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10 PSAL soccer teams to watch in 2002

While just about every public high school in Queens has a soccer program, the TimesLedger Newspapers has sliced the list down to the top 10 teams to watch in the borough.

1. Newtown Pioneers

With the addition of talented center midfielder Richie Lesmes, who was a standout for national powerhouse St. Benedict’s in New Jersey last year, Howie Ranzer should have a team that contends for the PSAL title.

The Pioneers, who went 10-1-2 last year in Queens West A but were upset by Monroe in the first round of the playoffs, have a strong crop of returnees. Leading the charge is junior goalkeeper Francisco Gonzalez, one of Ranzer’s tri-captains.

Anchoring the defense is senior Cesar Torres while most of the midfield is intact, led by senior center midfielder Oswald Brown and wings David Panchano and Oscar Alvardo, nicknamed “Peanut.”

As for the remainder of the 30 or so who came down to try out, Ranzer said, “there are a lot of surprises.”

2. Bayside Commodores

Bayside surprised a lot of teams in its first year up from the ‘B’ league last year, edging neighborhood rival Cardozo — a team the Commodores beat twice 3-0 — for the Queens East crown. Bayside, a team that thrives on ball control, lost to Taft 1-0 in the quarterfinals and finished with a 10-2-2 record after going undefeated to win the B division title in 2000.

A huge chunk of that successful team, including starters Tallin Lamonaca, Sam Yoon, Emre Aksu, Jeremy O’Brien, Dino Porter and Andrew Colucci, have graduated.

The key for head coach Joe Corrado will be trying to mesh the returnees — senior sweeper Jason Knese and younger brother Garrett, senior forward Gerald Prophete, senior center midfielder David Salazar, senior defender Cliff Velasquez and junior midfielder Steven Lanuza — with newcomers such as identical twin freshmen Jimmy and John Torres and sophomore Jonathan Guenzatti.

“It’s so difficult to get these guys to play one style of soccer in a week and a half,” said Corrado, whose team played Catholic League state champions Molloy to a scoreless draw in the preseason. “We’re working out the kinks, but we’re working hard.”

3. Newcomers Lions

You want to talk about rebuilding? Talk to Newcomers coach Louis Llull, who rarely has any returnees because of the nature of the Long Island City school.

Last year Llull lucked out and had the core of his defense back and the Lions finished second in Queens West A with an 11-3-1 record and fell to eventual champions Martin Luther King, 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

This year, Llull, the 2001 TimesLedger PSAL Boys’ Soccer Coach of the Year, has only two returning starters. But what starters they are. Back is senior keeper Elvir Prasovic, the borough’s top netminder as well as junior midfielder Dariusz Stankiewicz.

Prasovic is backed by a pair of quality keepers who probably could start on most any other team in Queens in seniors Danny Hernandez and Leszek Stankiewicz. But who will form the defense in front of Prasovic? That is Llull’s most pressing question.

“We lost the whole defense from last year, all of them,” he said. “We have a lot of talented midfielders and forwards but we’re trying to really build the defense, that’s the key.”

4. Cardozo Judges

If not for penalty kicks against Madison in the second round of the playoffs, Cardozo, which finished 10-4 last year in Queens East A, would also have been in the quarterfinals last year.

This year, led by an experienced group — especially in the midfield — the Judges can get at least as far as the final eight and maybe even further.

Seniors Pablo Gil and Ahmed Hassan will patrol center midfield while junior Steve Ortiz, who Cardozo coach Rich Parascos calls a “tough-as-nails defender,” will anchor a solid defensive core along with senior Abad Crosby.

“We should be skilled at every position and we have some depth,” said Parascos, whose 30-man roster is mostly comprised of underclassmen. “If we stay healthy, we should be very competitive.”

5. Flushing Red Devils

The Han Soo Jun-era is over at Flushing as the TimesLedger PSAL Player of the Year, as well as four other starters, have graduated. But back for the Red Devils, who went 8-3-3 in Queens East A last year and lost to MLK in the second round, are goalkeepers Luis Pedraza and Jimmy Giraldo, as well as a solid defense anchored by senior co-captains Rahmet Mashriqi and Oscar Santa.

New to the squad is Mohammed Mashriqi, a sophomore center midfielder who was a member of the United States Under-14 national team.

The biggest question for head coach Terry McLaughlin is who will score the goals.

6. Aviation Flyers

Mario Cotumaccio always seems to have a strong team, but unfortunately the Flyers are in the same division as Newtown, Newcomers and Grover Cleveland, which usually means Aviation is clawing for a playoff spot.

Last year Aviation finished third in Queens West A with a 6-5-3 record, behind Newtown and Newcomers and made it to the second round of the playoffs before falling to Wingate.

7. Francis Lewis Patriots

When coach Larry Diamond showed up for the first day of practice Aug. 26, he was shocked with what he saw.

Sixteen, not the usual five or six, returnees were there ready to go.

Among the top returnees for the Patriots, who went 4-7-1 in Queens East A and missed the playoffs for the first time in three years, are senior goalkeeper Tommy Martello, senior sweeper Ramon Portillo and senior midfielder/forward Ilia Vovsha, while sophomore newcomers Joshua Obando and Juan Londono represent the future of Francis Lewis soccer, which may be without Diamond as head coach. He suggested this may be his final year, after 24 years at the school.

8. Grover Cleveland Tigers

After losing to MLK in the city semifinals two years ago, capping a hugely successful 14-1-1 season, Dimitrie Draguca had to rebuild last year as the Tigers missed the playoffs, finishing fourth in Queens West A with a 4-5-3 record.

With much of last year’s inexperienced team one year older, Cleveland should be battling it out with Aviation for the third and final playoff spot.

9. Thomas Edison Inventors

In his first year as coach, Dan Engleson rejuvenated the Edison program as the Inventors enjoyed an undefeated regular season and the Queens North B crown before being upset by A.P. Randolph in the first round of the playoffs. Can Edison repeat last year’s success? It will be tough, especially without Noe Canales, who was second on the team in scoring and currently is playing at Division I Stony Brook.

10. Campus Magnet Bulldogs

A strong returning core of nine seniors, including midfielder/forward Kimani Wallace, defender/midfielder Kerron Pierre and goalkeeper Kijana Kerr are back for coach Mark Wilson, whose team went 6-5-3 last year in Queens South B.

“We only lost two starters from last year and have 13 returning on a veteran team,” Wilson said of his team mostly comprised of Caribbean-born players. “We’re definitely looking to make the playoffs again. Our stiffest competition should be Far Rockaway.”

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

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