Eastern New York president Richard Christiano, Hall of Fame inductee Afrim Nezaj and Hall of Fame chairperson Ken Gulmi (Photo courtesy  of ENYYSA)

Afrim Nezaj was inducted into the Eastern New York Hall of Fame at a banquet celebrating Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association’s 50th anniversary last at Marina del Rey in the Bronx, N.Y. on Saturday.

A native of Kosovo, Nezaj moved to the Bronx at the age of 10, living in a three-bedroom apartment with 15 members of his extended family. He is the embodiment of the American Dream as he built a small sports empire in the past four decades.

He is the owner and operator of Afrim’s Sports and has reinvested in the community to support five indoor training locations for soccer teams in the Albany area as well as an outdoor facility. Nezaj runs several programs in conjunction with the Capital District Youth Soccer League and Eastern New York that provides access to training and games to the thousands of youth soccer players in the Capital Region. As a CDYSL Board member, Nezaj has supported numerous youth soccer initiatives over the years.

The Altamont, N.Y. resident also founded and is the president of the Albany Alleycats Soccer Club and brokered the merging of the boys side of the program with New York Elite to help promote boys and girls premier club programming. When the COVID-19 pandemic made it challenging for clubs and teams to find places to play, Nezaj worked hard with the club and high school soccer community to provide safe facilities for children to continue to play soccer.

“Afrim always reminds us to stay humble and not forget that there is a place for everyone to learn, grow and fall in love with the game of soccer, and that we are a part of a community where every player, family, team and club is important,” ENYYSA trustee Chris Le said in a statement.

Nezaj holds a U.S. Soccer “A” coaching license and has coached teams at all levels in the Albany area.

He was an All-American player at Albany State and played professionally for the Pennsylvania Stoners, Rochester Flash, New York Nationals and Albany Capitals. Nezaj has established several professional teams, most recently the New York Shockers competing in the National Premier Soccer League for the men and Women’s Premier Soccer League for the women.

“The Shockers give players who love the game the opportunity to continue playing at a competitive level well past their younger years,” CDYSL president Cathleen Knauf said in a statement. “With a growing empire and in addition to spending time with his large family, Afrim still takes time to give back to the sport that he loves in many ways.”

Nezaj was inducted into the Albany State Hall of Fame in 2008, the CDYSL Hall of Fame in 2010 and was honored as the Eastern New York personality of the month in April 2020.