have a lot of aspirations to keep winning, more and more trophies,” said former Cosmos right fullback Jonathan Borrajo, who joined the squad last year. “It’s a club with a lot of history. So, that’s always the benchmark –to be in the final and win.”
It was a long day for both finalists, who had to play 90-minute semifinals prior to the championship game.
The Pancyprians, who captured the 2019 Dr. Manning Cup, rolled to a 5-1 win over Port Jefferson (Long Island Soccer Football League) as Himeno struck in the ninth minute before Nestor Bradley tallied twice during a four-minute span in the first half to break the game open.
The winners cruised to a 3-0 halftime lead, allowing the team to take its foot off the pedal and to rest players for the final.
“It’s good when you have back-to-back games,” Himeno said. “It makes the second half a little easier. They are a very good team we played against. They pushed the entire game.”
Thristino found himself in a unique position. He most recently played for Port Jefferson before deciding to move to the Pancyprians.
“Definitely a little bit fun,” he said. “I was actually texting the other coach yesterday. I told him I had some bad news. I was going to be on the other team this new year and he was like, ‘Oh man.’ “
That other coach was Port Jeff manager Craig Korobow.
“I go far back with Craig, awesome guy,” Thristino said. “It was fun. I got to see my buddies on the other team. Respect between all of us. Love them, great team, a hard-working team. Can’t say anything bad about them at all.”
In the other semifinal, which several observers claimed was the game of the day, Sporting, the Flamhaft Cup champions, overcame a 3-2 deficit against CA Tumi (Eastern District Soccer League) by scoring four second-half goals to register a 6-3 triumph.
In the final, Thristino took advantage of a poor clearance and put in a rebound in the 33rd minute before Himeno added an insurance goal by beating the Sporting goalkeeper 1 v 1 in the 52nd minute.
Playing back-to-back games took its toll on both teams.
“It was tough,” Thristino said. “It was definitely hard on the body. I’m definitely feeling pretty sure now, but it’s all mental. If you stay mentally in tuned to the game, you’ll obviously come out on top like we did today. So, we all had to stay on top of the game and who was going to get out there and be the bigger guy, step up and capitalize on the opportunity.”
The Pancyprian Freedoms started the year with memorable back-to-back weekends. They opened up their CSL season, dropping a 6-5 decision to archrival N.Y. Greek Americans Sept. 15.
“That’s the beautiful thing sometimes about soccer,” Borrajo said. “Three shots, three goals for them in the first half and within 15 minutes they were down 4-3. Crazy turn of events. Maybe sometimes it’s a good kick in the behind to get your team awake at the beginning of the season. We’ve got targets on our back. We won the season last year by a ton of points. So, everyone’s going to be coming after the Pancyprians.”
And the Pancyprians will be gunning after some more trophies as they have plenty to play for this season. Of course, there’s the CSL First Division crown to defend. In October, they will enter Open Cup qualifying. They received a bye in the first round of qualifying this coming weekend.
“I’m excited for that,” Borrajo said. “This is the first time i will be taking part in it with the Pancyprians. Again, a lot of history. Again, we’re probably a big underdog. But I think that’s a great position to be in. People might not take us seriously, but we do have some really good players, ex-professionals on the team. We have a deep team. We’re going to surprise some teams.”
The team goals have been set high.
“Our aspirations is not just to win every game, but everything: the league, state cup,” Himeno said. “Now we’re in the final of an amateur cup by winning this. Hopefully, everything.”