Gus Xikis was one of a kind. (Photo courtesy of the Xikis family)
By Michael Lewis
During a weeknight game of the Long Island Soccer Football League’s Ryder-Vass Under-23 tournament last summer, Jim Kilmeade decided to watch his son Jack play for the Northport team. After all, many players on that side performed for Kilmeade on his Northport Celtic team.
“And who did I get to see watching my own kid play? Gus and two LISFL board members at a weeknight game, not even a playoff,” Kilmeade said. “That told me why this league has exploded and why he is a such an incredible person.”
“He tried to get to as many games as he could, to the different teams as much as he could,” trustee Dave Harris said. “He couldn’t get to everybody. For a guy who was a volunteer, you would think he was the CEO of his own league. He was a great leader. He needed everybody to pull along with him to pull forward.”
“I just think Gus is the most passionate and fantastic soccer person I ever met,” Kilmeade added.
Gus Xikis was all about passion, whether it was about his family, work or soccer.
He always went headfirst into whatever endeavor was in front of him and it showed, usually with the best of results.
He was quick with a joke and first to preserve the honor and reputation of the league, banishing a team from a tournament if it used an ineligible player.
Xikis, the LISFL president, died on Wednesday from medical complications. He was 66.
“Whether it was the state, whether it was the region or the national body, Gus was there to help,” Eastern New York State Soccer Association secretary general Peter Pinori said. “And he was good at it, too.”
“Great man, great leader,” LISFL first vice president Terry Uellendahl said. “He brought the league back to where its supposed to be, competitive. We’re still growing.”
When Xikis was in rehab after leaving the hospital, Uellendahl said that “everybody was thinking about him. We might not have been at his bedside but he was always with us and we were always with him. We were there in spirit.”
While the soccer community knew about Xikis’ love affair with soccer and the LISFL, he had other passions as well — family. He is survived by his wife Candace, son E.J., and daughter Dina, daughter-in-law Christina and grandson.
“That’s always been the most important thing — soccer was definitely a big part of him — the love of the family and how proud he was of his children,” Harris said. “EJ was his pride and joy, in terms of soccer. He trained both of them [children]. He was always talking about EJ and loved the way he played.”
Uellendahl had seen many sides of Xikis, from soccer to his job. Xikis founded and operated a company that manufactured cabinets and furniture since 1979.
“Gus lived his life to the fullest,” he said. “All the paperwork, everything else he went through being the president, all the history, that he had that he put together, all the journals that came out were all done by him. He would be up to two, three, four in the morning, get a couple of hours of sleep and do his real job to earn money for his family.
“You just go around and look at some of the work he’s done, the quality of his workmanship was the equal to his passion about the game, and vice versa. The passion of his game was equal to his workmanship.”
The Xikis family. (Photo courtesy of the Xikis family)
Xikis also was second vice president of Eastern New York State Soccer Association and was registrar and cup chairman as well. Xikis is a member of three Halls of Fame — U.S. Adult Soccer Association, LISFL and ENYSSA.
His endless resume included being a coach with Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association ODP and the Long Island Junior Soccer League Select from 1999-2003. He also was the general manager and assistant coach of the New York Magic in 2008 (W-League) and was the director of operations and marketing of the Westchester Flames (Premier Development League, now USL League Two).
He also was an assistant coach at Suffolk Community College and was the Region I National Cups commissioner. Xikis also was into soccer history, accruing records and biographies for the ENYSSA and LISFL Hall of Fame journals, sometimes writing them. He also made sure the league had a full archive of photos.
George Snizek, who was LISFL second VP during the early years of Xikis’ tenure, remembered when he and Xikis, then the league registrar, got down on their knees to mark the playing field with duct tape when the annual indoor tournament was hosted by Nassau Community College years ago.
“That impressed me,” Snizek said. “He did’t have to do it. There were other guys on the board.”
Snizek also served as league arbiter during Xikis’ presidency and the latter wasn’t afraid of suspending a player for a red-card offense or perhaps something worse.
“He was a hard-nosed guy,” he said. “He was a fair guy.
“He did a lot of work for the league. … He was straight with me and a good, good friend.”
Tributes poured in for Xikis whether it was on social media from friends and family.
“Every loss leaves a giant hole in the lives of family and friends,” his daughter-in-law Christina wrote on Facebook. “We are suddenly robbed of all the moments we so often took for granted. Gus – we will miss the laughs shared around the dinner table and every story told in your special way. We will miss the jokes that we may have heard once or maybe 10 times before. The grief is immeasurable.
“Yet, while we often feel alone in our grief, sometimes the loss surpasses the boundaries of family and friends. Sometimes the loss extends deeper and further into a community. For Gus, NY soccer and all the beautiful people that make up that community, were an extension of his family. He was devoted to the beautiful game and worked tirelessly to make the people and the game thrive. It was his raison d’être. There is no replacing his light.
“If you knew Gus, then you know just how unfortunate it is that he has passed during such a strange time in our world. A huge service filled with hundreds of his peers, friends and family, laughing together as they share fond memories is the only right way to celebrate his life. I have not known a single person that deserves a greater finale.”
Gus Xikis and his grandson. (Photo courtesy of the Xikis family)
Xikis’ influence went well beyond Long Island and Eastern New York State Soccer Association.
“Gus was one of the good ones!” U.S. Adult Soccer Association president John Motta said. “Anything Gus did, he did with passion. Whether it was the National Cup competitions in Region 1 or running the Long Island Soccer Football League Hall of Fame, he was always proud of being involved in these soccer activities. As a vice president of the Eastern New York State Soccer, he took his responsibilities seriously and represented his State Association well.
“Gus was always there when you needed him, always willing to lend a hand. Our Sport needs more Gus Xikis’s. He will be missed and until we meet again, Rest In Peace!”
Pinori, who is also the president of the Eastern District Soccer League, and Xikis were like brothers. They had known each other since the late eighties and got along famously.
Said Pinori; “We had an argument once and I sat him down after that and I said, ‘Gus, this is not going to happen between you and me again. We cannot risk our friendship because of an idiot on one of your teams or because of an idiot on one of my teams. these people are going to be long gone and I want to be friends with you for the rest of our lives. so this is not going to happen between you and me anymore. Never. I don’t give a [crap] who it is.’ We made that pact. If there was an issue, we kind of stepped to the side, let somebody take care of it.
“I considered him very, very close to me. We had a lot of good times because we kind of liked the same personality, come up with a joke. … I loved him.”
In fact, Pinori taught Xikis how to tell a joke.
Pinori said he told his friend: “No. 1, as soon as you hear a joke, you have to get a pad and you have to write it down. The second thing you have to do is you have to tell that joke to people right away. it kind of cements in your brain.”
“He took it word for word what I told him, and he became one of the best,” Pinori said.
Joking aside, Xikis also could rule with an iron fist when needed. When teams used illegal players in the U-23 competition in 2019, he had no qualms in giving them the heave-ho and move up the losing team to replace them late in the tournament.
“Gus did absolutely the best job anyone could do to make it like a professionally run league,” Harris said. “The effort was there. We always tried to do the best we could to try to ensure the integrity of the competition and to make the winners and the finalists, whatever if it was a league final or cup final, to be there to hand out the trophies and the final and to make the teams feel they have accomplished something everything they had put in every season.”
Not surprisingly, Xikis wanted to see the sport grow in this country, whether it was youth, amateur or professional.
“Gus had a specific vision, a specific idea,” Harris said. “I think he was open to collaboration, which I think a lot of people may or may not have felt. But if you sat down and talked with him on the side and you had an idea, you could get a lot further than you could at a board meeting or at a league meeting.
“He had a very specific vision for the game. His vision for the game of soccer in this country is one that many people share and the frustrations of why we are not further along. Things we need to do to grow the game. His vision of soccer nationally and locally would be to have more for the amateur game to have more of an impact locally. He would then have more of a fan base for professional teams. You would have more passion for the game, you’d have more players choosing to play soccer instead of other sports.”
Gus Xikis (right) and Dave Harris at a Red Bulls game. (Photo courtesy of the Xikis family)
Xikis had an eye for recruiting talent from outside the league, Kilmeade, managing national director of Soccer at ATURF and director of BQE Soccer Partners, got involved with the LISFL after Xikis asked him to emcee the league’s Hall of Fame dinner on its 60th and 65th anniversaries. Kilmeade was inducted into the Hall at the 60th bash in 2013.
“Getting inducted into the LISFL Hall of Fame, by Gus, especially by Gus … was one of the greatest honors of my life.
“When I think of him, like I think of Peter Collins [the former Long Island Junior Soccer League president who passed away in 2018], who was a mentor to me. He was a guy who felt privileged to be in the game and did more than anyone could ever imagine as a volunteer. There are very few people I put in that category that I put Gus in there. I don’t know if I ever met anybody who loved the game more than he did. Really never asked for anything back and was tireless and working to better the sport, especially here on Long Island. I just felt that at one point he was going to rise to the national level in the sport, although he is a legend locally.”
Pinori said the state will do something to honor and remember Xikis in the future.
“I know we have to do something at the state, name a State Cup after him,” he said.
“The short time he was here, he did a lot, did a lot for soccer, did a lot for a lot of people. You can see it on Facebook.”
Pinori meant about the reaction to Xikis’ passing.
“I just hope God has something for him in paradise,” he added.
“God bless his soul.”