By Dylan Butler
By capping an undefeated season and winning the PSAL ‘B’ title last year, the Bayside boys soccer team received a blue and orange felt banner from the league in recognition of that honor, as well as one-way ticket into the A division.
Some teams may struggle with the latter distinction, especially when the promotion is into Queens ‘A’ East, one of the toughest divisions in the city. But Commodores head coach Joe Corrado returns a wealth from last year’s perfect season and is anxious to test Bayside’s mettle in its new surroundings.
“[Playing in the A division] is something they really wanted, they really knew deep down they deserved to be in the A division,” said Corrado, who is beginning his second year at the helm. “I think we can play in this league and this division. I think we’ll be competitive.”
One reason for Corrado’s optimism is the team’s senior captains, sweeper Jeremy O’Brien and returning starting keeper Tallin Lamonaca, as well as returnees Emre Aksu and Jason Krese in the midfield. Corrado said he is also pleased with some of the newer faces on the team, including junior midfielder David Salazar. However, the Commodores will sorely miss midfielder Max Tai, who scored more than 30 goals last season in controlling the midfield. Tai relocated to Florida.
“Every coach wants a player like Max, it’s a shame he had to leave,” Corrado said. “But the other kids have stepped up and let’s just hope we do what we’re capable of doing.”
Bayside gets its first taste of its new division against neighborhood foe Cardozo in a game scheduled for Sept. 26. After missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Judges appear hungry to return to postseason soccer.
Cardozo head coach Rich Parascos believes he has strengths throughout his starting lineup and is depending on four seniors, Pablo Gill, who Parascos says is one of the top players in the city, stopper Robbie Bartolini, defender Noe Bautista and midfielder Zaid Zureikat, to lead the talented Judges.
“I think we can be very good once we settle in,” said Parascos. “I don’t see any holes in the starting lineup and the newcomers have all played on club teams. The question is, can we gel quick enough?”
After Cardozo’s dominance throughout the 90s, Francis Lewis has wrestled the reigns in the division away recently as Larry Diamond’s Patriots have won the division crown the last two years.
Back for Lewis are six starters from a team that went 13-2 and lost 4-3 to Taft in the PSAL quarterfinals, including the team’s top scorer in junior Manrique Galaes and its keeper in junior Tommy Martello. Other key returnees for the Patriots are senior striker Eric Herrera, junior defender Ramon Portillo and Robert Melendez.
“We’re formidable, teams are going to have a tough time with us,” Diamond said. “I expect us to be the division champions again and I’m not bashful about saying so.”
Led by the explosive Han Soo Jung, Flushing should be an exciting team to watch, as Red Devils head coach Terry McLaughlin promises a plethora of goals.
Jung, who has drawn interest from Division I schools St. John’s and Long Island University, scored 23 goals last year as a striker. This year, McLaughlin said, his star player is bigger and stronger and will be asked to carry the team from midfield. Also back for Flushing is junior keeper Luis Pedraza, senior stopper Juan Arboleda, senior Jing Jung Quan and midfielder Rahmat Mashriqi, whose cousin Rahim is one of the Red Devils’ top newcomers.
“We’re going to score goals and the defense and goalkeeping should be strong,” McLaughlin said. “But the question is the midfield. If we get solid play in the midfield we should make the playoffs.”
For Forest Hills and its new head coach Bob Sprance, a playoff berth would be a blessing. After going 4-8 last year, Sprance, who also coaches the Forest Hills girls’ soccer team, thinks the Rangers are likely to go through some more growing pains this season.
“I hope we get stronger throughout the season and be competitive,” Sprance said. “This is a rebuilding time.”
Sprance will rely on midfielders Jose Batista and Oskar Kowalski and forward Mike Murcardo.
John Bowne also has a pair of new coaches, as Peter Berthel and assistant Ivan Castillo take the reigns from Jonathan Driver. Berthel and Castillo — who played semi-professional soccer in his native Honduras — say the strength of the Wildcats should be the midfield, led by seniors Foday Kamara and Johnny Osorio.
“We think if we work as hard as we can, as long as we make the playoffs, we should be all right,” Castillo said.
Coached by Luis Villada, Franklin K. Lane rounds out the division.
In Queens ‘A’ West it appears the same cast of characters will compete for playoff spots. The favorite once again in this group is Newtown. Somehow the Pioneers made up for the loss of Iron Horse winner Douglas Navarez and starting keeper Willie Cuzco by bringing in the biggest and most talented group of Newcomers in Howie Ranzer’s 23 years at the helm.
“I’ve never had so many players with such talent,” said Ranzer, who has compiled a record of 310-50 at Newtown. “Some guys who were on the team last year won’t be here this year.”
Ranzer said he had 100 players tryout from a school located in soccer rich Corona. Who are these new players who Ranzer hopes will deliver him another city crown before he retires in two years?
“This is a team with no names,” he said. “There will be some stars, but they will be trained as a unit of one. No one person will be a superstar, but we will have some shining stars.”
Among those shining stars who return from a team that lost in the PSAL semifinals last year is senior Alvaro Mosquera, a three-year starter who anchors a solid defensive unit. Some of the most talented newcomers are junior Juan Orocco at left fullback and sophomore goalkeeper Francisco Gonzalez.
Grover Cleveland celebrated its best season in 10 years last year as the Indians went 14-1-1, losing to city champions Martin Luther King in the semifinals. But with eight seniors gone from last year’s starting lineup, Cleveland coach Dmitri Darguca knows a return to the Final Four will be very difficult.
“We’re off to a rough start,” he said. “To reach last year’s heights, right now I don’t see it. Maybe in two or three years down the road.”
Darguca does have three returning starters in junior sweeper Damien Jaworek, senior goalkeeper Luis Zamora and sophomore forward Nick Kreshnik and the development of eight reserves from last year’s team may prove how well Cleveland fares this season.
Newcomers also had a phenomenal season last year, finishing 9-6-2 as the Lions made the playoffs for the first time in the brief history of the school.
“Last season was magical,” said Newcomers head coach Louis Llull. “The players we had showed a lot of heart.”
While nine of Newcomers’ 11 starters last year are gone, many of the team’s new players do have a wealth of soccer experience from their native countries. One of the team’s top returnees is Elvir Prasovic, a goalkeeper who scored the winning penalty kick in Newcomers playoff win over Clinton. Also back is senior defender Ibardo Zambrano.
After a year of playing in the ‘B’ division, Bryant is back in the ‘A’ division following a successful campaign. And with a strong core of midfielders returning, including senior Alejanro Carmona, junior Rolando Figueroa and sophomore Jonathan Galeano, head coach Byron Ortiz is optimistic.
“We’re building on the success from last year,” he said. “Eighty percent of that team is back from last year. We’re more mature, we’re bigger and we’re more experienced.”
Aviation, coached by Mario Cotumaccio, Long Island City, coached by Bill O’Connell and John Adams, coached by Reynaldo Palencia, should also vie for playoff berths in this airtight division.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.