Thirty years ago today, two of the best teams in Eastern New York tussled for the Northeastern Professional Soccer League title. It was city (Brooklyn Italians) vs. suburbs (Glen Cove Xara) in what has become a legendary game.  Three decades later, the game takes on even more special meaning because many of the players went on to greater heights in soccer.

Glen Cove’s Paul Riley, who became the captain of the Long Island Rough Riders, coaches National Women’s Soccer League power North Carolina Courage. Tim Bradbury is the director of instruction of Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association. Paul Caffrey is the head of player performance of the Houston Dynamo. Chris Lowe has become a respected goalkeeper coach. Rich Nuttall is the men’s head soccer coach at Hofstra University.

Later that year, Brooklyn won the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup title, the last team from New York to accomplish that feat. Italians midfielder Bill Manning is president of Toronto FC, which captured the MLS Cup. Ronan Wiseman is director of coaching of the East Islip Soccer Club. Junior Superbia, Yves Jeune and Harry Smarth continued to be influential players in the metropolitan area. Mike Rybak was the coach.

By Michael Lewis

FRANKLIN SQUARE, N.Y. – Now that was a championship soccer game.

End-to-end action.

Shots galore; quality shots at that.

A beautifully played game.

And nine, count ’em nine goals, three of which were scored by forward Paul Riley. In fact, two of them were put in during extratime to secure Glen Cove Xara’s amazing 6-3 victory over the defending champion Brooklyn Italians for the Northeastern Professional Soccer League title on Sunday.

“I think the spectators got their money’s worth,” Glen Cove coach Rich Nuttall said.

And then some.

They played soccer the way it should be played at Park Stadium. There was little, if any, tactical milling around the midfielder. it was just a question of who was going to score the next goal and when.

“I didn’t expect it to be a 6-3 final,” Riley said.

Who did?

Nuttall did.

“I thought before the match a lot of goals were going to be scored,” he said. “Both sides go forward and go on the counterattack. … In a cup atmosphere, anything can happen.”

30 YEARS AGO TODAY: A memorable match in which Glen Cove beat Brooklyn Italians to win NEPSL title

Paul Riley, who coaches the North Carolina Courage, had a hat-trick for Glen Cove. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)

There were two ties and three lead changes, the last of which occurred early in the second extratime when Riley put home a 15-yard shot off a Nick Sansom pass to boost Glen Cove into a 4-3 edge in the 101st minute. About a minute later, Sansom, from just outside the penalty area, scored his second of the contest for a two-goal bulge, and Riley put the punctuation on the match, beating goalkeeper Dragan Radovich from eight yards two minutes from the final whistle.

“I was absolutely shattered when we went to overtime,” Riley said. “Absolutely tired.”

Then consider how the Italians felt. They were playing their third game in eight days. The defeated the Spartans (Washington, D.C.) in the Region I final of the U.S. Challenge Cup [now called the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup] on June 16, then outlasted the Polish-American Eagles in the semifinals of the NEPSL playoffs on June 19.

Then came Sunday’s encounter.

“We played three games in seven days. In the meantime, they were relaxing two-three weeks,” Italians coach Mike Rybak said. “They worked very hard, and we have players over 30. We also have some injured players. We were very tired. Too much in seven days to play three games at this level.

“When they scored their third goal, I knew that if we played overtime, it would be a miracle to win.”

For Glen Cove, it was an opportunity to avenge a pair of one-goal losses to the Italians 2-1 and 3-2 – earlier in the season.

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While the marvelous play went back and forth, Glen Cove did enjoy the better of it, outshooting the Italians, 20-13.

“Before the game, I don’t think we played we could win it,” Riley said. “It gave [us] confidence to make it into overtime.”

Getting there was half the fun.

Glen Cove grabbed a two-goal advantage in the early going, thanks to the never-say-stop Riley beating his man down the right wing after a nice pass from Brian Lancer for a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute. Some four minutes later, Pat Doyle had only the keeper to beat when the Italians thought an offside should have been called. It wasn’t and Glen Cove had a two-goal margin.

“If we scored a third goal, we would have wrapped it up,” Riley said. “We let them back in.”

Added Nuttall: “I’ve seen them come back from two or three goals many a time. They’ve got qualify and speed and you’ve got to be very careful with speed.”

The Italians seemed ready to self-destruct. Defender Jerry Leonardi received a yellow card for dissent. Manny Udoh and Yves Jeune argued with referee Assaf Chaloub at the center circle. In frustration, Jeune booted the ball downfield and out of bound on the ensuing kickoff.

Rybak inserted Osidis Machado for defender Valencia Digner in the 17th minute and the Italians settled down.

First, Jeune twirled around a defender on the right side and beat goalkeeper Matt Mazzilli from the edge of the area in the 23rd minute. Then Harry Smarth made a brilliant run from the midfield in the 30th minute and powered a shot that Mazzilli came out to punch away. At least he tried to punch it away. The ball headed toward the net, only to miss the ball, but to knock his head against the left goalpost.

Out when Mazzilli, in went Chris Lowe, who was shaky the first couple of times he touched the ball, but steadily improved as time progressed.

One of those shaky moments came in the 53rd minute, when he took down midfielder Junior Superbia in the box. Machado left-footed the penalty kick into the lower left corner and the Italians enjoyed a 3-2 lead, for the first time.

It wouldn’t last for long. Sansom scored his first of the day from the edge of the area in the 63rd minute for a 3-3 die.

“Glen Cove is a good team” Ryback said. “They have a younger team, with more college-age players. They’re more athletic. … I don’t blame my players. We made some mistakes, but we had some good opportunities.

Some of the best you’ll see in a championship game in a long, long time.