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Maspeth enjoys soccer at Metropolitan

Michael Giampapa does not know the rich history of the Metropolitan Oval, one of the most celebrated soccer facilities in the country.

Nor does the Maspeth resident know about Jim Vogt’s arduous battle through three years of political red tape to reopen the Maspeth soccer facility. All that Giampapa, 9, is concerned with is the bottom line.

“Ever since I saw the field, I wanted to play on it,” he said at the grand reopening ceremony of the Met Oval Friday. “Three years ago, the field was full of sand, there was graffiti on the wall, it was ugly. Now it changed a lot. It’s beautiful.”

Giampapa and his Blau Weiss Gottschee teammates took on the Astoria Cosmos in an exhibition match at the end of the ceremony Friday morning. And thanks to Ridgewood native Vogt’s work, Giampapa and his club, as well as others in Queens, will have the opportunity to use the newly renovated field many more times.

In what became a personal plight, Vogt fought for three years to reopen and renovate the storied soccer facility, which is tucked behind 60th Street just off Metropolitan Avenue and has been around since 1925.

“There were a lot of nights sitting up with tears in my eyes trying to figure out after something else happened what do I do now, what’s next,” Vogt said. “It was emotional. You just didn’t know where the next problem was. Just when you thought you had something happening, you hit something else. It was rough.”

Everywhere Vogt turned, it seemed, there was a closed door. The original owners of the three-acre facility was a group of German and Hungarian immigrants who purchased the property for $30,000 in 1925. The group invested another $50,000 in renovations by the end of the 1920s. The Oval ownership was then broken up into 1,500 shares by more than 200 descendants of the original immigrant owners, who stopped paying real estate taxes in the early 1990s and the city’s tab rose to $370,000.

“The thought of knowing someday that this place may not be here anymore and these kids who have no idea what went on here 20 years ago or 50 years ago ... not having it didn’t sit right with me,” Vogt said. “It was here for me, why shouldn’t it be here for everyone else?”

Vogt enlisted the help of lawyers Chuck and Valerie Jacob, soccer enthusiasts who own Greater New York Soccer Inc., the parent company of the Brooklyn Knights and the Long Island Lady Riders soccer clubs in the professional United Soccer Leagues.

“The process of saving the Oval was much more complex than people realize because there were many real estate issues, many tax issues and then obviously there were some serious money issues,” Chuck Jacob said. “But we worked through all the problems one by one and a group of people decided we just couldn’t afford to fail on behalf of the sport and one way or another we had to save the Oval. Today was a long time coming, but it’s sweet.”

Along with the Jacobs, Vogt formed the Met Oval Foundation, an organization whose sole purpose was saving a field that at one time was one of the most celebrated fields in the country.

Just about every accomplished local soccer player, including Mike Windischmann, the former captain of the U.S. National team, former New York Cosmos star Werner Roth and New York/New Jersey Metrostars captain Tab Ramos, played at the field in their youth. Youth soccer has always been the Oval’s backbone.

It was that rich history that helped the foundation get the necessary funds to reopen the Oval. Hank Steinbrecher, former U.S. Soccer secretary general, played on the dirt field when he was a kid. And it was Steinbrecher who helped secure a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation last April. Nike also gave the Met Oval Foundation a matching grant of $250,000.

“The sport has taken me to over 100 countries — I represented the United States at the very highest level of this sport around the world — but this is where I come from,” Steinbrecher said. “I remember walking on this field with my cleats. I remember the feel of it, I remember the smell of it, I remember the dirt of it. But I mostly remembered the friends I developed here. Look at how many high level soccer people came from this field.”

Windischmann, the former captain of the U.S. national team, also called the Oval home when he was a kid growing up in Maspeth and Ridgewood.

“I used to live a mile or two away and we used to walk,” he said. “Saturdays you used to play and Sundays used to be the older guys — your cousins, your friends, some older gentlemen — and you want to be on the field just like them. So many great players played on this field too, it’s incredible.”

The facility is now debt-free and completely owned by the Met Oval Foundation. A state-of-the-art Field Turf surface, an artificial grass that has the look and feel of real grass, replaces the dirt-strewn field.

Other renovations are on the drawing board, including bleacher seating, new locker rooms, classrooms, lighting and a concession stand. But at least for now, Giampapa and his teammates on B.W. Gottschee have a place to call home.

“That’s [priority] Nos. 1, 2 and 3,” Jacob said. “The others are 4,5 and 6 and beyond.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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