By Randy Vogt
Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association director of public relations

Approximately 100,000 children and teenagers, from the East End of Long Island to the Canadian border, play soccer in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association.

Although some have gone on to play professional soccer and in the World Cup and Olympics, they have learned the value of teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship and getting along with others through the life lessons they have learned on our soccer fields.

Here are the top 10 reasons why we have so many players:

1. Olympic Development Program

ODP is considered the highest level of competition in each state association. Every year players are re-evaluated by the ODP professional staff of coaches for a position on each age-specific team. The identification process ends each summer with the most elite players within the East Region competing for a position on the regional team. Players are then identified by US Soccer staff coaches for possible entry to the national team program. Crystal Dunn and Allie Long (of the U.S. women’s natioanl team) are Eastern New York ODP graduates and Women’s World Cup championss. Even those players who do not make the regional or the national teams often use ODP as a springboard to college scholarships and even on to professional soccer.

2. State Cup

Eastern New York has two levels of the State Cup – the State Open Cup and the Challenge Cup – so every premier and travel team in the state has a chance to win a state championship. Both competitions try and schedule games against local opponents as much as possible. The finals will be played June 5 and 6.

3. National Championship

For ambitious teams looking to play against top competition and possibly win a national championship, they can do it through the State Open Cup as it’s part of the National Championship Series. After winning the State Open Cup, the teams move onto the regionals and potentially the nationals. Or, they could become a national champions through the US Youth Soccer National League. The league in New York is organized by the Eastern Development Program (EDP), which joined US Youth Soccer three years ago. The top teams earn advancement to the regionals as well as a chance to earn a coveted spot in the national tier of the Leagues Program.

4. TOPSoccer

This is a program for Children With Special Needs. Special Children playing soccer in an organized league actually started in Eastern New York back in 1978 when the Huntington Boys Club and Massapequa Soccer Club started programs in an era when Special Children playing sports is not as accepted as it is today. Craig Ludin, who has Down’s Syndrome and has been playing for HBC since he was a young boy, received so many medals in the Special Olympics that he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame a decade ago. Craig’s teammate John Cronin started a very successful local business, John’s Crazy Socks, with his father Mark. East Islip TOPSoccer volunteer Bella Pepe was recently honored as the East Region TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year.

5. Futsal

Futsal is the only version of indoor soccer approved by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. Many of Brazil’s best players ever such as Pelé, Zico, Socrates, Bebeto, Ronaldinho and Marta all played a version of this 5v5 developmental game as children. The surface, ball and rules together favor ball control in small spaces and futsal is increasingly cited in the discussion on how to improve player development. Both New York Futsal and the Long Island Futsal League play futsal under the Eastern York umbrella and both leagues are taking a break right now because of concerns about indoor transmission of the virus.

6. Risk management

To protect our players, Eastern New York conducts background checks on coaches and referees before they participate in our games. They must pass this background check every two years to continue to be involved in our competitions. Eastern New York also provides awareness education to coaches, communicating information regarding field and player safety.

7. Coaching Education

Under the supervision of Eastern New York director of coaching instruction Tim Bradbury, the coaching licensing curriculum provides all soccer coaches, from the beginner to the advanced, with up-to-date theoretical and practical knowledge so that Eastern New York coaches can help our players develop to their full potential. Coaches can earn state and national coaching credentials plus the courses offer valuable information and current coaching trends state-wide, nationally and internationally. All courses are available in both English and Spanish.

8. SAT and ACT Prep Courses

Eastern New York provides exclusive, free access to acclaimed SAT and ACT prep courses from eKnowledge, which is normally a $250 value. These courses can be taken online or via DVD, which makes them ideal for our busy student/athletes.

9. College Scholarships

Every summer, Eastern New York awards college scholarships to help defray the cost of college for deserving high school seniors. Five Eastern New York leagues – Capital District Youth Soccer League, Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League, East Hudson Youth Soccer League, Long Island Junior Soccer League and the Staten Island Youth Soccer League – have separate scholarship programs as well.

10. Hall of Famers

The five leagues listed above all have Halls of Fame, just as Eastern New York does. Almost 100 people have been inducted into the Eastern New York Hall of Fame. These men and women have given incredible amounts of time volunteering to make a difference on soccer fields and many are still involved in Eastern New York programs and our leagues today.