The first full week of September this year certainly has a different feel for Antonio Superbia.
Antonio Superbia enjoys a career day with students in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of Antonio Superbia)
By Michael Lewis
The first full week of September this year certainly has a different feel for Antonio Superbia.
For 28 consecutive years, the physical education teacher would arise early in his Brooklyn home and travel east to P.S./M.S. 146 in Howard Beach to teach students the fun and finer sports and athletic activities.
It didn’t matter what the sport was – basketball, baseball, football or soccer – the Brazilian native was a willing instructor. Heck, he might have gotten more out of it than the students.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “After teaching 28 years, you have that rhythm of getting up early in the morning and getting ready for the first day of school and preparing for the whole school year. Not having to return, it’s unusual. It was a long career. It was rewarding, very fulfilling, I feel very accomplished in my teaching career. I will definitely miss my students. Teaching I feel it’s really a calling. As most teachers know, it’s not a very glamorous career, right, but it’s a job.”
“I really feel that I connected with my students all these years. I hope to have influenced them in a very positive way. So, in that sense, I’ll miss that because you’re teaching for all those years and all of a sudden don’t have to return to your everyday job.”
Students at P.S./M.S. 146 in Howard Beach say goodbye to Antonio Superbia earlier this year.
Superbia – he might be better known to area soccer fans as Junior Superbia – might not be teaching in school, but he will remain a teacher in other ways as the technical director and Director of Coaching at the famed Brooklyn Italians club.
“I feel accomplished at different stages in my life, ready to transition,” he said.
The 55-year-old Superbia seemingly has done it all in a career that has spanned two continents and almost 40 years.
Superbia has played professionally in his native Brazil and in the United States. He was a member of the legendary Brooklyn Italians team that captured the 1991 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the last New York team to win that trophy. He coached Brooklyn College and was a youth coach at the Brooklyn Italians before assuming his current role in 2020.
That is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
He has a master’s in science in the field of “Psycho-Social Aspects Of Physical Activity,” but he has an unofficial doctorate in football, futbol, calcio, soccer, or whatever you want to call it.
“Coaching is an extension of teaching really, and so in a way I will continue to teach and be involved in education,” Superbia said. I feel fortunate to have spent all these years in the game as well. I have a playing background. I transitioned to coaching. I was able to build that parallel career. It’s connected. When we stay that long in the game. I think most of us accumulate a great deal of knowledge that I am excited to continue to share with the younger generation of players and our younger coaches and clubs. In many ways, I will continue to be part and helping the development of the game in your country.”
Born in Taiuva ,São Paulo, Brazil in January 1968, Superbia naturally was attracted to the beautiful game at a young age. Heck, the sport is a religion in that South American country.
Antonio Superbia will his Brazilian team back in the day. (All photos courtesy of Antonio Superbia)
He played professionally for Inter de Bebedouro in the Sao Paulo State Championship in 1986. A year later, he was loaned to Clube Atletico Juventus in the First Division. In 1988 Superbia returned to Inter while enrolling in the Faculdade Moura Lacerda to study physical education.
Superbia credited His father, Antonio – that’s where he got the name Junior from – for instilling the importance of a work ethic in him, “and resilience and persevere and the importance of earning a college education.”
His father had an elementary school degree, played some professional soccer and worked as an auto mechanic.
Superbia emigrated to U.S. in 1989. He joined the Brooklyn Italians, for whom he played through the 1994 season. He might not have looked like the most imposing player – Superbia was 5-8 and 146-lbs. – but it was his overall skill, speed and high soccer IQ – that allowed him to excel. Superbia was a member of four Northeastern Super Soccer League championship sides, leading the league in goal-scoring in 1990 and also reaching the Open Cup final that year before winning the whole thing in 1991.
“That probably was the highest point of my soccer career,” Superbia said of the cup triumph. “It was huge for the club and for Brooklyn. No other club from New York City has won it since. It was such an honor to be part of those Brooklyn Italians teams.”
Antonio Superbia and the Brooklyn Italians, the 1991 U.S. Open Cup champions.
In 1990, Superbia was awarded a full athletic scholarship to attend Brooklyn College, helping the team to a 16th ranking among NCAA Division I teams. He was named the soccer team MVP as a freshman.
While soccer opened the door for Superbia to succeed, he realized he needed to learn the language. He didn’t know a word when he came to the USA. He took a remedial course – ESL (English as a Second Language).
“Being in the classroom, I used to be very anxious about being called upon by the professor just to share my ideas,” he said. “I understood everything during the lessons, and I had a lot to share, but because I wasn’t fluent in the language, it was a challenge. There was a certain anxiety to say the wrong thing, or not coming across the way I was thinking.
“But with time I improved and mastered the English language. From that point on, I started to converse and share my ideas clearly. I quickly adapted and incorporated into the American culture.”
After a memorable stint with the Italians and earning a degree in physical education in 1994, Superbia started teaching in the New York City Department of Education. In 1995, he played professionally with the New Jersey Dragons in the U.S. Interregional Soccer League (forerunner of the today’s United Soccer League, aka the USL). He taught during the week and played on the weekend.
With the advent of Major League Soccer, Superbia attended the combines and was selected by the New England Revolution on the 14th round of the league’s first draft (135th overall) in 1996.
Unfortunately, he never got an opportunity to play with the Revs. He was a Brazilian and New England head coach Frank Stapleton, a native of the Republic or Ireland, used many European-based players and played a direct style. As a Brazilian, Superbia played a totally different style, more short game and on the ground.
During the preseason, Superbia got a treat, playing against D.C. United and Bolivian international Marco Etcheverry and the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Carlos Valderrama.
“That was a highlight for me as well,” he said.
But getting cut prior to MLS’ inaugural season “was hugely disappointing for me,” Superbia said.
“I had the skills to play in the league for a few years,” he added. “But look, it’s subjective. You wonder about the assessment of coaches and coaching staff. … It was very difficult for me to break into his system. If I had maybe another coach that saw my game and implemented their tactics differently I probably would have fitted better into their system.”
Stapleton, incidentally, lasted only one season with New England, which finished with the second lowest number of points in the league (33), winning only nine regulation games (and six by the shootout).
Superbia returned to Brooklyn, facing a crossroads.
“I was already 28, and going back to the minor leagues where I had just come from didn’t make much sense,” he said. “Coming to terms with the idea that your soccer career was pretty much over, it took me a few years to overcome that. I think that many soccer players, even if they have been super successful or not, sometimes it’s not an easy thing transitioning from your playing days, and then becoming, regular citizens. Some people have a very hard time dealing with that transition to regular life.”
Superbia had something to fall back on – a college degree as he returned to teaching, trying to share his knowledge of sports and the passion of soccer.
“As a physical education teacher, I had the opportunity to teach my students not only lifelong lessons but also specific skills,” Superbia said. “In my case, being a soccer player and having the opportunity to introduce the sport and teach those skills was very rewarding. To see a young student who never played the game master all those skills and nurture them for life,is very special “.
“In all those years, I often had many students coming to my physical education classes who were English learners. Many spoke no English and were in need of support and encouragement. I immediately identified and connected with them. I had walked that path and knew what they were going through “.
That passion for soccer opened a door to coach the Brooklyn College men’s team from 2000-06 and as a youth coach with the Manhattan Soccer Club. In 2007, he returned to the Italians as a youth coach through 2020.
Antonio Superbia talks to students at a career day at P.S./I.S. 192 in Brooklyn.
While he earns a living at soccer, Superbia certainly hasn’t forgotten how important and valuable an education is. Look what it did for him. When he recently spoke at a career day at P.S./I.S. 192 in Brooklyn, Superbia reminded the students of that. As a Brazilian native, he related to the younger generation who also were immigrants.
“Brooklyn, how diverse we are,” Superbia said. “That was really rewarding for me, 28 years later , to go back to school and share my experience with kids that are currently English learners as well and going through the same experience.
“When I talk to students, I always stress the importance of education and earning a degree. All kids have innate abilities in need of development and nurturing. I often tell students they just need to identify their talents; be in athletics, the arts or sciences, technology, communication, or any skilled trade. When students learn goal setting, time management, hard work, resilience and perseverance, they can become very successful people. Those transferable skills will always serve them well in life”.
“It’s been it’s been a very complete, full circle, journey for me.”
Full circle, as in back with the Italians, running the show.
The Italians have improved their youth program, as the club has established an affiliation with the New York Red Bulls.
Their next project is to bring the men’s team back. The ultimate goal is to have the Brooklyn Italians compete in USL League Two, an Under-23 league that runs from early May through July.
“The structure of USL Two fits our club model,” Superbia said. “We’re not going to be a Major League Soccer club. We’re not going to be a USL Championship or USL One. The goal is for our first team to focus mainly on Under-23 with hopefully USL Two. The club has the brand and history to play at that level. “We would continue developing our players and allow them to have a place to play after they finish their high school years. They would stay locally playing collegiate soccer in the tri- state area and have the opportunity to continue to play during the spring and summer. It’s a perfect model that fits the club.”
“The final piece is that Under-23 team.”
Translated: there is so much on Superbia’s soccer plate, from teaching and coaching while continuing to build the Italians.
“I’m excited going full circle, being part of it now in the role as a technical director,” Superbia said. “But I haven’t closed the doors on continuing my coaching career. It’s a perfect time. I do now have full time to dedicate myself to the game. I want to go back and finish my badges and continue to study the game.
“I’m ready for the challenge ahead. I just want to enjoy my journey. I am very happy with the Brooklyn Italians.
“Who knows what the future will bring? I am excited just to be able to have the time to fully dedicate myself to the game I love.”